what’s the best career advice you ever got?

We talk about bad advice a lot here — bad advice people get from their parents, from campus career centers, from friends and significant others, and even from the career advice industry.

I’d like to hear about good advice for a change. What’s the best career advice you ever got? Who gave it to you, and — importantly — why was it so good?

{ 294 comments… read them below }

  1. Meg

    CYA. Cover Your Ass. Works for a multitude of things, but the best career advice I ever received.

    1. Caroline

      I don’t know why, but although this one makes sense, it has always bothered me. For some reason I can’t put my finger on why exactly. And it’s not exactly inspiring.

      1. Caroline

        Or, perhaps it had more to do with the fact that the two people that gave me this advice were a bit pushy about it, as if they were older and wiser, when they were kind of paranoid. So my reaction has nothing to do with the advice.

        I do think, though, that if you take care of things and work hard, the byproduct is CYA, so maybe for the people that need it it wouldn’t quite work, and for those that don’t, it’s just being more aware of it.

        1. JM in England

          CYA was a lesson I quickly learned in my early career!

          In fact, in one (now former) of my dysfunctional workplaces, felt that I spent more time doing it than the actual work I was hired for. In that place, had an online timesheet system in which you selected (from drop-down menus) the project worked on, the activities performed and number of hours spent on each activity. Funnily enough, CYA was not on the activity list………..

        2. ash

          I was constantly told to cover my ass in my first real job out of uni. I think the people who warn you are giving you valuable information about the organisation, information it would be wise to heed. In my current job, it comes up fairly often in relation to clients who ignore expert advice – you can’t make them take your advice but when the shit hits the fan, they’ll be looking to blame you. So in my experience, cover-your-ass organisations are ones you need to get out of, but until you escape, you need to cover your ass.

      2. The Other Meg

        No, it’s not inspiring, but it’s absolutely true. And while I understand your sentiment about “if you take care of things and work hard, the byproduct is CYA”, that’s not always true either. People are human, and things can still fall through the cracks no matter how hard you work. I work as a scheduler in a busy doctor’s office in an even busier hospital, and there are times where a lab doesn’t get ordered/a follow-up appointment doesn’t get scheduled/etc. I have a system where I CC myself on every email I send, then save those emails in their own folder. I’m covering my ass by doing this, but it’s not out of paranoia, it’s just realizing that sometimes, mistakes happen.

        On the other (more paranoid) hand, some coworkers just suck. And they’ll throw you under the bus, or lie to the manager, or generally do whatever it takes to get ahead at another person’s expense. Simply being a good person and a hard worker doesn’t necessarily protect against those with more flexible morals. CYA is a generally good mindset to have in case you come across people like that and you need to prove your “innocence”, so to speak. Otherwise it becomes a “he said, she said” situation, which is every manager’s nightmare, trust me.

        1. Techguy

          In the 21st century we can finally email almost everything and archive and search out our histories. My CYAs used to involve lots of paperwork and finding witnesses to conversations. No more. I just opened a few old emails last week to get out of hot water with my manager. Someone misunderstood something I’d said and it had gotten up to the CEO. When it came back down to me I had no need to explain, just forwarded the email from last September.

          I’ve been hard on myself for ‘over explaining’ or giving too much information (and that does sometimes backfire) but when the fingers start pointing I have no need to remember events that I’d logged in an email.

    2. MN

      Absolutely true. Don’t count on people being great or honest or remotely having integrity in some cases. If things are screwed, they will want to save their own asses. I had that done to me at least once. I am not a person who likes conflicts at work, and figured management is “smart” enough to handle it and can surely see the truth, but my evil co-worker was very smart. So don’t think the truth will come out. Sometimes the truth is not worth it to managers or it comes out too late. They don’t care. They just want the problem to go away and maybe that means sending you away. So definitely CYA!!! Be Smart.

  2. Kyle

    This wasn’t exactly career advice at the time, but I think it fits. Someone said “You are the average of the 6 people you spend the most time with.”

    Professionally, I took this to heart and made it a point of networking with not only people who are generally successful, but also people who exhibit the kind of work habits I know I need to emulate.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      (Tongue somewhat in cheek — of course as a junior person you have to get good at the grunt work before you’ll be given more interesting tasks. But as a general rule — the better you get at something, the more you’ll be asked to do it. The way to make sure your niche is what you want it to be, is to make sure you’re best at those things!)

      1. Jamie

        This is a great one! It’s like what I have found – if you don’t want to do the grunt stuff then get really good at what you do want to do…because soon your time will be valuable enough to tptb that they won’t want you doing the grunt stuff either.

        1. AdAgencyChick

          And it may not just be grunt stuff that you’re trying to avoid. Maybe, as a chocolate teapot trainee, you really love sourcing the chocolate, but you couldn’t care less about how the teapot handles are made. So be awesome at cultivating those chocolate vendor relationships, and less awesome at teapot handle budgeting, and you’re more likely to be promoted into a chocolate management role — if you’re too good at teapots you’ll find yourself a teapot manager and wondering where all the fun part of your job went!

          1. Jessa

            This. I remember a friend in the military back in the day before computers, he said “no matter what your specialty never EVER EVER (unless you’re a clerk) let them know you can type. You will forever be “hey can you type this, please.”

        2. Elizabeth

          Flip side: know that someone has to do the grunt stuff. If it gets assigned to you, you still have to do it and do a good job of it. It reflects on your ability to do your job as a whole if you don’t do it it right.

          I may be the senior analyst who gets to do cool projects, but I still have to do my share of basic maintenance tasks.

          1. Jamie

            Sure – I meant in the sense of career trajectory. I don’t believe any task is beneath me and as long as it doesn’t involve a ladder or anything illegal I’m happy to pitch in.

            I still remember the Controller at a place I used to work who claimed not to be able to work the phones – so when the receptionist was at lunch she just put hers on DND and didn’t pitch in. They are “too complicated.” That told me all I needed to know about her, none of it good.

          2. Paralegal

            +1. I have found that neglecting grunt work results in a vicious cycle of more grunt work, too. If the boss can’t trust you to complete a simple task, why should you be assigned a more complex project? It becomes a cycle of grunt work –> mediocre work product –> more grunt work. Plus, continuing to do grunt work when all your coworkers have more interesting projects rarely motivates people to work harder, thus continuing the cycle.

            (Although TBH I can’t complain too much about this – my coworker is stuck in this loop, which means she gets assigned all the grunt work instead of me.)

          3. Jessa

            But you also need to have a sense that you’re getting the “new person does the grunt work, gets the worst schedule, etc.” until the next new person comes in vibe.

            Because if it’s the “person with quality x gets the grunt work,” when quality x is gender or race or religion or something else, then you have a PROBLEM in capital letters. Unless the religion one is hey I’ll cover your holiday if you cover mine? As in “Hey Sarah I’ll cover Yom Kippur, if you cover Easter Sunday?” “Sure Mary Catherine, I can do that.” (names made stereotypical on purpose.)

    2. Runon

      I think a corollary to this one that I’ve run into during my career. If you can’t automate it or train someone else to do something you’ll never get to do the cool stuff. (This I’ve really taken to heart at my current job and automate and document the heck out of the work I don’t want to do. Which gives me lots of time to do the fun work!)

  3. the gold digger

    In my first job out of college, before voicemail, I was working for a VP. The phone on the desk near me was ringing and ringing. Nobody was picking up the call. I thought, “I’m not a secretary. I’m not going to answer that.”

    After another dozen rings, my boss came out of her office. (Her secretary had stepped away.) She picked up the phone, took a message, hung up, and returned to her office.

    She never said a word, but I got the message: we are here to advance the interests of the company by serving the customer and there is no job that is beneath anybody.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit

      Interesting! I definitely thought this was going to go in another direction (and I was making assumptions about gender). I think the opposite advice is sometimes useful for women – don’t leap up to do the scut jobs that nobody else is doing. If the lunchroom is messy, don’t become the defacto lunchroom cleaner just because it bugs you – create a system that engages everyone.

      1. the gold digger

        I agree. Cleaning the kitchen is a completely different problem! My solution, after I had washed the bowl that was half full of oatmeal and left in the sink several times, was to throw the bowl in the trash. If you don’t clean up after yourself and you make it hard for the rest of us to clean up after ourselves by leaving your dirty bowl in the sink, be prepared to lose the bowl.

        Dealing with slacker co-workers requires a different strategy from making sure the customer is attended to.

        1. Jessa

          Yes. But it also involves the fact that if you’re ALWAYS the go to person for making sure the customer is attended to and there’s half a dozen other people around, it needs to be addressed in a way that it’s NOT always you who has to stop what they’re doing. Unless of course you’re doing something general and they’re sitting watching the gauges on a nuclear reactor or something. If their work does not require them to be in seat for the entirety of time x, then they should be chipping in also.

      2. Emily K

        Yes, I think the big distinction here is that while it was technically the secretary’s job to answer the phone, it was indeed the boss’s phone. She was demonstrating that she could do her *own* grunt work if no one at the grunt-work level was around, not that she was willing to do the neglected grunt of work of others who felt themselves too important to do such things.

        A boss who answers her own phone shows humility and a commitment to getting the job done. A boss who runs around answering every ringing phone or cleaning the kitchen up after coworkers shows that she doesn’t understand the value of her higher-level skills.

    2. W.W.A.

      Just adding 2 cents to this: I work in the nonprofit field in fundraising, and one of our golden rules is “everyone is a potential donor (or a current donor you just don’t know).” Customer service is crucial at all levels, and anyone in the office might unwittingly pick up the phone and find themselves talking to a board member or big sponsor.

      An extremely wealthy women who supports our org told me that she made a call to her son’s college admins to ask about a disciplinary action that had been poorly handled. The person she spoke to basically told her the other party had been absolved because “his parents are big donors.” This person had no clue the woman on the phone could have written them a 6 figure check that day if she felt like it.

    1. Just a Reader

      This comes from a former boss and speaks to the pitfalls of self doubt and how important it is to trust your expertise and instincts.

      I’ve rarely had anything turn out badly by following my gut, but things do tend to hit the fan if I ignore it!

      1. Anon

        I’ve always loved that quote from High Fidelity: “I’ve been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old, and frankly speaking, between you and me, I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

        1. Anon

          Whoops, I tried to edit out the curse word and it went in by mistake…sorry Alison, feel free to bleep or delete!

  4. JustTheIntern

    1. If you want people at your event, have food.
    2. Send a thank-you note.
    3. If you want people to feel valued, show up.

    1. Ellie H.

      If anyone has more advice about how to get people to come to events, workshops and seminars, I would love to hear it. Events already with food, too!

      1. Jamie

        Specifics in the descriptions. People who want to go to these things often need to get buy in from their boss and the more concrete the descriptions the easier it is to sell.

        Vagaries like “professional development” don’t land as solidly with bosses as “discussing new ways to improve at X” when X is a skill they need.

      2. Melissa

        Make them good and interesting. I work at a university where there are a myriad of speaker series and workshops to go to. Some have a reputation for being good and very interesting, so I am much more likely to go to those even when they don’t provide food. The ones that bring interesting outside speakers to network with or who just provide a different perspective, those are interesting and usually well-attended. Then there are some that are dry and irrelevant, and those are not well-attended. My university also tried to do a series for students on Friday morning at 10 am (at a school with very few Friday classes), and you can imagine how well that went. However, one of the best series I went to was on a Friday at 12 noon. There was food (note the lunch time hour), but the topic was also on how to find an academic job and was a panel discussion by 3 experienced professors. The room was full.

        Make them at a convenient time, offer food, and make them on topics and areas that the desired audience can get something out of.

        1. Anonymous

          When I was in school I noticed that I had missed out on a lot of events and speakers because they were only advertised by posters in specific academic buildings. Even though it was applicable to my, and a few other, majors it was never advertised in my building and that always rubbed me the wrong way. So I would say getting the word out to more places than just your first thought is also important.

