how have other people helped you in your career?

Let’s talk about how people have helped you in your career, especially if you grew up in a family that couldn’t provide much guidance. What specific things did others do that helped you? Hopefully this will be good fodder for all of us to think about what things we can do to help other people, too.

Let’s discuss in the comment section.

{ 279 comments… read them below }

  1. Just Another HR Pro*

    I have learned the most, oddly enough, from having some of the WORST managers in my career. Whether it be managers that didn’t want to be there, didn’t like the team they inherited, passed off work (as in complicated ER issues, and better yet – not wanting to write the response to the EEOC on several occasions), lack of leadership, inability to delegate, or even just having NO idea how to do their job, so they do mine. The list goes on and on and on. I am not going to say I am the best manager on the planet, but the amount of skills and abilities I had to learn on the fly truly allowed me to excel a lot farther than those at the same point as I am in my career.

    1. TheSmallBusinessCEO*

      This. 100%. Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned in management have been from having terrible managers. Also, seeing how managers of other departments handle their employees (in a better way) has given me tools to use in my own career path. Best advice I was ever given was “be the manager you want to work for”.

    2. Anya LastNerve*

      I always say that I’ve learned something from every manager I’ve had, even if it’s what NOT to do.

    3. Noncompliance Officer*

      This is me. I graduated into the recession and ended up in retail for several years. The (horrible) management experience there really shaped my experience of what (good) leadership should look like.

    4. calonkat*

      I learned documentation in a toxic work environment where people would flat out lie about things all the time. So I had signed proof of everything that affected my job and the people beneath me (and copies hidden in a folder with an unremarkable name in case things went “missing”). This has worked out well in other jobs (though thankfully without the toxic elements).

      1. TardyTardis*

        Oh, I remember starting to do that when I was asked, ‘why did you do that?’ ‘because you told me to!’ and being told I was mistaken. Everything went by email after that, and she stopped gaslighting me because she figured out why I was doing everything by email. Funny how her memory got so much better.

    5. TimeTravlR*

      I have always told my adult kids that when they get the oppty to be the manager, to remember what they didn’t like about their manager and do the opposite, or at least something different.

    6. ATLHistoryGeek*

      Yes! I feel like I’ve learned the most too by watching bad managers or managers who weren’t bad as much as who made mistakes that really hurt the team … ego trips, unable to ask for help/unwilling to ask for help, favorites, etc.

  2. ThinMint*

    I had a boss I admired tell me on my last day at the job that I didn’t need to take things so personally. I knew he was right, but no one had ever told me that before. I wish he had said it sooner, as without it being called out, I could sometimes pretend that my Righteous Outrage was justified.

    1. WellRed*

      I wish someone had said this to me when I was in my twenties. Thankfully, I grew out of it (mostly).

    2. Jane*

      That’s great feedback! I’ve told my teams that the balance we’re looking for is taking things seriously but not personally (assuming it’s a typical business interaction).

    3. Loosey Goosey*

      In a similar vein, I wish someone had told me not to emotionally over-invest myself in my job. The one-way loyalty of most employers is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

    4. Squirrel*

      Yes! I had a coworker tell me the same thing my first year of teaching. It was hard to self-reflect like that (of course it’s personal, I’m teaching special needs kids and it was the first year the district did inclusion!) But it was a worthwhile lesson that I have never forgotten. Especially for people in their 20’s and new to the workforce!

      1. Mental Lentil*

        When I was teaching, I also made this known to my students. We place a ridiculous amount of pressure on kids to like school, like their subjects, like their teachers, and it’s ridiculous. A lot of kids react by acting out. When I let some kids with problematic behavior know that they didn’t have to like any of this, they just had to be respectful, it really took the pressure off and I saw a lot fewer problematic behaviors.

    5. Grades White Collar Homework*

      Oof, yeah.

      I’m in charge of projects now. I am directing the work of people who think they should have been hired for my position (I’m an external hire).

      One of my staff told his manager (the person who hired me) that I had failed to give him proper credit for [a minor thing that actually someone else, another manager, completed]. He said this during his own annual performance review.

