I promise this post won’t be quite as rudimentary as its title, but the more that I think about it, the more I realize how many of us are winging it in a lot of ways with regards to what makes a good employee. You can get advice from older folks, read listicles and books, but you every job is different and you won’t fully get it until you’ve been in it for a while. So to all of us who are still finding our place in the working world, here’s a start:
Take only the best (and sustainable) parts of your student self
Remember putting off big assignments until the last minute because 1) you had a ton of other classes to handle, and 2) you could? Those days end now. Start early. Do a little at a time. Plan for your procrastination. But when rubber meets road, it can be let that student-on-deadline mode kick in to make it happen. Use those research skills. Remember that technology is your friend until it isn’t — utilize it, but don’t trust it. If you’ve got a little time, it’s okay to slow down so you don’t burn out. Because summer break isn’t coming.
This is a huge one. Ask if there is anything extra you can do to help if you finish something early, ask about what people are working on (so long as they aren’t clearly in the middle of something). Start a project early, go above and beyond if you’ve got the time. Read up and learn as much as you can. A lot of the working world is too used to people doing the bare minimum — by taking initiative, you’ll stand out of the crowd.
Not, you know, too social. Nobody wants to be the one that keeps work from getting done. But go grab coffee, chat over lunch, ask about their family or weekend plans. Bring in treats just because. Having good relationships with your coworkers will make your life so much better. Plus you could actually make friends!
Be cautious of what standards you set
This is one I’m having to be a little more careful with. It’s okay to be clear about your expectations, and important that you don’t create false ones either. For example, doing a project on a crazy deadline in record time does not mean that should be the new standard. But taking your sweet time when you have nothing else to do also doesn’t mark you as an effective part of the team.
Speak up, speak kindly, and say what you mean
This means not being quiet when you have something to contribute — your idea might be just the thing that’s needed. It means not saying sorry all the time. It means treating coworkers and customers with patience and kindness, because that can make a way bigger difference in career success than people often admit. And for heaven’s sake, say what you mean. Yesterday I had to tell a coworker that I wasn’t sure if what the client was asking for was possible based on the resources they had given us, and I didn’t like saying it. But it’s a heck of a lot better than saying I can get something done only to find out that I couldn’t.
I can’t emphasize this one enough. I’ve screwed up assignments because I didn’t read an email thoroughly enough, and it’s a really crappy feeling. Make sure you understand what’s being asked of you before you jump in, and that you really process feedback or constructive criticism so you can be constantly improving.
This is in the same zone as listening, but goes beyond just you. Pay attention to what successful people at your work are doing, pay attention in big company meetings that feel like they don’t apply to you, pay attention for ways you could offer to help out and get noticed. Cliché or not, paying attention pays off.
What are the most helpful bits of advice you’ve heard for being a good employee? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!