      3. Emily K

        Agree with Jamie–steer away from vague biz-talk sounding things. Be concrete about exactly what skills they will learn at your seminar. Ideally, the seminar should include at least one interactive component where they can try out/role play/solve something using the skills you’ve taught. The best seminar I ever attended had a format something like this:
        -Speaker tells a story.
        -Speaker asks the audience what we noticed about the story and what seemed important in it. Questions start vague to give the audience members a chance to really think for themselves but become more leading if the audience doesn’t “get it” right away.
        -Speaker uses an interactive activity to cement the lesson. This could be 1) breaking into small groups to solve hypothetical problems and then share answers with the larger group, 2) inviting a few audiences members to share their own stories that illustrate the same point, 3) role-playing a relevant situation. The most important thing about these interactive bits is they dealt with real situations that everyone in the room had encountered before, or likely would in the future, so nobody felt like it was just a waste of time.
        -Speaker wraps up the activity by relating it back to the story and broader point.
        -Speaker tells another story.
        -Speaker asks the audience for reactions.
        -Interactive activity.
        -Loop back on the story/point.
        -Repeat until session ends.

        The real key thing is that folks need to be sure that 1) they will not be sitting still and silent the entire time, and 2) they will walk away feeling that they have skills they didn’t have before the session. Your promo materials should detail exactly what those skills are. “After leaving this session, you will know how to build basic mobile-responsive websites that avoid ten common errors made by new developers.” And then make sure your session will teach that.

  5. Sascha

    Be an advocate for yourself and speak up, because no one will do it for you – from AAM.

    Also, work to live, not the other way around. There are so many more important things in life than work. My husband convinced me of this after much despair over my career choices.

    And finally, everyone is tired all of the time, so it’s okay to be tired at work. :)

  6. Lisa

    Bring examples of your work process to in-person interviews, and leave the materials there for whoever you met with. Give a brief explanation, and then literally leave them there in case they want to review them further.

  7. Joey

    Don’t hire people that will agree with you. Anyone can do that and what’s the point. Hire people that will challenge your ideas and bring better ones.

    1. Runon

      Hire me! I’m currently dealing with a boss who only wants yes men and it is very frustrating because we keep running into issues down the line and he says well why didn’t you speak up! Um because you get really crabby when I do even in the nicest of ways.

      (Also I have a compulsion to point out potential problems.)

      1. Jamie

        If I could I’d get into a bidding war over you. I desperately want someone else on the bad cop squad of one (me) pointing out potential problems.

        If you aren’t an auditor already you have the perfect mental make up…just saying.

        1. S

          THIS. I know there are problems. We’d all have to be blind not to know there are problems. I want you to bring me ideas and solutions. Complaining really doesn’t improve anything if it’s not constructive.

        2. Anonymous

          I disagree. I can solve just about anything…it’s anticipating what might go wrong that stumps me. I’m lousy at threat analysis, perhaps because I have an upbeat, optimistic personality and everythingwillbeperfect!!!!!!!

          Send me someone gloomy, STAT!

    2. Rob

      I hear versions of this all of the time. I also agree with it. However, I’ve never actually found it to work out.

      Of course, it’s almost always impossible to determine before hiring if this type of thing is acceptable prior to an interview, because I’ve found some hiring managers to be sly and deceitful in the interview.

  8. Jamie

    “Never apologize for being superior. If other people are threatened that’s their f***king problem.”

    My first boss and mentor extraordinaire when I was promoted to corporate to work under a micromanaging flaw colony of insecurities.

    Also, “Never turn down a promotion or money. If they want to move you then the status quo isn’t an option anymore. Take the money and use it to get a higher starting salary at your next job when you quit.”

    One more, “You’re too smart and work too hard to be unhappy – write your own ticket and get the f**k out of here.”

    Same guy – same circumstances. I swear I owe him for 90% of my self-esteem.

    1. Jamie

      Why it was good? (Added after Alison’s recent comment) Confidence in oneself and the way one is perceived by tptb have a lot more to do with success than merely being good and toiling in the background. And as a “nice girl” who didn’t even enter the workforce until a couple of decades after most of my peers it was almost like permission to not pretend to be deferential.

      1. Lily in NYC

        Hm, one of my best moves here was to turn down a promotion. I knew my new boss would be extra-needy and that it wouldn’t be a good fit. I don’t regret it at all.

  9. Cait

    “Just show up to things, be mildly competent and pleasant to work with, and you’ll be running the show in no time.” From my mom, a university administrator. It was said in jest, but is actually pretty relevant for my chosen career path (university librarian). I’m constantly surprised at how far being able to a) follow directions and b) interact like a socially competent human being has gotten me.

    Oh, and her advice on having tough and confrontational meetings with difficult people is to look serious and say little, but make sure everything you say is right on point. Oh, and always wear heels if you’re meeting with shorter men who want to try to boss you around. :)

    1. Just a Reader

      I got some good advice from a friend for when someone is yelling at you: “Be made of stone.”

      I used this one recently (stayed calm and kept my voice level and my words bland) and while it sent the yeller into an even more intense foaming-at-the-mouth rage, I walked out of there having taken the high road and not feeling any qualms about my behavior.

    2. Jamie

      Oh, and always wear heels if you’re meeting with shorter men who want to try to boss you around. :)

      I don’t know why this works – but it really does.

      1. Pam

        The shoe thing- I’ve done that! I’m 5’4″, and I did this when I was a 23-year-old manager and was having problems with a subordinate who was in his 50s. We were called in to the CEO’s office to hash out the problem, and I decided to wear the tallest work shoes I owned. That, and a poker face.

        As a polite southern girl, I had to learn how to be assertive in work situations. I’m now 33 and the director of my organization. And I wear flats.

    3. Cait

      I find these relevant because sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously as a woman, especially as a young woman. She argues that a little bit of intimidation–being extra tall and somewhat imposing–can cow people a bit and make it easier to work with them. Or at least show them you’re not going to be pushed around.

    4. Runon

      I did this with a tall guy who liked to boss everyone around but especially women.
      Luckily I’m a tall woman, and every conversation I had with him either I was standing (in heels) and he was standing, or I was standing and he was sitting.

      He actually listened to me.
      (When I was promoted and someone else tried to deal with him, he was unfireable, I was asked how I managed to get him to do the work and do it reasonably well. I said one of the most awful things I’ve said at work but I still can’t come up with a better way to say it…”I showed him I had the biggest balls.”)

      1. Chinook

        “I showed him I had the biggest balls”. It is a bit sexist but I think most women need to learn how to do this. For some men, I found that I have to think like a guy and be willing to act like mine is bigger than his.

        Also, have you ever noticed how boys can fight one day and then be best friends the next whereas girls hold grudges (and I am speaking of children, not adults)? If you remember this, you can understand why men seem to be able to take this type of confrontation in stride whereas I, as a female, seem to take it personally. I try my best to “be like a guy” and not take business personally and to stand up when I believe I am right but not hold it over the other person later. The boys got it right, in my opinion.

        1. Melissa

          Actually, I haven’t noticed that. In my experience with small children (and I was a camp counselor for several summers, tutor, etc.) both boys and girls can fight one day and be best friends the next. It’s only after they’ve gotten older and had time to absorb the societal message that girls are “catty” and hold grudges that they actually start too. In reality, grudges are gender-free.

    5. Elizabeth

      always wear heels if you’re meeting with shorter men who want to try to boss you around. :)

      Corollary to this: understand color theory and why people react to colors they way they do, and use it to your advantage.

      Some color combinations build consensus. Other color combinations are mentally challenging to your audience. Know which is which and when to use each one.

      Today I’m wearing black & red, because I fully intend to wave the proverbial red flag in front of a bull this afternoon in a meeting. It’s a direct challenge to someone.

      If you’ve never read Dress for Success, either the men or women’s version, I highly recommend it. Some of the style advice is dated, but the basic understanding of why colors cause the reactions the do hasn’t changed. Nor has the advice to women of “Always carry a briefcase. Don’t fiddle with an armload of paper”, because it undermines your perceived professionalism and makes you look lesser than the men around you.

        1. Zahra

          What do you do when the only way you’ll remember important information discussed at the meeting is to take notes? I guess I could get my pen and paper out only once the meeting is well under way (or do what a previous manager did: ask that minutes be taken by a different person at each meeting).

          1. Jamie

            I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t write stuff down.

            I’ve never walked into a meeting without a pad/pen nor has any member of upper management attending same. Coming in empty handed and you’ll be sent to the supply closets as you’re unprepared.

            I’m talking about meetings where specifics and specs will be discussed…and lack of media to record what you need to do it just taken very badly. FWIW back when i took meeting minutes it was always via laptop – never written.

            1. the gold digger

              I think I saw the advice in the context of none of the men had pen and paper.

              I always have my notebook and gel 1.0 pen with me because if I don’t write things down, I won’t remember.

              Also, when I am in boring meetings, I make lists of what I am going to cook that weekend or what chores I need to do.

            2. The IT Manager

              Alexandra Samual is seriously not impressed with you.* :)

              From an article: How to Become a Masterful Note-Taker: 8 Lessons From Research at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/how-to-become-a-masterful-note-taker-8-lessons-from-research/274253/

              *Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel said that if she turns up to a meeting and sees a paper notebook tucked under her colleague’s arm, she’s not impressed. Seriously not impressed. Samuel is a digital note-taking extremist.

      1. Liza

        Elizabeth, who wrote your Dress for Success? I did a search on the title and it appears to be such a good title it’s been used for several works!

        1. Elizabeth

          John T Molloy. I first read the original version back in high school and didn’t understand what he was saying. My mom gave me her copy when I got my first full-time job, and suddenly everything clicked.

          I haven’t read the 1996 “updated” version, but all indications are that it is just as relevant.

    6. Melissa

      At a university, that is true. That’s pretty much all you need to advance at least up to a certain mid-level point.

  10. Elly Vortex

    Dad: “Find the job that nobody else wants to do, and make it your specialty.”

    Grandma: “A woman can go anywhere if she can type and wait tables.”

    I’ve gotta admit, both of these recs kind of made me cringe as an idealistic youngster. Especially my grandma’s advice, which I felt was from another era. But I took a typing class in high school (back when it was still called “typing”); I waited tables all through high school, college, and grad school; and once I graduated and started a career where I type all the time, well then I began to appreciate my typing skills! I think that, in general, what Grandma was saying was that a woman with skills can go places and do things that she was not able to do. She was smart as a tack and I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, she would have been a great manager or writer or what have you. I often wonder how she would react if she could see her granddaughters today: independent career women (my sister has a family too…I’m all career right now).

    My dad’s advice also made my stomach churn…but it is so true. Doing what nobody else wanted to do – and doing it WELL – was key in my moving up the career ladder. Supervise the jerks? Fine. Good experience. Move to the office in less desirable location in order to receive a promotion? Great. Do my time and kick ass. Move back to the City with an impressive list of accomplishments. Put in charge of struggling project? Excellent. Dig it out of the muck, get it on track, and make it the star of the organization.

    And always eat breakfast. Food is fuel, you need fuel to run through the day. (Mom)

    1. Chinook

      Your Grandma’s advice can also be interpreted as “have a skill that can always pay the bills,” something I always told my students. Sure, you may intend on being a professional engineer or hockey player, but it never hurts to have that one thing that you can fall back on if something goes wrong.

    2. Melissa

      I really like your dad’s advice. I discovered that I really liked statistics in college, but apparently not a lot of people like it. Now in grad school, I make a good bit of money on the side teaching, tutoring, and consulting in statistics, and when I look at job ads right now for researchers and professors in my field, they all want people with quant/statistical skills.

      1. moss

        take it from me: you will NEVER be unemployed if you follow a stats path. My most recent job search took 2 weeks.

    3. Heather

      Another way to think of your Dad’s advice is, “Find a need and figure out how to fill it.”

      My mentor’s mentor gave him this advice. The immediate context was for an engineer moving from academia to industry, but I think it’s applicable in general.

      I take this to mean, instead of focusing on what you have to offer and then trying to sell it, find out what are the needs in your industry or company or market, then find a way to apply your skillset (or further training) to that need. For one thing, the problems that really need solving get more resources thrown at them – one fewer source of frustration at work.