      20- or 30-year old me would have been *outraged* and would have gone out of her way to highlight every misstep the complainer ever made, just to prove that the problem was *him* and not *me*. (That’s where the “oof” comes in).

      I am older, hopefully wiser, and have worked at enough jobs now to know that a job is a job is a job. They come and go. I also know that his complaint — what it was, specifically, and the context in which it was offered — says a LOT more about him than it does about me.

      When his manager told me about it I had an initial, internal, “How dare he!” reaction but then I took a step back and realized that if someone who works under my direction is unhappy with me, that can be a problem for me, the team, the department, the company. So I waited a day and then called him and asked him, if he felt comfortable, to let me know where I’d dropped the ball, that I can’t fix or change anything if I’m not aware of it — including self-awareness — and asked for him to please let me know if I ever make him feel slighted or left out or unappreciated going forward, because that is not my goal nor my intent.

      I would have *never* been able to say those things, let alone actually mean them, back when I took everything as a personal slight (which is pretty much where this staff member is in their life right now).

      I do my best now, whenever someone I work with (regardless of their position on the corporate ladder) is freaking out about something, taking something personally, or generally getting worked up to gently point out that this is just a job. Yes, it’s a huge part of our lives, but this specific job will be just a tiny fraction of our overall lived experience.

  3. heckofabecca*

    Both of my parents had white-collar jobs, but neither was a great option for giving work advice. A family friend who, at the time, worked for an organization that helped get people back in the workforce after a long period did a few practice interviews with me, gave me feedback on my resume, and taught me about job hunting online.

    More generally, adults modeling good professional behavior has been an amazing help. I did *not* grow up with well-behaved parents, so seeing adults like the aforementioned friend set boundaries kindly but firmly—with myself and others—did a world of good in helping me set expectations for the working world and what is/isn’t acceptable in general.

    1. Roz*

      This! I learned boundaries by watching my manager skillfully set and maintain appropriate boundaries, and her willingness to reflect and discuss these things with me. Having a Sane, even mannered, adult who could be an example helped me immensely.

  4. Prof Ma'am*

    I’m in academia so a lot of help has come from professional networking at technical conferences. It’s really really hard to start that process when you’re a graduate student so I found some of the best professional help I received was from people about 5-10 years into their careers. They had been around long enough to have made connections to all the important people but young enough to remember what it was like to be in my shoes. Simple things like introducing me to someone during a banquet or inviting me for coffee with a group or even mentioning my name when an opportunity came up made a big difference and helped me gain confidence so I could do my own networking.

    Then a few years later these same people were those I went to for advice and mentoring at the start of my academic career. Then a few years after that I could go to them when I fell into a rut. I think everyone assumes good mentors have been in the game for decades but I think the most beneficial ones are those just 5-10 years further along in their career than you are.

    1. Anononon*

      Yes, definitely this. A big help in my career has been people who are willing to act as the link in networking connections/career opportunities. It’s so much easier (and probably more likely to lead to success) if a mutual contact initiates the connection.

    2. Goodbye Toby*

      Strongly agree! Family is blue collar, first in my family to go to college, let alone grad school. The people 3 to 10 years ahead of me were most helpful to answer questions like:
      “If a boss says this, what does it actually mean?”
      “What would you wear to this type of event?”
      “How did you get where you are now and how are you planning for a new job?”
      And then they were good references and suggested me for boards, jobs, etc. I think they work best because they were in my shoes recently so can give accurate, not outdated, advice, and I’m not a threat to their career because we’re going after different level jobs.

    3. Anonymous Koala*

      I started my career in academia, and one of my early mentors told me even the most respected professors don’t know everything. She said I would be best served by first looking for answers myself, and then going to my professors for verification. That mindset was a really important shift for me, because I was so used to going to my teachers for the “right” answers to things in high school. I’m not in academia anymore but I still use this approach when I get new projects at work, and I think it made me more comfortable with working independently at the beginning of my career.

  5. Thanks Stacy!*

    My parents were a factor worker and a fast food worker and I was the first to go to college in my family. The things that folks did to help me was: push me to join student groups that give you relevant work experience. The student group was the Non-profit Leadership Alliance which teach hands on nonprofit stuff like how to write an RFP, how to solicit donations, how to organize events, etc.
    This particular person would also just have lunch with me and go over internship options, give advice, and generally be a mentor to me when I didn’t have anyone else to ask these questions to. She also helped me edit my thesis and supported me when I gave my defense. I stumbled into her class my freshman year and basically never left.

  6. SunnyGirl*

    It’s trust. And no micromanagement. If your immediate supervisor recognizes your skills and ability and overall trusts you to get it done, trusts you got find them when you’ve got an issue, they answer your emails and doesn’t micromanage you, you’ll do well.

    Two jobs ago, my boss trusted me and gave me more work, based on what he felt I could handle and he left me to do it and always kept me in the loop. I never felt ignored or disrespected. It was a great relationship. I miss him still. It was good for my confidence and my career overall as I picked up a lot of new skills and perfected what I already had.

    1. Gone Girl*

      100%. Having a boss that *doesnt* trust you is so, so detrimental to career growth; you end up second-guessing everything and never really get the chance to develop confidence in the strengths & skills you have.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes! I had 10 years at a job with very hands off managers and I was very confident in my skills and known for being able to take on something unknown and run with it.

        My next job I was being micromanaged from two levels up. Everything I did was questioned and critiqued and second guessed by multiple people. I left that job feeling like I didn’t have the skills to do basic level work. It destroyed my self confidence.

        Now I work at a company where it’s very hands off again – except that, I get a lot more praise for my work than at the first job. And it’s amazing how much better my work is just from that difference.

      2. Distressed and Distrusted*

        I am going through this right now (and it’s even more devastating in the first “real job” out of college). I already doubt myself because I do not have specific training in part of the work I do (not required, but extremely helpful and expected), but having my boss not even give me the opportunity to try or immediately shutting down the few ideas I have proposed really ruins my sense of competence as a professional.

        I have made a career plan to leave this job and pursue the next opportunity because I know I will not be ALLOWED to grow.

    2. Filosofickle*

      My first great boss was so good at this. He gave me opportunities to lead and present — little bits at first, until I felt steady and he felt confident — and that made all the difference in building my skills. I remember the first time he had me fully create and lead a presentation to a high-level client team! I was about 25. Later he told me he never really believed anyone could do the work better than him, but that I could and he gave me opportunities to prove what I could o. He was my mentor for many years.

      I also had an art director who would occasionally let the senior designers “pitch” to run projects. Whoever had the best ideas would then art direct the project and manage other designers, including our boss the art director, and the copywriter. She did this to help us level up so we could become art directors in our next role. And considering she was a lifer, to do that we’d have to leave. This was purely for our development not for the agency or her. That was kind.

      1. Gone Girl*

        “The best idea wins” art direction sounds like a really interesting model! I would have loved to have tried that.

        1. Filosofickle*

          It was! Though what was unfortunate, or fortunate depending how you look at it, was that I was the only one who wanted to win! The others, for various reasons, did not want to stretch or go beyond their job description. So they dutifully presented good-but-not-great concepts every time and I went all out, so I always “won”. It was great for my portfolio.

          1. DiplomaJill*

            Something like this was in place at my first job, but my coworkers weren’t well suited to this kind of competition. It became petty and all about one upping. It was part of why I left — dealing with them when they “lost” was so ridiculous.

    3. Scott D*

      Exactly this. My current manager has implicit trust in me. She gives me tasks and tells me when she wants them done then leaves me alone to do them. I only go to her if there are roadblocks she can help remove and, on long projects, to give periodic status reports. I’ve had bosses who thought “if I leave people along they’re going to screw around” but it’s actually the other way around–when your manager has that kind of trust in you, you go out of your way to get the job done!

      1. Anonym*

        Yep, this is the best. You build skills AND confidence. My boss is not perfect, but his attitude is, “I trust your skills and your judgement, I know you’ll come to me with issues if need be, I’m here if you need help, guidance or advocacy.” He handed off significant operational tasks to me early on because he didn’t like them and I was interested, which allowed me to grow in totally unexpected and useful ways, and to really expand my network. I see his peers cling tightly to ownership/control/credit on what their reports do, and it ain’t pretty.