    4. Jazzy Red

      My grandma, too! She left school after 4th grade to go to work, and eventually did housekeeping for an educated successful man. He turned her on to some really good books, and she continued her information education until she died. She had 9 children and a warm, welcoming, and organized home with a happy family.

  11. RB

    When I first got into leadership and management, my dad gave me several pieces of advice:

    1. Never take credit for a subordinate’s hard work or idea.
    2. Praise publicly, but criticize privately.
    3. Get rid of the poison apples quickly.

    I have had to be change agent with dysfunctional teams and companies many times over the years. In every case, those 3 things were the catalysts to be able to inspire trust and increase performance…….and most definitely made those places better work environments.

    1. Rob

      These are all spot on, but especially the second one. I don’t think 95 percent of managers do that – they always mix them up.

  12. Jamie

    And these aren’t technically work advice, but life advice that applies to work:

    From my mom: Not knowing something doesn’t make a person stupid – it just means they don’t happen to know that one thing. Refusing to learn, however, does.

    From my dad: Most of the people you’ll deal with in life will be idiots. When you have a problem demand to speak to someone who operates at your level…will save a lot of pointless arguing.

    One of my parents was kinder and gentler than the other – but smush the advice together and it’s held me in good stead.

    1. Sascha

      Your mom’s advice is spot-on for working in tech support. I have encountered many wonderful people who felt like they were stupid because they didn’t know how to work a specific program – but they were willing to learn. It’s a great feeling when you can show someone they are capable and inspire confidence.

      On the flip side, I’ve also worked with the truly ignorant – those who refuse to learn, refuse to cooperate, and take pride in their ignorance. That attitude earns them a spot at the bottom of my priority list.

      1. littlemoose

        I think Alison would be out of a job, or at least have a lot less on her plate, if that were the case.
        But yes, it would be much better!

  13. Shelley

    Dress for the job you want and not the one you have.

    I know this seems dated, but I worked in the government for 5 years and most people dressed so casual. Too casual. Jeans and sweat shirts. I was a communications assistant at the time and I always dressed more in line to how my manager dressed. I looked polished and professional and it made me feel good. When I went to meetings and there were people there from other departments who never met me, I was always treated like I had a much higher position in the company.
    I think for me this is good advice because it follows the idea that positive out equals positive in. If you believe you are in a higher position and you look the part and show other people you are serious then it just makes others take you just as seriously. Plus first impressions are lasting impressions….I still remember that one manager I met who wore a sports jersey and jeans to work who also smelled like cigarette smoke too. Others didn’t take her too seriously either.

    1. Shelley

      Oh and this came from my mother, but the advice sounded more like. “Always look presentable, if you want to get a promotion then dress like you want it.” Plus she also added to always look good especially when you are out because you never know who you will bump into.

    2. Sascha

      Oh I agree that this is great advice. I work at a university, and we have a casual dress code (jeans and anything but t-shirts, unless it’s a school shirt), so when I started, I was in heaven. And I think I got a little too slovenly. I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously – which is compounded by the fact that I look younger than I am, I don’t wear makeup, and I looked like a student. When I started dressing nicer, it made me more confident in myself and my abilities, and I think people took notice of that, and didn’t see me so much as “straight out of college.”

    3. Christine

      Absolutely agree with this. At one place I volunteer at, I see people in jeans and a sweatshirt; I realize this is a very casual work environment, but it just doesn’t look nice to me. I NEVER wear jeans, even when volunteering (unless they’re nicer and relatively new).

    4. Yvi

      Came here to post the same. I am the lone woman in an IT department, also used to be the youngest. I dressed like I did for college at first. Now I dress business casual and have really noticed a change in attitude towards me.

    5. S

      I have found that in tech, this can sometimes backfire for women. Often, if I’m dressed nicely, people will assume that I am in HR or recruiting and that I have no technical skills or anything to add to the conversation they’re having.

      1. HRCA

        Well that is insulting for us professional HR folks who have a lot to add to the business discussions.

    6. Sue D. O'Nym

      The first sentence of this post is great advice, unless you want to be an astronaut.

      (with that being said, if I’m ever in a position where I’m hiring, and a candidate comes in dressed in an Astronaut’s flight suit, I may seriously consider giving them an offer on the spot)

    7. LEB

      Actually this worked for me making it on time to an internship interview on time. In college I lived in a city with a confusing and unreliable bus system- buses were dropped from lines or rerouted all the time, so I planned a two-hour trip by bus that was supposed to take me to within a 1/4 mile of the business address. I was to take Bus A to downtown, walk a few blocks and catch Bus B, all with 30 minutes to spare to freshen up iand go over my interview notes.

      Bus B actually didn’t go to my location, despite the public transist maps saying that it did. I ended up walking/jogging two miles in a fine drizzle in a borrowed business suit. I finally stopped at a Marriott Hotel to double-check the quickest way to get to the building. No one was at the front desk when I entered. I rang the bell, and when I asked where the building was and indicated that I’d be walking the rest of the way, the front desk manager called the van service to drive me. I hadn’t mentioned I was a lowly 20 something hoping to get my first writing internship. I was dressed in a business suit with heels and a leather bag that looked like a fashion briefcase and apparently the drizzle hadn’t noticeably ruined my hair- he thought I was staying at the hotel!

      So I got a free ride with the driver asking me all about my “business” in the area. I had fun making up a story to him about a business that didn’t exist and made it to the interview ten minutes ahead of time rather than trekking the last two miles in twenty minutes!

      As an aside, I didn’t get the internship- not enough experience for what they were looking for in an intern. But I was complimented on the borrowed business suit.

      1. Shelley

        I think IT seems to be the big exception to the business suit attire. Even Alison mentions this in her webinar, especially when it comes to what to wear to the interview. But I think in general, I have never heard of someone not being hired for looking too professional.

        1. Yvi

          In case people from other countries are reading, I just wanted to mention that this is not universal. I am in IT and at every interview I have been to, my counterpart has worn a suit, and where I work, people come in very diverse clothing – you see both full suits and people wearing shorts in the summer.

      2. Steve G

        I love it! A little sad though that you weren’t experienced enough to be an intern. Internships are supposed to be to get people experience. If you couldn’t get experience for free, how are younger people getting it now?

  14. Amanda

    Write everything down as it happens, from a grad school professor. (I have a professional MA and most of my professors were working professionals in the field.)

    I’ve found that it’s far, far easier to take a few minutes to document a major project at the end, when you’re doing the post-mortems, than it is to try to remember it 3 years later when you’re updating your resume. I’ve found LinkedIn especially valuable for this; I keep it full of articles, professional committees, accomplishments, etc., that would not fit on my resume but are important to track. Then I can cherry pick from that to build a resume.

    1. Zahra

      Ooh, Amanda, can you share your name in the LinkedIn group? I had a manager who advocated taking notes of our successes as the year progressed so we could make a good case for ourselves at yearly review time. I just never managed to find a good system, but yours seems interesting (and it’s public too, which means that prospective employers can see it even when you’re not looking for a job).

      1. College Career Counselor

        You can also create a folder in your work (or other) email that has two functions:

        1) When you finish a big project/event/roll-out/whatever, you can note the high points and send it to yourself in an email.

        2) If you get praise from your boss, a colleague, a vendor, client, etc., you can incorporate that into that email folder and/or put it in the bank for a day when things are not going so well. A former supervisor of mine suggested we all create a “psychological income” folder for just this purpose.

        I don’t do it a lot, but it’s nice to look over the “wins” from time to time and remind yourself that it’s not only the negative to to-be-improved that needs to be acknowledged and validated.

        1. Jessa

          Also if your office permits you to send outside email (some companies only allow this for client facing people) send yourself a copy at HOME. If something happens and they decide to let you go, they will probably cut your access at or before the time they tell you. Mostly because a small percentage of very nasty people have really trashed corporate systems if they don’t. So any time you get something, make a copy or send yourself an email and an attachment and keep a folder at home.

          You want to make sure your documentation is offsite. (obviously ignore me if you’re in classified stuff.)

        2. Andrea

          I keep a “kudos” folder. It helps when I need a pick-me-up and it also helps when I’m trying to remember what I accomplished over the year during performance reviews.

    2. Melissa

      Oh, yes. I have a long-version of my CV that I update every time I get something new to put on it. Then when I need to reformulate a shorter version or a resume to send for a job, I just cut and shape.

  15. Rachit Aggarwal

    The best career advice which i get from manager is that,”Always criticize people on their face and appreciate them behind their back.”

    1 more advice which is my personnel advise is that whenever your manager asks from you about your peers, always appreciate them. This will leave a very positive effect on your manager.

    1. jmkenrick

      Always criticize people on their face and appreciate them behind their back.”

      That’s just good life advice. Tell people when you’re upset, but don’t dwell on it…I like it.

  16. Anon

    When I was in college, a professional in my chosen field gave a talk to one of my classes. The bit that stuck with me? To succeed, you have to be willing to pull up roots and move, especially in a niche industry. Several years later, I followed his advice. Leaving my hometown to move 2,000 miles across the country was one of the most painful and difficult experiences of my life, but professionally, it was far and away the most valuable and rewarding.

    Obviously, there are a lot of variables, such as whether you have a spouse and/or kids who can make the move easily, how your quality of life will compare in the new city, etc. And telecommuting wasn’t really a thing at the time he spoke (back in the old days, all of 15 years ago). But I still think his advice is good, not only because it opens up entire worlds of job possibilities and paths for advancement, but also because I have found that taking that big step out of your comfort zone tends to have a ripple effect in terms of taking worthwhile risks at work.

  17. kbeers0su

    As Meg said, “Cover Your Ass (CYA)” which was a mantra at my old organization. Important to know because you can’t trust anyone else to have your back. This taught me to put things in writing (emails), to cc: my boss, and to make sure that I included all players early on when making decisions.

    “If you can’t help someone, then at least don’t hurt them” from my former supervisor. I work with students, so this just goes to the idea that if you can’t be nice to a student and help them, at least don’t say or do anything to hurt them. But I’ve also applied this advice to projects- if you can’t make a positive contribution, then at least make sure that you aren’t a detriment.

    “Smile” which has come to me from too many people. I’m one of those people whose normal facial expression is somewhere between pensive and angry. When I applied for my current position I was told that one of the concerns from a higher up was that I didn’t smile enough. While I think it’s stupid to judge someone on that (rather than how I actually do my job) it made me realize that perceptions are important. So now when I’m out in public I make sure that my face reflects the fact that I do love my job (while my mind is still running on the inside).

    1. Meg

      This was my mantra when I became responsible for other people. When someone else was reprimanded, I always heard, “Oh, Meg told me to do it.” After a few times of exaggerating their roles, it was definitely a CYA experience. I was a tough love manager in retail. I knew when to bend over backwards, and when to stand my ground. As a manager of a big box mass retailer, I had the most complaints from customers (upper management knew I was doing my job, but I still had to have a 5-second ‘counsel’ which was ‘What did you say? … Why did you say it?… Okay, back to work. Keep it up.’) but the highest peer evaluation. I stuck up my coworkers and my direct reports. When I left, I had 3 reports and 2 upper managers leave with me.

      In a smaller, more profit-driven retail sales/scenario, I developed clientele that would only deal with me, or at my store when I was there because they liked the level of service I provided. I had customers follow me from one end of town to the other, depending on what store I was at.

      So that goes with the other piece of career advice I learned on my own, rather:
      1. Most of the time, it’s not WHAT decision you make, but rather that you MAKE one. I’ve never been a wishywashy kind of people who can’t make up their mind (if I truly can’t, I’ll do eeny meeny miney mo).
      2. Pick your battles wisely. Instead of arguing with the customer who is so clearly wrong that the sky turned green and grass turned blue, sometimes its best to suck it up, apologize for the inconvenience, and offer them a free car charger, valued at $29.99. Why? I’d rather lose a $1.25 than return their items because they got so pissed off with the service. Other times, stand your ground. The key is knowing when.

      1. Jessa

        on number 2 however, please make sure that your on the ground employee does not feel stepped on. A million blogs about customer service are all about “The corporate policy is Y. I told the customer Y very politely, they went off the deep end and the manager did Z. And the customer turned and went “neener neener boo boo see? you were wrong wrong wrong.” And that same customer will go to the next place and be screaming because they know that even though the rank and file do x the manager will immediately do z if they scream.

        Please don’t train customers to do that at the expense of your line employees. Because even though you kept that BAD customer, you’ve trained them to be bad to the NEXT person and just stomped on your cashier. Who now looks like an idiot to the customer because you didn’t stand your ground in order to save “hassle” or a customer that is LIKELY NOT WORTH keeping. Sometimes it’s NOT best to suck it up. Because all this does is punish your line employee.

        And if that wasn’t true there wouldn’t be a metric tonne of “customer suck” blogs and “co-worker suck, management suck” blogs that are complaining about EXACTLY that thing.

        If there’s an exception to the rule, train your line people on it and give them the authority to DO it. Don’t come over and undermine them.

        1. Elle

          Customers have options. Generally, employees don’t. It’s not for the customer to be bending over backwards to interpret corporate policy.

        2. Another Ellie

          “The corporate policy is Y. I told the customer Y very politely, they went off the deep end and the manager did Z. And the customer turned and went “neener neener boo boo see? you were wrong wrong wrong.”

          Company policies that cause employees to feel embarrassed and shamed (I’ve so been there) are *not* good. Companies should have their employees’ backs , or expect the employees to do a half-hearted job.

      2. Josh S

        For your #1: Realize that not making a decision (when presented with options) is necessarily making an implicit decision for the status quo and/or a decision to procrastinate. You’re not putting off making a decision–you’re making a default decision that probably isn’t the best option.

  18. LMW

    1) Don’t waste time being overly-loyal to your company. No matter how awesome you are or how much they depend on you now, they will replace you and they’ll get by just fine when you are gone. You need to think of your career first. (This was from my cousin, and I needed to hear it in order to leave a career that I was ridiculously dedicated too, even though it paid terribly and I’d progressed just about as far as it was possible to go.)
    2) When you are the expert, talk like you are the expert. Don’t be overly deferential or modify your statements with things like “I think” or “Maybe…” when you are talking to a bunch of people who are in your line of reporting (i.e., have different bosses) or are ranked higher in the organization. (This was from my boss and our VP, in my first corporate job after years in publishing, to encourage me to be more assertive. I’m a woman, I was younger than everyone else on the team, and I was often in a position of having to tell our IT team — all older than me and 95% male — how I wanted things on our website. They wouldn’t always follow my directions exactly or in a timely fashion; instead they would follow their own opinions and regard my instructions as advice. When I started sounding more direct and assertive, they had more respect for my experience and my projects were done to my specifications and timeline.)

    1. LMW

      Oh, and I forgot:
      3) What ever you are doing, do it well. Even if it’s stuffing envelopes – be the best and most efficient envelope stuffer they’ve ever seen. (That’s from my parents, and it’s good advice because half-###ing stuff because it’s not important can become a habit that’s hard to break. Always trying to do well makes you a conscientious employee who knows the difference between a shortcut and laziness.)

      1. Jamie

        This reminds me of something I tell my kids – lots of things are outside of our control but reliability isn’t. There can always be someone who is inherently a better shirt folder, or floor sweeper, or sandwich maker, or whatever…but if everything you do is done to the best of your ability and you show up on time every time and aren’t a PITA…a reputation for being dependable is critical and totally within your power to create.

        1. Chinook

          I once told a boss who thought my office manager job was hard that, with right documentation a monkey could do my job but that he keeps me around because I do it much more efficiently than a monkey (and that I smell much better too!).

    2. ASHRAD

      THIS. (To your #1). I’m in a position with an amazing boss, great company, and position I excel in. I absolutely love what I do. However, the long and short of it is that my boss can’t afford to pay me more than $17k a year (part time), and I graduated college in 2011. It’s time for me to make a career move for myself, despite having a pretty incredible situation. My boss begs me on a daily basis to rethink leaving…. but I can barely even afford to eat on my salary! I have to remind myself that I’ve progressed as far as I can in my position and being loyal to my boss/company isn’t going to pay the bills. Thanks for posting this!

    3. kbeers0su

      Love #1. Probably something that I need to keep in mind. My organization is a hot mess, but I’ve been here for six years and it’s hard to leave!

    4. Jazzy Red

      #2 is absolute truth! I’ve seen the difference when I talk to people, and when other women talk as well. I live in the south ? where everything that’s said ? has a question mark at the end of it ?, so hear it all the time. I find myself doing that from time to time, and I hate it.

  19. SLC

    “Never say ‘no’ to your boss, even if it’s not your job, not your fault, or something you don’t know how to do. Figure it out.”

    1. Jessa

      I don’t agree with this one. There comes a point where you become the doormat if you do this. People have to learn how to say no politely and firmly. Boundaries need to be set.

      And the problem with the corollary “just this once, sure, but that’s Wakeen’s job,” is that you’re going to continue to be asked. Nobody ever hears the “just this once,” part of it.

  20. kdizzle

    My first boss told me, “when you’re starting off in your career, never stay anywhere longer than three years. One year to really learn the job, one year to prove you can do the job better than anyone has ever done it, and one year to spend time looking for the best job to advance your career. ”

    That really stuck with me; that he was willing to train me, mentor me, and then let me take that knowledge and give it to someone else. When I left that first job, he helped me pick through potential next jobs and even let me use his office for phone interviews. Best boss ever.

  21. Michelle

    I don’t know if anyone specifically gave me this advice, but once I started talking about it with friends it became clear it was something we all felt and it helped us not to worry. That is: Everyone feels like an imposter or imminent screw-up at a new job. But if they hired you, you’ll probably be fine!

    Every time I have started a new job I’ve panicked about the parts of the job description that I wasn’t as confident about, or being asked to do something I hadn’t learned or been trained to do yet. When I relaxed and realised that a lot of people (early in their careers anyway) has that, “Oh man, they hired me but they don’t know that I have no idea what I’m doing! They’re going to find out and fire me immediately!” feeling really helped me relax, ask questions, and remember that I don’t have to know how to do everything perfectly the moment I step into a new workplace or role.

    1. PJ

      At one company I worked at, we hired someone to teach our product to our clients. We told him we’d hired him for his teaching skills, and we would teach him everything he needed to know about the product. After two weeks in the job, he quit rather abruptly, blaming us for knowingly hiring him into a job we knew he couldn’t do. I believe the word he used to describe what we did to him as “heinous.” He let his fear of learning something new cheat him out of an opportunity to be part of a new, up-and-coming technology.

      Hang in there, E.R.!

  22. Kat

    Challenge yourself! If you are finding that you are doing the same thing everyday and you are bored with it, ask your manager if there is anything that s/he needs help with and see what other opportunities exist at your organization. It’s a great way to learn new skills and it shows that you take initiative.

  23. Coelura

    The best advice I ever got was…

    Force rank the activities & people in your life. For example, are your kids 1, parents 2, friends 3, employees 4, …. boss 10

    Then – work to ensure that your time & emotional energy expenditure are aligned with that ranking. If my boss ranks a 10 and I react to something with a very high emotional energy level (high stress, etc), then I’m using emotional energy that I should be expending on my kids on my boss. My mentor told me that I’m essentially “stealing” emotional energy from the important people in my life by overreacting to my boss.

    This structure helps me keep my emotional energy & time expenditure in alignment with my priorities. So when I start to react to something, I ask myself if it makes sense or am I overreacting based upon my priorities. As a part of this structure, I found myself reducing the number of hours at work and increasing the amount of time with my kids.

    Amazingly enough, this exercise helped me succeed far more at work because I’m more consistent and steady at work. I get more done & I’m more trusted because I don’t overreact very often. I’m also happier and comfortable with where I am with my job. It was very hard to implement, but very worth it!

    1. Ornery PR

      I love this advice. I’m very guilty of getting riled up by people I don’t really care about and then monopolizing the time of my loved ones to complain about these people. Great reminder to re-prioritize my energy. Thanks, Coelura

  24. VictoriaHR

    I don’t remember where I heard it, but: if you’re going to cry at work, look up at the ceiling. Somehow that makes the pinpricks at the tip of your nose stop and your tear ducts stop threatening to leak.

    As a frustration crier, I have found this to be extremely helpful.

    From my own experience, I’ve learned that even if I don’t feel like smiling and saying “hi” to someone in the morning, etc, do it anyway. I’m an introvert so it’s pushing myself to smile and be friendly, but I learned years ago that people WILL judge you for it and you WILL get lower marks on performance reviews for being rude or not being a team player, etc. It might not be fair, but it is the way it is.

    In my new job where I’ve been for 4 months, I see young women strutting down the hall with their nose in the air, not smiling at anyone and being generally snotty, and I want to say, “oh honey no.” But it’s kinda something that you gotta learn for yourself, I guess. Be nice to your coworkers.

    1. Michelle

      Ahhh this is good advice! I am a person who cries easily (although I haven’t at work yet- knock on wood!) so any crying-avoidance tactics are appreciated.

  25. Sumac

    “There’s nothing wrong with paying your dues.”

    This came from a multi-millionaire who was listening to a conversation I was having with her daughter about my (then) new job. It keeps me sane.

  26. Amanda

    Don’t build contacts. Build relationships.

    A mentor of mine said this to me a few months ago in the middle of my job search, and I realized how true it really is. Networking just to gain contact means you’re only paying attention to someone if they have something to offer you. If you have relationships with people, though, they will give you a helping hand, empathize, and even fight for you when it comes to potential leads. It makes more sense to get out there and make genuine contact than ask for an instant relationship on LinkedIn.

  27. Runon

    Stop saying “we” when you mean “I”. This was given to me by my mentor when I started to look for a new job. I said “we” for every project I lead, I said “we” when I was the only person who did anything on it. That sounds great when you are a nonprofit applying for a grant about collaboration. It sounds week and flimsy when you are trying to promote yourself, get a job, or even recognize your own skills. I later heard from an interviewer that I just didn’t sound very take charge or like I had led many projects, it was about the “we”. So I am skilled, and I have lead many new initiatives, and I need to say I am great because we won’t.

    1. Jamie

      I still do that – and it’s kind of crazy because I’ll do it even when it’s clear no one else could have been involved in X except me.

      I’ll take this as a reminder to try again to break this habit. I got teased just last week for employing the ‘royal we’ in an all users email. Apparently “we” needed to let people know the schedule for when “we” were planning server maintenance. I was asked in mock sincerity about my imaginary helpers…

      Such a bad habit.

      1. Runon

        It is a bad habit. I occasionally will catch myself doing it and say “and of course by we I mean I” which generally gets a chuckle.
        I think sometimes (as in your case maybe?) we (by we here I mean those of us who say we, not I!) use to to say, other people back me up in this. I am enough of a power to say things like, I will be taking down the server for an hour. And I have no doubt you are too.

        1. Jamie

          Of course – and if I asked my boss to back me up on any of my ‘we’ stuff he’d wonder why he was paying me.

          It’s not that for me – I’m pretty comfortable in my wheelhouse when it comes to authority…I really think it’s just a bad holdover habit from when I was taught nice girls aren’t bossy…so it’s an attempt to soften the message. And I forget I’m doing it until I’m mocked.

          Soooo…I could either break the habit or push the boss to get me some help then “we” will be accurate! Win-win there!

    2. Jazzy Red

      When any of my brother’s kids would say “we” instead of “me”, he’d ask “do you have a mouse in your pocket?” I think of that when say “we” instead of “me”.

  28. B

    Always look out for yourself because no one else will.
    and
    You are replaceable, everyone is replaceable.
    and
    A company is in the business of making money. That is the be all and end all.

    I repeat these to myself over and over again as well as tell others just starting out. To me, they are reminders to work hard not only for others but for yourself. At the same time never assume anything is a given or a company is going to be loyal.