        I’m taking on an additional role under folks who may be micro-managey, and I’m not sure how I’m going to navigate that. It’s making me very uneasy.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Well it does depend on whether the employee is in good or bad faith, of course there are some that will screw around.

    4. calonkat*

      SunnyGirl, I love this answer. It summarizes so many aspects of the sorts of jobs and management that help you grow.

    5. Kes*

      Yes – what’s been really helpful for me in my career growth is leaders helping create opportunities for me to observe next level work happening and then to take on more responsibility myself while having someone more senior around for backup or guidance if needed. It can be hard to create those opportunities for yourself as a lower-level person so it’s really helpful to have more senior people looking out for chances where they can set things up for you to stretch.

  7. heckofabecca*

    Ah, also!!! At my first job that wasn’t set-pay (i.e. summer job, teaching assistant at Hebrew school), I never asked for a raise. At some point (I believe after I had been promoted to a training role), my boss realized and went to bat for me to get me the biggest one-time raise he’d gotten anyone.

    For the record, this was at a Panera Bread in, like, 2012. So there are some good eggs in retail XD

  8. It's me*

    At my first internship on my last day my boss gave me feedback. The department I worked in had some toxic people in it and they liked to push back a lot on other departments. I worked with these two ladies the most since I came in at the same time in the morning as them so I got to know them the best. The feedback I received was to not say no so quick and that feedback really helped me. I had sort of taken on the attitude of the other two ladies but I never realized my job was to take requests from other departments and see if I could make it happen instead of just pushing back on everything to begin with. I only wish she had told me sooner. These days I try and remind myself when I get back to thinking “why is this my responsibility?” and reframe it to “what can I do to try and accomplish this request”.

  9. Postac girl*

    I made a big career shift about 7 years ago. Thought I wanted to be a professor, but academia wasn’t for me. I had no contacts outside of higher ed, though, and no idea how to translate my teaching experience into a compelling resume.
    One person–a strange to me, friend to my sister–offered to talk with me about my job search. After spending 30 minutes talking to me about my interests, he made about 6 introductions to people he thought I might want to work with (and encouraged me to apply for a job at the org he worked for). He also looked at my linkedin connections and helped me see where I already had the beginnings of a network in the field I was interested in. This led to me getting my first job, and first mentor, outside of academia.
    That first mentor was unbelievably helpful. She brought me along to every meeting and conference and lunch meeting, even if I had nothing to contribute, and introduced me to everyone she knew. Within the first year in that job, I’d met 100s of people in my industry, mostly because she was well connected and willing to share.
    Networking is scary and foreign when you don’t have a professional network. Having a mentor who was willing to make those introductions opened a million doors.
    Long story short, if you know people, introduce them to people who don’t know people. Invite career switchers/young professionals to observe and make sure they get to shake hands (metaphorically, thanks COVID) with the person leading the meeting or giving the presentation. Open the damn doors.

    1. Properlike*

      This. Be a door-opener. I worked in a business that is all about networking. You routinely had lunches with other assistants to get to know each other, and those were the people who called you when they heard about other jobs, and the people you called when you needed to fill a job. We all came up together.

  10. Colette*

    My first post-university manager was really good at planning realistic schedules and very supportive when things didn’t go as planned. He was also really good with customers, particularly when it came to managing their expectations. We weren’t on the same wavelength (i.e. we never would have been friends), but he was a really good manager and I learned a lot from him.

    I’ve had multiple people recommend me for jobs. Sometimes they were internal jobs, sometimes I was an external hire.

    Finally, when I was laid off from the big telecommuncations company I worked at for 12 years, I met with former colleagues to find out more about what life was like elsewhere (including things like salaries, working conditions, benefits, resume help, etc.). That didn’t directly result in work, but it was really, really helpful to talk to people who knew me as a compentent worker when I was trying and failing to get a new job.

  11. RB*

    Having grown up in an emotionally dysfunctional household and a mom who didn’t trust her own judgement, I had a boss who repeatedly said, “I trust your judgement on that” then actually followed through to let me try things and learn.

    That helped me learn to trust my own judgement and it changed more than just my work life.