    1. Rob

      This. Every single person in every single job is replaceable. It annoys me when I see OPs to various letters claim they are not replaceable.

      If they got hit by a bus on their way home this afternoon, guess what? Someone has to do their job tomorrow.

      1. Jazzy Red

        That happened at a place where I work, except it was a heart attack and the co-worker died. It was tough, but business did go on.

    2. Josh S

      I kind of disagree with you on the 3rd one. Companies are in business for a variety of different reasons. And yes, profitability (making money) is typically a key component in staying open– at least in the for-profit world.

      But there are companies who don’t necessarily want to make as much money as possible, or at least not as their primary “end-all be-all” goal. They might really want to provide a product to people. They may want to fill a perceived need in the world. They may want to give people in their community jobs. They may want to use their business as a means to support a cause (like selling bird feeders if you want to encourage people to love nature). Or they may want to make gobs of money. But not everyone has the exact same goals.

  29. Jubilance

    #1 – You are your biggeest advocate. If you don’t advocate for yourself & own your career, no one else will.

    #2 – Don’t just work hard, work smart.

    #3 – No one owes you anything (not really career specific, but definitely applies at work)

    1. College Career Counselor

      My version of that is “No one cares more about your career than you do.” If you think about it, to a large extent you’re the boss of your own career. Even so, I bet many of us are guilty of being exhibiting some of the bad boss behavior we dislike in our own supervisors (laissez-faire, inconsistent, poor planning, etc.)..

  30. Trixie

    I was a little unsure of myself starting my new job in the tech industry (I came from the engineering world). So my boss then told me “Come on, none of this is as hard as integral calculus!”. Motto to live by :)

  31. Receptionist

    ANY opportunity for a free training you come across, take it. Even if it seems boring or irrelevant your job. Gather as much knowledge and as many skills as you possibly can, because you never know when you might need it.

  32. Lora

    1. Praise publicly, critique privately (and just about everything else from How To Make Friends And Influence People): You will need, at some point, to get cooperation and work out of someone who does not report to you, whose boss does not take an interest in your work, whose department does not give a rat’s butt about your department. If you cannot get people who do not report to you to work with you, you will be dead in the water.

    2. Do not Escalate. Escalating is when you have a small problem. You try to talk nicely to the person who can fix it, but they are not happy to help, so you follow the Just War doctrine of Proportionality: they get a little snippy, you get a little snippy. They get angry, you get angry. They shout, you shout. This is not going to end in anything other than HR wondering what the hell is wrong with you crazy people shouting about nothing. You’re Escalating issues. Do not do that.

    Instead, go directly to the worst possible outcome for the other person. Don’t gradually get there, go straight to the worst outcome possible for the other person, and make it clear that you are dead serious and will totally go there. Keep calm, but state the outcome bluntly. The other person will freak out & capitulate pretty quickly. They don’t want to go there! Whoa! That could happen? Noooo!

    It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough and it pre-emptively shuts down stubborn petty power-brokers. Of course, you really do have to make good on it sometimes, but there’s no real down side to having a “takes no crap” rep.

    1. Lora

      Also, probably apocryphal, but:
      “Gentlemen,
      You have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for law is too slow. I’ll ruin you.
      Yours truly,
      Cornelius Vanderbilt ”

      Too often I see people expect HR, management, or the Department of Labor to administer Justice. Learning that in real life this does not happen, was immensely helpful to my attitude.

      I realize that sounds super-negative, but when I realized it was all on me to stop the shenanigans an all-male manufacturing staff and all-male management can inflict on a lone female supervisor, that was not a bad thing.

  33. Yup

    “It will all still be here tomorrow,” said by a former boss (a big deal VP at a big company), looking at a giant pile of work I was frantically attacking on a Friday night. It was a good advice because it was a dose of reality from an extremely hardworking person, that there is no such place as “done.”

    Her point at the time was that I should get some rest because the world won’t end if I don’t finish XYZ tonight. But what I learned from it was perspective, focus, and strategy. You can wear yourself out trying to cross an ever-retreating finish line, or you can figure out how to approach your work in a meaningful way that addresses what you’re really trying to do.

      1. Jamie

        Kind of a take on how I raised my kids. “People are more important than things.” When they accidentally broke something and would feel bad…letting them know that their feelings mattered more than the fact that I would have to glue the kitten musicbox together for the umpteenth time…it’s the gift of relief and security.

        Kind of reminds me too how our network consultant can talk me down off my ledge faster than anyone by asking me when I went into neurosurgery. Because “going by how freaked out you are I assume someone is going to die. Oh, it’s just a network problem? No one will die? Then can you just breathe for chrisssake?”

        Worst case scenario no one dies…helps to remember when I’m clenched.

        1. Lore

          Yes! My version of it in the publishing/theater trenches has always been “Remember, no puppies will die if we miss this deadline.”

          1. jmkenrick

            My former manager sat me down one and said “Johanna, it’s not brain surgery. You can’t kill anyone with your mistakes.”

        2. anon

          Unfortunately my current job is such that if I take more than a day or two to get back to a client, it’s not uncommon to hear that they have indeed died. Luckily you have to develop a pretty black sense of humor to work in that kind environment, so my coworkers and I crack ourselves up pretty regularly saying, “It’s not like anyone’s going to die! Oh wait…” Turns out the job still goes on anyway.

  34. Jamie

    My former Boss’s very successful father once told me 90 percent of professional success is returning all your calls and emails.

    He was exaggerating a bit, but it was good advice because it can be easy to ignore certain requests, emails or calls from people. And if you make the effort to respond to everything, you’re way ahead of most professionals who tend to ignore a lot.

    1. kbeers0su

      THIS. I wish my boss understood this! He’s not well liked throughout our entire organization and can’t figure out why…maybe it’s because he never answers his phone (desk or work cell) and never answers his email!

  35. littlemoose

    Two things. One of my first managers, way back at a part-time retail job, told me never to just tell a customer “I don’t know.” Rather, tell them, “I don’t know, but I can find out” – and then do it. I have used this advice throughout my career. It’s more helpful for everyone, whether it’s a customer or your boss, and shows that you care about getting things done right. It also goes to the need to be honest about what you don’t know or haven’t done, while still appearing competent.

    Second – and maybe this is just something I’ve learned during my time in the workforce, and in fact advice that I have given to others – when you present your boss with a problem, also come in with as much knowledge and possible and potential solutions. If I’m talking to a superior about a case, I need to have read the entire file – even stuff that may not seem completely germane to my question – so that I can answer his questions and have an informed discussion about the issues of the case. (Sometimes doing this will resolve what you saw as a potential problem anyway.) If I do have a problem, I explain the problem and the potential solutions, i.e., I can do A, B, or C with this. Doing this saves your boss time and helps you get a better result, because often they were thinking about/working on something else or don’t know/remember the specifics of your project. I’ve used this strategy in multiple workplaces and found that it helps both me and my bosses.

    1. Jessa

      One of the things I always had to train reports to do in that kind of setting is never start the sentence with “we can’t” or something negative even if it is absolutely true and the law says in black letter that you can’t. It’s always “What I CAN do for you is x, we’re not able to, we can’t Y because z.” The order is IMPORTANT because if you start with can’t. The person on the other end has stopped listening. And will NOT hear all the things (maybe even better things) that you CAN do for them.

      1. Jamie

        I’ve said can’t. I’ve had someone ask if I could write a report utilizing data x against data y – but data y isn’t something we collect in the system and they didn’t want it inputted into the system.

        So you want me to write a comparison report about the ration between X and Y when as far as the system is concerned Y is always null?

        Yes – that’s what we want.

        No. You can’t have it and please think it through and it should become clear why.

        Sometimes it’s just NO and they should be happy there wasn’t a hand slap as they were shooed away.

        1. Nicole

          +1. Sounds like we are in similar industries, because I run into exactly the same thing with data x/data y!

        2. Josh S

          What? You mean we don’t want to have a paper trail surrounding M* regulated issue? We don’t want to have a ton of data on this collected so we can legitimately plead ignorance?

          Corporate version of CYA, to be sure. :)

          *Why should A, B, C, X, Y, and Z get all the fun?

          1. Jamie

            Just to be clear it wasn’t anything like that. I wouldn’t be party to anything shady when it comes to data collection and anything regulated would be.

            This was far more mundane – we rate jobs so we can get historical data for how long certain operations take and this was about keeping the estimated rates in a different field to compare against actual weighted averages.

            No CYA involved – just wanting info without wanting to make anyone do the data entry to put the data in the system.

            You would be hard pressed to find someone less likely to play CYA with required data than I am.

            1. Josh S

              Oh, I wasn’t saying that about you. I just know some industries where some problems are dealt with (and legitimately DEALT with) ‘off the books’ to avoid any paper trail that might imply impropriety. (Impropriety that doesn’t exist, but a good lawyer can construe anything given the right paycheck…)

  36. Soni

    From my mom, who learned it the hard way:

    Never make yourself indispensable in any one position unless you want to stay there your entire life. You’ll never get promoted because they know they can’t replace you.

    1. Marina

      This is so true. I’m working hard right now to train as many people as possible to do my job… so I can go up for a promotion and talk about all my informal managerial experience…

  37. E.R

    If you don’t find something interesting, it’s your job to find something about it that interests you. My mom gave me this advice when I was in university (and bored by required courses). But, it became excellent career advice for me down the road, and opened a lot of doors.

  38. Lily in NYC

    If you don’t like or respect your boss, do not let it show on your face. No one gave me this advice, but I wish I had heard it when I was younger with a terrible poker face. I was an excellent worker but my boss could tell I wasn’t fond of him and when he had to choose people for layoffs, I was probably first on his list.

  39. CareerGoods

    Never get comfortable in any position. Comfort reduces your motivation to grow professionally. When you start getting comfortable, it’s time to keep challenging yourself.

  40. JM in England

    From my early career, can’t remember the sources:-

    “Promise little then deliver more”

    &

    “For a bad boss, nothing will ever good enough”

    1. Chinook

      “Promise little then deliver more” I think was the secret of Scottie’s success as an engineer on Star Trek. He told a trainee that that was the captain thought he was a miracle worker with his engines.

        1. Zahra

          Not to mention that every IT-type job that I’ve seen (and done) takes twice as much time as planned by the (usually) optimistic IT person. That’s why I always multiply by 2 or 3 the time estimate any IT professional (or non professional) gives me.

          1. Jessa

            Exactly. the shortest estimate NEVER works out, always figure there will be complications.

            1. JM in England

              Agreed Jessa!

              When I give an estimate on how long a job will take, I tend to include a “safety factor” of at least 100% that has earned me a “miracle worker” reputation in the past.

              (btw, I’m a Star Trek fan too!)

              1. Jazzy Red

                This works for admins, too.

                “I’ll have your project ready for you by noon Friday, even if I have to stay late Thursday night.”

                I know I’ll have it done by Thursday morning, but I’m willing to stay late to get it done by noon Friday!

  41. Chinook

    Always take your lunch break away from where you work (even if it is just a different room), especially in your first few weeks. I was running a day camp and and would hang out with kids at lunch. My ED pointed out that I was setting up a situation where I was going to be expected to do this even when I needed the break. I then would “kick out” my program leaders for their lunch for the same reason.

    I still do this and I like that I am not expected to be available when I eat (except when I am being paid to do so cuz I am the only one there). My rule of thumb is the more intense the job (like receptionist with a budget switchboard) the harder I am to find at lunch.

    1. Jessa

      Although occasionally showing up just to make sure things are running in your absence is not a bad idea. Just don’t let them think you’re always going to be there or available.

  42. Julie

    From my mom: Accept that even if you have your dream job, there will be parts of it that you don’t like.

    She was trying to advise me that no job will be 100% blissful and perfect. No matter how good it is, there will always be some aspect of it you don’t like… and that’s okay. (For her, as a kindergarten and grade 1 teacher, it was preparing report cards. She loved being with the kids, but when report card weekend rolled around, everyone knew to stay out of the house.)

    I think this is great advice, because it reminds you that even if you’re not happy with a task or function right now, you might still be in a very good job that you like most of the time.

  43. Kara

    A business mentor and friend of mine has told me three important pieces of advice, one regarding interviews, one management, and one business. I have found them true every time. Interestingly enough, they are all rules of three.

    1. Before you accept an offer, you should know three things: what are your expectations for me, how will you measure my success, and what is my compensation.

    2. A good managers: give clear expectations for the tasks they wish to be completed, provides tools for the employee to complete those tasks, and holds the employee accountable.

    3. In business, as a business/service provider or as a customer, there are three areas you have the ability to excel in: cost, quality, and convenience. You can only pick two.

    The third bit of advice has probably helped me the most the last few years, because its so true. If you want something done well and quickly, its going to cost you more money. If you want quality work but don’t want to spend a lot of money/charge a lot, it will take longer to find/produce. If you want it cheaply and quickly, it won’t be of great quality.

    The first bit of advice has helped anyone I’ve shared it with in their interviews. You read posts – some of them on AAM – about people who show up and don’t know what they’re being paid, or have not negotiated salary at all, don’t really know what they’re supposed to be doing, or work there for awhile and don’t realize they’re doing things wrong. They need to understand those fundamental parts of a job, to some degree, before they accept the offer.

    The second piece of advice is something I’ve recently been implementing, and I think it works well, although in a small office I’m having trouble ‘holding employees accountable,’ because the consequences for us not meeting our goals will result in the work coming to a standstill during another round of interviewing/hiring. I still have a long way to go with learning to be a good manager, but I think this advice is a great building point. When I told my mentor I was having trouble with the ‘holding employees accountable’ part, because they’re a couple of decades older than me, his sage advice was not a rule of three, but a simple, “Get over it.” I read an AAM post with similar advice, though more eloquently put. I’m working on it.

    1. JM in England

      I’ve tried to convince many of my managers of (3), with it often falling on deaf ears!

    2. The IT Manager

      I used a version of #3 yesterday.

      You can have it fast, good, or cheap. Pick two.

  44. Lore

    This isn’t advice given specifically to me, but distilled from the book Ask for It, which…okay, yes, I reference all the damn time: Don’t take “no” personally. The basic premise of the book is that the worst possible outcome of asking for something is the same as the best possible outcome of not asking. As long as you can get over your reaction to being told no, it’s almost always better to ask for what you want (and even to ask for more than what you want, so you can negotiate to what’s really important to you). I didn’t even realize that I’d internalized the belief that I would be penalized for asking for a raise, or a new piece of software, or whatever–that, in fact, the outcome would make me worse off than I was before.

  45. Rob Bird

    Rob, you’ve got two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Watch and listen twice as much as you speak.

  46. Rob Bird

    “Hey Rob, you should check out this Ask a Manager site….” Best career advice Evahhhhh!!!!

  47. Jen

    Operate from a place of “Yes, if…” instead of “No, because…”

    There will always be some people who don’t like you. They may as well dislike the real you.

    “If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

    I can’t remember where I learned the first one, but it has been incredibly helpful. Nobody says you should be able to move mountains, but under some conditions (large shovel, time), it’s possible. When someone asks if you can solve a problem, always think of ways (and conditions under which) you can, rather than reasons why you can’t. You are seen as positive, proactive, and creative, rather than difficult and negative.

    The second was from a business coach I was working with. It was early in my career, and I still wasn’t sure how to mesh my personal and professional lives. I was in an awkward middle-ground of being ultra-“professional” (or what I thought that looked like) at work, and myself otherwise. Not to say I am as candid or casual with colleagues as I’d be with friends, but I am at least myself, and that advice made me much less afraid to show it.

    And finally, who can argue with the timeless advice of one Conan O’Brien? Work hard, be kind, and everyone will remember you fondly for it.

  48. moss

    Most recently the best advice was variations on AAM’s “You have a bad manager; things are not going to change; it is time to go.”

  49. YAK

    “If they ask you to photocopy, be the best damn photocopier they have ever seen!” – my graduate professor’s advice for an internship at a UN organization abroad. I always followed that advice, doing the unpleasant jobs well and with enthusiasm, and it has definitely paid off and lead to other amazing opportunities.

  50. Alex

    My mom told me something valuable when I was feeling lost and without direction. She told me that I may never know exactly what “to be when I grow up” or I may never figure out my own clear career path desires. The best thing to do is to just move forward with the opportunities presented to me and try as many things as possible in my current position. If something “sticks”, find a position that has that element, take it, and start exploring again. It’s not the position or title that is the goal, it’s the individual activities that create satisfaction, and you really never know what a position can entail until you try it out.

    I also had amazing resume advice in college about tailoring your entire resume to each individual position you’re applying for. It takes a lot of time and effort to do, but it is SO effective.

    1. Diane

      Your mom’s advice resonates. It’s a good way to stop feeling overwhelmed by making big, life decisions and instead focusing on the things that make work rewarding.

  51. Angelina Retta

    Nobody will stab you in the back faster than a co-worker. It’s too easy to see the same people every day and think of them as friends, but they’re not. You might see them more often than your blood relations but they’re not family. They are there to earn a paycheck and if they can get more at someone else’s expense that’s what they’ll do. They might feel bad about it, but their priority is themselves, not you.

    Everything you say to a co-worker will get back to your boss. So don’t complain about them. Don’t say anything to a co-worker that you don’t want posted on their Facebook.

    Be better. See someone you admire? Do what they do and then do it better. Don’t humblebrag, brag. If you accomplish something you should be proud of it.

    Get it in writing. Verbal agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    Money, money, money. It doesn’t matter how badly you need that piece of equipment or how much better you could serve the customer if you had this training or went to that conference. If it’s not in the budget it ain’t happening. If you can’t understand why something is or isn’t happening the answer is money.

    1. some1

      “Everything you say to a co-worker will get back to your boss. So don’t complain about them.”

      And a co-worker who complains with you about a boss or someone else is complaining about you to other people behind your back.

  52. TeacherKelly

    My parents told me (constantly):
    1. Mind your own business
    2 Only you can make yourself happy.
    Those two ideas have kept me out of a lot of trouble.

    From working, I’ve learned that everyday is new, and grudges take too much energy to hold on to. I’ve learned the value of being able to say “I got it wrong” or “I don’t know” and then making it right. Also, I agree with the above advice not to escalate a situation needlessly. This has meant keeping a tight reign on my temper and not always getting the last word, but it’s really paid off in the long run.

  53. Sarah

    Move as high up as you can before you have children – from my VP cousin. I moved steadily up the ladder in my 20’s (when I had the time and energy), then when I had children in my 30’s I was already at a high enough level to “pause” the climb for a few years.

  54. Ornery PR

    Not necessarily career advice, but the best life/financial advice came from my grandpa and my dad.

    Grandpa, “you will never be rich until you earn money while you sleep.” He tried to instill in us (my sisters and I) very early the importance of earning interest on your money and delaying instant gratification for a larger reward later. He was a high school math teacher and probably never earned more than $30K his entire life, but is worth millions now because of his wise investments.

    Dad, “it’s great to make a living, but why on earth does anyone need to make a killing?” This has helped me to prioritize and focus more on philanthropy and being comfortable, rather than striving to earn money above all else.

  55. Rob Bird

    “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”-Douglas Adams

  56. Rob

    I’d give a +1 to pretty much everything everyone else has posted here.

    That being said, I wish I knew about this site when I started my career. I’m pretty sure I would have been able to better handle/navigate my first job after grad school better and that my life would be 99.8 percent different (and better) as a result.

    I only found it nine months ago but it is helping to set me up for future success whenever I am employed again :)

  57. Elizabeth

    From my mom: “Go to bed. It’s late. You need your sleep.”

    It took me a while to really grasp that (I definitely went through a phase in college where I was chronically sleep-deprived!), but at this point I’ve realized that I function a lot better when I have had eight hours of sleep. I am more cheerful, more creative, more flexible, and I get a lot more done. When I haven’t slept enough, I feel like I’m looking at the world through a fog.

    Going along with this, from the same source: “Wash your hands. You don’t want to get sick.”

  58. Sara

    OOoo this is interesting! I can’t say it’s one person who’s given the best, but a combination of good advice from almost everyone I know:

    Most recently I had a conversation with a friend who’s successful in his field. Without going into specifics about myself, his line of thought was basically–look at the bigger picture, and dont’ settle for crap. Both of which, honestly, can be applied in most aspects of life than just career.

    This wasn’t really advice so maybe it doesn’t belong here, but I had the pleasure of working with one of hte best coworkers I’ve ever seen….seriously. He was great with clients, during slow time at work he studied up on the work material, he never got involved in the office politics and was loved by everyone. Maybe not advice, but someone whom I respected and wanted to be like (hes only 2-3 years older than me).

    Just today, I read a comment in the AAM LinkedIn group that stood out to me–(quoting directly from there) “figure out something employers value, and get REALLY GOOD at it…… continue to monitor what’s important for my employers, and spend time developing these skills.”

    I’m sure I’m forgetting alot more, I really should start writing everything down.

  59. Anonicorn

    This is a bit of life advice I received from a college professor.

    Sometimes, stress is actually an indication that things are going well for you.

    It’s amazingly helpful to stop and determine if what’s stressing me out are bad things or good things (more job responsibilities with raise, new house, etc.). It helps me fret less about the good stresses, because, heck, this is what’s supposed to happen things turn out right! And I can focus on figuring out what to do about any potential bad stresses.

  60. Eva

    I once had a female boss tell me that my voice was sometimes pitched too high and that I often gulp audibly/noticeably and so I might want to work with a voice coach to gain more awareness of how I come across. That was hard to hear (not least because she just bluntly hit me with it with not a single kind word to alleviate my embarrassment), but I did appreciate the advice because she was absolutely right that I needed more focus on how I was presenting myself. I never did see an actual voice coach, but I did talk with friends about my voice (and clothes) and read a book on body language, and I think I’ve had a greater consciousness about the importance of these things since then. And I do speak lower now (though I still sometimes slip into high pitch especially when I’m nervous).

  61. AnnaBanana

    “You will never get into grad school – don’t waste your money applying.”

    My undergrad mentor told me this. He was WRONG! I got into grad school my first try and DID get that Master’s degree. His advice to save my money didn’t discourage me as he had intended… it gave me the drive to prove to myself that old fart was wrong!

  62. MaryTerry

    1. Never sign something without reading it (and understanding it).
    2. Whenever possible, don’t say no to a request. For non-routine requests, explain what you would have to do to say yes to determine if it’s worth the effort.
    3. Have fun AND make money at work.
    4. How you look and how you speak/write affects how people will treat you. Dress & write for success!
    5. Never pass up a free restroom. (This actually is my favorite travel advice.)

  63. Rebecca

    A couple of people have chimed in with similar advice they liked already, but I’ll reiterate:

    1) No job is beneath you. When I was hired as a student librarian and my boss was touring a few of us around, she told us that even the director of the library would shelve a book if she saw one lying around. Everyone always appreciates an unpretentious person who chips in! In my job, I’m helping someone find highly specialized information one moment, and replacing paper in the photocopier the next. Plus, if you’re a higher-up, you’re demonstrating that you understand and appreciate everyone’s work.

    2) Whatever you are doing, do it well. If there’s a task you don’t want to do, you’re not helping anyone by slacking off. If you do a bad job on a task, no one’s going to say, “It’s okay, I know X really doesn’t like doing that sort of thing.” And it really makes you feel good to know that you’ve done your best in all your work.

    And the advice I would give is don’t waste people’s time. Avoiding this includes: reading emails from start to finish, going back over meeting notes, and looking for information yourself. It’s totally great to ask for people’s help! But first ask yourself how much you can do on your own and whether this is information that may already be available.