  12. feather*

    A team lead sat down with me and asked me what my career goals were, both near-term and long-term. We talked about how I could get to those goals. He went to bat for me to get me a promotion, and he put a bug in our boss’ ear about my goals.

    I owe the very start of my career to a proactive internship coordinator at my college. The company hadn’t reached out for interns, but my coordinator sent them my resume anyway. Next thing I knew, I had a job for every other semester while I was in college, and it translated into a full-time job after I graduated.

  13. Blaise*

    Teachers all know that we learn the most from watching other teachers teach.

    The teacher I started out as was fully formed by my favorite high school Spanish teacher, who was the reason I became a Spanish teacher myself and who my classes from my forest year of teaching were all based off of.

    My classroom management skills started developing due to watching Tiffany, who was unbelievable at managing a VERY at-risk class of 2nd graders at a charter school where I spent my second year of teaching. Tiffany was also in her early/mid 20s at the time and I still marvel at her skills and wonder how she’s doing!

    Those are the two major people who stick out to me, but I’ve learned so so much from tons of different teachers who present at conferences, too… I get better at what I do every year thanks to them! (And 10 years in, I present now too, to pay it forward!)

  14. Libervermis*

    One of my early mentors made a point of always looking for junior people to share projects and credit with. She explained that it was the right thing to do (she got to where she was by more senior people sharing projects and credit with her), but also improved her work by bringing in new perspectives/approaches and creating a network of future collaborators. I directly benefited from this practice, and thanks to her I do the same.

  15. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    In college I had a roommate in a degree program I had never considered as an option. I was planning on following my parents footsteps and either going into elementary education or banking — my whole extended family seemed to be in either of those two industries. I always enjoyed art and creativity as hobbies, but just couldn’t think of how to make a sustainable career out of it because I didn’t have any of those role models in my life. Just in talking with her, and other students, about their degree and career plans helped me choose an education path that became my career path.

  16. Jen G*

    In the early years of my career I had a boss who encouraged me to apply for a post even though I didn’t feel that I was qualified enough for it. She pointed out that I was more than capable, had all the skills, and would get the knowledge I needed on the job. If there was someone better than me, so be it, but I had nothing to lose by applying.

    (She also commented that she saw this hesitation a lot in female candidates – the male ones just applied for the job.)

    I did apply, I got the job, I learnt the knowledge I needed, and it became almost 15 years at an institution that I loved. I’ll always be grateful to her for giving me the push.

  17. Mental Lentil*

    When I was 18 and a shift manager in a fast-food restaurant, our store manager Julie (who was all of 23) told me that follow-up is the key to effective management. I’ve adhered to that every since. I’m accountable for my team, so I need them to make them accountable to me. A simple question like “are the TPS reports finished yet?” or “what’s the timeline for completing the TPS reports?” keeps people on track. She also pointed out that good managers ask questions, and made a point of not including “you” in the question unless absolutely necessary (i.e., “do you have a minute?”). This advice has helped me in several different jobs I’ve had.

    1. BugHuntress*

      I never thought about it before, but “do not include ‘you’ in the question unless absolutely necessary” is something I try to do in general, especially since part of my job is to project-manage people that I don’t actually manage. Talking about what the project needs instead of what I need, talking about what QA needs instead of “what Furiosa wants,” I think helps people be less defensive (at least externally). It helps shift the focus away from the back-and-forth slap fight of “YOU didn’t give ME this on time”, “no, YOU didn’t give ME enough time to do it in” to, “Project X needs a week of QA, and it needs a week of dev before that, so the deadline for X Deliverable needs to be Date in order to hit that.”

  18. Emma Woodhouse*

    I’ve been lucky to have senior women at my company show an interest in me and my career development. One woman would take me along to industry events and cocktail parties which gave me exposure to senior people. She made a point to introduce me to her contacts and I’m so grateful. Even when was 22, being in the room gave me credibility and a seat at the table.

    Similarly, another senior woman has been inviting me to pitch for new business even though that doesn’t normally happen until a little more senior than I am now. It helps me develop different skills and helps people within the organization see me as more senior than I am which will help with future promotions.