    1. Jessa

      This. And if you don’t know the answer, spend at least 5-10 minutes looking for it before asking. I worked at a company with a pretty decent internal documentation system as internal customer support. And I got tired of the answer being “sign into the support one system and search “exact thing you asked,” and click on the first answer.” Because 30 seconds of their work would have saved 10 minutes of mine. And for some stupid reason management was not thrilled with us if we TOOK that 10 minutes to show them where the answer was rather than giving it to them.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        +1. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked questions that make it clear the questioner hasn’t made ANY effort to find the answer first. Drives me up a dang wall.

    2. Diane

      I work in a culture where people don’t read beyond the first sentence or two of emails–if that. And they don’t reply to emails. My work is time-sensitive, so I’ve taken asking people’s assistants for answers or wandering the halls looking for them.

  64. Sydney Bristow

    Take notes, especially during phone calls. I found this particularly helpful when speaking with vendors or pretty much any place you call a 1-800 number and don’t have a specific contact, because you get much better results when someone tries to give you the runaround when you can say “when I spoke to Joe on March 27th at 1:45pm, he said x, y, and z….”

    1. Jessa

      This and if something goes wrong and you can show a habit of documenting stuff, your documentation could make the difference in a conflict.

  65. jmkenrick

    My dad used to tell me you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. He said this to me when I got mad at my sister.

    It’s been valuable life advice, because whenever I start to lose my temper I remind myself of this and kill the other person with kindness….

    A couple years later when I was older and entering the wokforce, he told me this: “ask for what you want, because no one is afraid to say no to you.”

    Both pieces of advice are very useful. Although the second one is hard to follow for me than the first.

    1. jmkenrick

      Last piece. My uncle, who’s been really successful, once commented that to get through the day, he just starts with one little thing…and focuses entirely on the task in front of him.

  66. some1

    “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission”

    This doesn’t mean, “Do whatever you want”, of course, but I got it early in my career and it helped me realize that sometimes it’s better to use your judgement on certain matters than keep asking the boss how to something should be done.

    I didn’t get this advice, I learned through experience: at work, you get judged by the company you keep. It’s not fair, but no matter how hard you work, if your work bestie is a problem employee, certain people will question your judgement.

  67. Ms Enthusiasm

    -If you don’t define/brand yourself someone else will and it will probably be wrong.
    -Never send out a number without insight/backup. Help tell the story of what that figure means
    -Dress a level higher than you currently are.
    -Watch the most successful people in your organization and emulate them.
    -Always give people more than they are expecting.
    -Imagine what a superstar (employee) would do and then do it.

    “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers” – Ralph Nader

    “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” – unknown

  68. Hooptie

    I have two:

    Underpromise and Overdeliver

    Proactivity and the ability to look at the big picture are the keys to success

  69. Meredith

    I work in Retail/HR and was given this fantastic advice by a Mining Estimator and friend. I think it’s fantastic advice because so often I blame direct reports for not meeting expectations, when the underlying problem is almost always poor management abilities.

    1. If you can not explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough. Read and explore it more. Learn it like you intend to teach it.

    2. The first duty of a supervisor/manager is judging the ability of people. If you never put somebody in over their head they will never let you down.

    1. Meg

      I forget which Denzel Washington movie it was, but he said #1 in a movie once ( I *think* it was Philadelphia, but I could be wrong). He said, “Explain it me like I’m a 6 year old.” I’ve found out that I truly know my information if I can explain it to a 6 year old (lucky for me, I have my ever curious almost 6 year old niece in the house).

      1. Jamie

        Hee. The old sitcom Mad About You Paul didn’t understand an explanation and said, “Talk to me like I’m 4.”

        I’ve used that every single time my husband tries to give me directions.

  70. S

    Usually, it can’t hurt to ask for what you really want. When I was looking for my first job after grad school, I found a job that seemed like a GREAT fit, but it was in another state and paid 10k less than I wanted, so I was going to skip over it. A friend advised me to go for it anyway and try to negotiate salary AND working remotely, since I had nothing to lose if they said no. I took his advice and got everything I wanted in the negotiation and it turned out to be a great career move for me long term. Now I know not to hesitate to ask for (reasonable) things in a negotiation, even if it seems unlikely they’ll say yes. You never know until you ask.

  71. A Teacher

    ALWAYS be nice to the janitors and the secretaries/admin assitants because they are the ones that make the world go around in most places…I also extend that to our IT tech in my school district, not only is he awesome but he’s very understanding of someone that doesn’t understand how to fix an LDAP error or reimage computers in the attached computer lab.

  72. PJ

    “If you have a golden key, you need never fear golden handcuffs.”

    By this, my mentor meant that if you have savings, and no debt, your job can never own you. You will always have the flexibility to walk away if that becomes necessary, or if a riskier but more interesting opportunity comes along.

  73. Frank

    When I was first starting in my corporate career, I had a coworker who said “Don’t get your meat where you get your bread.” He was from another country but that was good advice and I have always avoided dating people I work with. It is not worth the drama if things go badly.

    The best advice I got from a former boss was “treat all other department employees exactly like they are customers.” I think some of my coworkers tended to ignore or delay responses to employee requests. I found that by responding quickly and/or giving a timeline of response and then following through, I am more respected than my peers. That attitude has served me well in that past job and all jobs since then!

  74. Bee

    One excellent piece of advice received from my father when I was in the first grade that has followed me the rest of my life. The conversation went like this:

    Me: “Daddy, Jane said I was stupid!”
    Dad: “Well, are you?”
    Me (affronted): “No!”
    Dad: “Then what do you care?”

    It was a shock to my little brain, let me tell you, but after many years of thinking about it I’ve taken away two things from this flat statement.

    Never let others’ words hurt you, especially if you know them to be false;

    and also

    If you find a particular thing to be an insult, don’t be that thing.

    1. PJ

      “If you find a particular thing to be an insult, don’t be that thing.”

      Best advice I’ve ever heard.

    2. Meg

      My dad was the same way. He also said things like, “Shout a little quieter!” and “You only have one brother. You can’t get another one if you break him” (and ‘one sister… yada yada yada’ to my brother).

      Also told me to never turn down knowledge. Learn every aspect of everything, master what you can. It never hurts to know a little bit of everything. Particularly useful in everything I’ve ever done.

  75. KC

    From one of my favorite college professors, while I was weighing the pros and cons of graduate school: “Just keep in mind: for every $10,000 you have out in loans, that’s about $100/month in repayment when you’re done.”

    Her wise advice talked me out of going to schools that weren’t offering me a TA position to cover a good chunk of the cost. It also resulted in me being out in the job market.

    5 years later, I’m making more money that I would have at any of the jobs an MA would have afforded me. Getting out into the job market sooner was well worth it, and I discovered a career path I never would have imagined was a possibility if I’d stayed in academia.

    1. Christine Rebecca

      This is so true. I work as a nanny, for a family I’ve been with a little more than two years now. In that time I’ve started working occasional/casual for three other families on the same block, without seeking any of them out. They saw me out walking with the kids; they saw us at the park; just by doing my job well and visibly I became my own reference.

  76. Christine

    One that sticks out ATM wasn’t directly career-related, but it’s good to keep in mind: Don’t get so caught up in details. This was told to me by the person supervising one of my two 2011 summer internships (in this one, I was helping to rewrite a manual). I have a tendency to get myself bogged down in the tiniest details, rather than looking at the bigger picture. I’ve never been able to entirely let go of that tendency–I’d be a Nazi if I were an auditor or even an evaluator, and people love my meticulousness–but it is something I think about when I’m reviewing grants.

    1. Christine

      Oh…why is it important? Because while attention to detail can be crucial in many situations, you also don’t want to get so bogged down that you can’t make any progress on your overall project or task. Plus, seeing the bigger picture can make it easier to see how all the pieces fit together.

      Yeah, I’m still learning that one.

      1. Anonymous

        And yet, every job description in the history of the world wants someone with ‘attention to detail’. Big picture folks need love, too!

  77. AmeliaA

    Best career advice from my dad, “Hold yourself to the highest standards no matter what and never compare yourself, or your worth, to others or to what others make.”

    I struggled for a long time with the fact that people with less experience/education/work ethic would make more than me (I’m in the nonprofit industry). He helped me realize that spending time focusing on others and having a pity-party for myself was simply destructive.

    I’m responsible for how I react and how I choose to react. Learning to let this garbage focus go is something I continue to work on, but it is worth the work and the piece of mind that comes from not comparing yourself to others.

  78. Renee

    The best advice I ever got was from the best manager I ever had.

    My manager told me to always tell her if there was a particular project or skill I was interested in taking on or learning. I was fairly new to the working world at this point, and I hadn’t really considered doing this before – I just assumed that my manager would set goals for me, tell me what she wanted me to focus on, etc.

    Hearing her say that it worked both ways and that I could approach her with things I was interested in was an eye opener to me. After she told me this, I told her I wanted to learn more about excel, running reports, and interpreting data. She said she actually had a project I could have that would accomplish that, and as a result, I got to learn a new skill set.

    As for the why this advice was so good – I’ve kept this in mind with every manager I’ve had since then, and I think it’s just a win-win on both sides. I get to learn new things, my manager gets someone to do work that needs getting done, and if I do a good job on the new task, it shows that I’m a capable employee and can be given more responsibility.

    I think the best managers are those who put the priority on developing their employees, and getting this piece of advice has helped me help all my managers since this one (even the less-than-awesome ones) help me develop my professional skills.

  79. Caroline

    From my current manager: “Don’t bring up a problem unless you can propose a possible solution.”

    This has helped shift my thinking from centering around my job and concerns in the workplace to being proactive. So many people say to be proactive, but don’t really say how, and this is the tangible way I do it. It prevents me from being a complainer, and turns everything into a problem to be solved, even if I have to work to think from someone else’s perspective.

    From elsewhere on the internet: http://lisjobs.com/rethinking/?s=starter+job

    This changed my attitude about my job from “oh it’s not a very serious job” to “oh it’s a training ground for finding opportunities and getting my head on straight.” Every single item on that list has been really helpful to me.

    There’s a clear difference in the way I operate pre-good-advice as to post-good-advice. I’ve become a high achiever at work, slowly moving away from my mediocre past self.

    1. Henning Makholm

      … and if you notice something is on fire, keep your mouth shut about it until you’ve filled a bucket with water? (Or at least until you remember where the bucket is?)

      Sometimes the right thing to do about a problem is to get more people involved in solving it.

      1. Caroline

        Well, then you would say, “We have this problem, and I thought this bunch of people would have really good ideas.” You could even say, “Here’s a problem that I have no idea how to solve.” It’s more about an attitude that makes it clear you want to be part of the problem’s solution if at all possible.

        And fires don’t count. Emergency situations are not typical problems at my job.

        1. Henning Makholm

          “Here’s a problem that I have no idea how to solve” looks like the exact opposite of your initial advice to “don’t bring up a problem unless you can propose a possible solution”.

          It’s not just fires; it applies to completely ordinary situation where you discover a problem that could make the plan your group is currently following fail to achieve its intended result. If you keep the problem a secret in some vainglory attempt to be able to present a solution simultaneously with revealing the problem itself, it means that you’re not doing your job properly. Allowing your coworkers to keep wasting their time on a plan you already know won’t succeed in its present form, while you try to be the lone genius who saves the day, is not something anyone will thank you for.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Henning, why so grumpy lately? No one is suggesting hiding problems while you try to come up with a solution; people are talking about cases where it’s not going to take days to think of a solution — often it takes 10 minutes of thought.

            1. Henning Makholm

              I suppose I’m not even considering something a single person can solve from scratch in 10 minutes to be a “problem”.

              On the other hand, I regularly see real problems — of the kind that would easily take someone working alone a day or more to develop a solution for — yield in 10 minutes simply to an informal discussion between coworkers. Often large parts of a solution will already exist but just need to identified.

              I’m opposing this because I think it is bad and dangerous advice. “Don’t bring up a problem unless you can propose a possible solution” to me says: You must solve every problem you come across by yourself — teamwork is overrated.

              1. Caroline

                Henning, you’re overthinking this and you’re being kind of rude about it.
                But! It’s too late!!! I’m assuming everyone that read this has gone of to hide problems from their teams, which is really what I wanted all along… you played into my evil plan perfectly. mwahahahah!

  80. Andrea

    A quote from Buechner in What Color is Your Parachute:

    “The place where God calls you to be is where your deep gladness and the world’s great needs meet.”

    It was so good when I was thinking of what career path I should take instead of going from job to job. I realized that I am happiest bringing order out of chaos and that government entities needed this skill in the form of management analysis. Really crystallized what I should be looking for.

  81. Em

    Do the job you want to be promoted to before you get promoted. Show that you are able to do it. If your company values you, they’ll follow through. And if they don’t, you’ll learn that and be able to act accordingly.

    This has always worked out well for me.

  82. Em

    Another one, that no one really told me but that I learned for myself and see echoed here a lot, is to be your own advocate. (And don’t get pissed off that that’s how it has to be!)

  83. Vicki

    My first “real job” manager (after grad school) told me “You’re paid for 40 hours and expected to get your work done. Anything over 40 hours, you’re not getting paid for.”

    I get my work done. And I don’t put in 50, 60, 70 hour stress weeks. There will always be more “work” for people who can’t seem t leave the office.

  84. Diane

    People at work aren’t your friends. They may be nice, caring people, or they may not be–but they’re here for work, just like you.

    My first office mate told me this. She was told that on her first day as a junior high teacher, and was mightily offended, until it sunk it. It’s been good to remember because it’s too easy to get caught in the “family” myth of the workplace. A little distance is a good thing. And it’s made me appreciate the difference between work friends (people I’m friendly with at work but not outside of it) and actual friends (including people I first met at work, but chose to share my time with beyond that). Including the woman who first gave me that advice.

  85. Diane

    Also: learn to tell the difference between the urgent and the important–and don’t drop the important stuff.

  86. Marie

    From a good friend: “Job satisfaction is 80% who you work with and 20% what you actually do.” Those percentages may vary a bit, but my experience has been that working with competent, respectful coworkers can compensate pretty well for a mediocre job. And working with crazy, incompetent folks can make even the “best” job intolerable.

    1. Christine

      I’d say that’s pretty true. I had a data entry job and was pretty miserable, thanks in part to some less-than-ideal coworkers. However, there was one period–maybe 8 months?–when they gave me a new office mate, an absolutely adorable older Chinese woman from a different department. We clicked instantly. I was doing the same boring work, but my days were so much brighter during this period, and even my manager noticed the difference.

  87. Anonymous

    Some people live to work, and some people work to live.

    Figure out which one you are. And then do it.

  88. Anonymous

    Own it and move on. If you make a mistake, don’t try to hide it or its impact. Don’t blame others. Take responsibility. Then stop obsessing over it. It happened, you learned from it, and you’re past it.

  89. Snow

    “Make it work.” Don’t make excuses on why you can’t do something – just figure it out and make it work.

  90. JP

    A manager once told me that the keys to success at the company are common sense, good judgement, and the ability to get along well with others. That was 15 years ago, and we’re both still with the same organization.

    The other advice that I’ve figured out for myself along the way is that lunch can change your life. So many opportunities have opened up because of relationships I’ve formed in the company cafeteria. I even met my husband there!

  91. Rebecca

    Know how long it takes you to do things. If you don’t know, start guessing how long a task will take and then noting how long it will actually take. Eventually you’ll be able to accurately estimate your time.

    This becomes incredibly helpful when you get the “I need X by Y requests.” You can then set realistic expectations: “I can get you (most important part of X/ X sub A or X sub B) by Y, but it will take me Z to finish all of X.” Meeting realistic expectations makes you look almost as good as meeting unrealistic expectations, and a lot better than if you fail to meet unrealistic expectations.

    You should at least be able to know and communicate how realistic or not a request is.

  92. Rebecca

    When I was in college, I worked at a clothing store and had several great managers. I don’t even think this manager (Holly) realized she was giving me a piece of advice I would always remember, but something she said offhand has really stuck with me.

    After an incident in which a coworker was short with another, Holly said, “You can’t take everyone’s bad moods personally.” It is so simple, but it’s something I remember even today when I deal with coworkers or managers.

    I got another good piece of advice from my current VP. When we were discussing whether we should be able to work from home outside of normal work hours (due to heavy workload) she said, “When you’re at home, you should be at home. Your family deserves your full attention.” I thought that was really great and something I remember when people are discussing the current “working at home” debate. Whether I’m at work or at home, I give it my full attention and don’t blur the lines.

  93. Tax Nerd

    “Never calculate your hourly wage based on the hours that you actually work.” (This may be industry specific, but I was a tax person fresh out of school, and paid straight salary. Allegedly, overtime was built into the salary number. Not knowing my hourly rate probably kept me a little sane.)

    “Die before you cry at work”. I was pretty thin-skinned in my early years, but I knew that my boss would never see me as a professional if he’d seen me cry. As harsh as it sounds, I wish I’d heard it earlier.

    “You can teach the technical stuff to a bright person that’s willing to learn a lot more easily than you can teach them personality.” It’s much easier to teach someone the different rules for claiming foreign tax credits if they don’t know it, than it is to teach them to pay attention to detail, or respond to questions with polite professionalism, or to be enthusiastic about training interns.

  94. Anonymous

    When I was sort of battling with my boss once in my mid-20’s, my Dad gave me some good advice: never screw with the person that decides how big your next raise will be, regardless of what you think of them.

  95. Josh S

    I’m pretty sure all the best advice I’ve gotten about my career has been through this blog or divined on my own. (Thanks, Alison!) Though I’ve heard a couple pieces of good (not great) advice along the way too.

  96. Anne

    “You can’t always be the smartest person in the room, but you can always be the most prepared.”

  97. Newcomer

    This applies to life in general but since work is a part of life if naturally spills over into this category.

    Sit down (by yourself or with your significant other) and draw up your “dream-life” in 10years time. Where do you want to live? How? How much would you like to work? Kids? 1? 10? Etc etc.
    Dig around your dreams and interests. Use that mental image of the you in +10years to make the strategic decisions you face and slowly you will work yourself to that dream.

    That helped me both finacially and career-wise, to see the greater picture.

  98. Jackie

    The best career advice I’ve ever gotten was from a lovely woman who had stepped down from an Executive Director role to something much less “prestigious” in alumni engagement. I wondered for a long time how it wound up this way- it was such a backwards move for her. Later, I had dinner with her and she told me that one day she sat down and made a list of the things she loved to every day, both at home and work. Her list was very specific and detailed. (For example, she loved to call people she had a connection to but didn’t know well. She loved to answer long emails. She loved sitting in her chair at least 5 hours a day & not leaving the office. She loved to start files or folders on new topics.) From this list, she looked at her current job and realized she rarely got to do the things she loved. Her advice- people tell you to find meaningful work that you love but what they don’t tell you is that 90% of the time you’re doing tasks, not “meaningful work”. Figure out what tasks you love and what tasks you hate. Be specific. When searching for a new job, make sure the day-to-day will include much of what you love and little of what you hate. It’s the daily stuff that can eat away at you, regardless of how meaningful your work or important your “mission” at work.
    I love this advice because it’s honest and not overly idealistic. Most of us DO spend most of our work day doing specific tasks and if we hate those tasks (even if we love the idea of the work or job), we’ll hate the job. Using this, I made my own list and it helped me to find a niche position that requires tons of things I love (writing, creating new documents, answering complicated questions) and almost none of what I hate (answering the phone, direct service, required daily routines). While I won’t pretend to be perfectly and sublimely happy, I can say that I am happier with the job that I took using this advice than I’ve been in any other position prior to this one!

  99. ITwannabe

    Not advice, per se, but a quote – “It is better to be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt of it.” Speak only when you have had the opportunity to think through your idea and have considered the other options. The other is, “Be kind and helpful to everyone. Trust only those who have earned it – and only as far as they have earned it. If you place a burden of trust on someone who isn’t ready to handle it, if they fall down and betray you, the fault is your own.” Very true words, and they have saved me embarrassment and trouble more than once!

  100. HB

    From Dad on being a good manager:

    If it was a success, we (as a team) did it.
    If it was a HUGE success you (team plus recognize individual contributions) did it.
    If it royally sucked, I (manager) did it.

    This goes along with one of the earlier comments about praising publicly and criticizing privately. I manage a group of university students and try to do this – praise individual’s contributions publicly and give all the credit for wonderful successes to my students (not myself). If we screwed up in any way, put the blame on myself (because as their manager, I should have provided more guidance, seen problems coming, addressed problems as they arose when there was still time to intervene, etc). I think this is a good mindset to have!

    From Dad about life (but really applies in work):
    Handle everything with courage, honesty and grace.

    Without getting too long winded, I try to use this mantra when handling tough situations: showing empathy, being direct and honest, not only apologizing but also taking ownership when something that is your responsibility gets screwed up (even if it really wasn’t your fault), etc.

  101. Verde

    Put Things Back Where You Found Them.

    It sounds silly, but I feel like it carries over to a lot of things. It makes you think about things, it makes you considerate of others, and it keeps you organized. Whether it’s a tape dispenser or a file, putting it back where you found it helps.

  102. Athlum

    I’m surprised to see this thread still active, but that being the case, what the heck:

    “You’ll get some of the things you ask for, but none of the things you don’t ask for.”

    and

    “However long you think it’ll take you to complete a project, multiply by two and then go up to the next unit.” (e.g., if you think it’s one hour of work, project two days; if it’s three days, promise it within six weeks, etc.)

    Both from a buddy in grad school who had 10 years of programming experience before he switched fields and joined my PhD program. I’ve found them to apply pretty damn well outside the academy nonetheless :)

    And general life advice turned career advice, from my father: “The world needs ditch-diggers too.” Meaning, don’t demean or disrespect people based on their job class (with a subtext of “they work as hard or harder than you”). My co-workers are consistently amazed by the level of service and support I get from front-line staff across our institution, but I think it’s only because I show them the same respect and friendliness I give to management and faculty, whereas other managers and faculty just…don’t, apparently.

  103. Jenny

    Remember that the employer/employee relationship is a two way street, both when interviewing and once settled into a job. You are an asset to the company, not a tool to be replaced.

  104. cncx

    Late to the ball game but since people are still commenting:
    I worked in a pretty high speed law firm that did litigation. One of the senior paralegals saw me doing busy work the week after a filing when it was slow because we were waiting for the court to do whatever. She said, “Don’t tire yourself out trying to be busy because it is slow. You need to be 100% for the next filing so just do your job today, don’t try to do anything more.”

    Despite being applied to a law firm setting, it has been applicable in all my other jobs- work hard when it is time to work hard, but don’t keep up the same cadence where it isn’t necessary.

  105. Marina

    The best career advice I ever got was actually in an acting improvisation class as a teenager. The instructor asked for volunteers for an activity, and all of us cynical embarrassed teenagers sat on our hands. The instructor paused, and said, “Ok, from now on I want to see everyone volunteer for every activity. When I ask for volunteers I want to see every single hand fly into the air. This is the most important skill you’ll ever learn as an actor: SAY YES.”

    This has served me well in every area of my life. Getting a reputation for being the person who enthusiastically volunteers for things gets you a very, very long way.

  106. Lisa

    “Excel at the things that take no talent.”

    Basically my mentor was saying that you’ll do better than most people just by doing the most basic things – show up early, take notes, be prepared, smile…

  107. mn

    Always keep learning about your field and career. Aim to be an expert. I read this in a book recently, and after seeing one of my friend’s profile on LinkedIn, I realized, wow, she’s been learning new things every year within her field, completing this or that certification.

  108. ITPuffNStuff

    My best advice actually came from a reader here at AskAManager: “when in doubt, keep your mouth shut”.

    -ITPuffNStuff

  109. JCC

    CYA meaning “get everything in writing” is pretty interesting. I once worked in a place where CYA meant “always use the telephone”, because anything you wrote would come back to haunt you (usually through FOIA requests).

    In general, I think that the more important CYA becomes to a company, the more likely it is to struggle. When people are worried about their own necks, they won’t be worried about yours.

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