    Their sponsorship (rather than mentorship) has made a huge difference in my career and I strive to do the same for others in the future.

    1. Dog Coordinator*

      That was a big help for me too. At my last job (my first real office job), I befriended a more senior employee in another adjacent department. We ended up becoming friends outside of work too, but it was massively helpful to have someone who I could bounce things off of who also understood being a woman in a male dominated industry (and company). Whether it was “can you read this email for me” or “should I take offense to x situation, or is it not worth my energy”, having someone with 10+ more years of experience was huge for me. Seeing her management made me understand how to be a decent manger at my next position. I was lucky to have a small pool of women at that job who all supported each other, and continue to do so to this day even though half of us no longer work at the same company!

  19. Web Crawler*

    Every trans person around me with a professional job has helped me with mine. Specific things that I needed and got:

    – professional male clothes for interviewing (borrowed from a cis friend on short notice when I realized I couldn’t interview in a dress)

    – answering all of the clothing questions I had: about fit, shoes, belts, nail polish, hair… everything.

    – answering all the questions I had about trans stuff:
    – names on my application/resume
    – coming out in the interview (or not)
    – whether to give my pronouns or let them assume, how to find a safe company
    – what to do once I’m hired
    – how to legally change my name and then let my company know
    – how to correct people who misgendered me bc I didn’t actually pass
    – when to out myself once hired, and the pros/cons of doing so

  20. fish*

    I had an incredibly kind mentor, who I met while I was in college. She was presenting at a career day panel and I went up and talked to her afterwards. She took me under her wing, helped me get an internship and then a full-time position. She wasn’t super involved in my day-to-day, but she created opportunities for me, helped push back in the right places, and showed me she believed in me. She was always excited and supportive of the work I was doing. She created my career and I am forever grateful.

    Now, I try to give others the same opportunities — I take on about 4x as many interns as anyone else in my organization, and I always try to reach nontraditional students and not just students at prestigious schools. Something I’ve learned from the POV of being a mentor is — some people want that kind of help, and some don’t! It really worked for me but I can’t force anyone to accept it.

  21. TWW*

    My senior year of college, one of my professors said to me, “There’s an open staff position in the department. The job is yours if you want it.”

    In retrospect, knowing how hard it is for new graduates with no real experience to job hunt, I dread to think what my life would have been like without that unsolicited offer. That job, which I held for for 2 years, taught me more than I had learned in my previous 4 years of college, and launched my career.

    1. Fancy Owl*

      Something similar happened to me, I had to stay an extra quarter beyond my senior year to finish and I was really disappointed but I got a research assistant job with a professor that was turned into a staff position after I graduated because they liked my work. That job was the basis for my entire career so far, I have no idea what I would have done after graduation without it. The extra quarter was the best thing that could have happened. Funny how life works sometimes.

    2. nona*

      This was also my first post-grad job!

      Small university branch in a small town. Science major. I didn’t know what I was going to do post-grad (not more school, but didn’t have a job lined up) and was asked to be a … Teaching Specialist? For one semester I taught a section of lab and helped correct papers (and attended department faculty meeting?!). This helped the department cover a semester sabbatical from one of the professors. Gave me some time to figure out what was next, since I didn’t want grad school.

  22. Sara W*

    My first boss was a great mentor. One of the most important things he told me was: “If you need to make a decision when I’m not here, make that decision. As long as you have solid reasons for that decision, I will back you up” That sense of empowerment and responsibility had a positive impact on my confidence in the workplace and helped to build trust. As a supervisor now, I try to extend that trust to my team and I feel like our work has grown because of that.

  23. Former Retail Lifer*

    I had a terrible manager in my first full-time retail job, but she told me something once that I have carried with me for 20+ years of work: “There won’t be any surprises in your performance review. There will be nothing in there that I haven’t already told you.” This may seem like common sense, but it’s not. I’ve had a mind-boggling lack of feedback over the years through various jobs, and I usually never knew if my review would be adequate or good or if I was failing to meet expectations on anything that wasn’t an easy metric that I could see on a report. Ever since I became a manager, I repeat her quote in my head frequently. I still have to force myself to do it, but I have no right to surprise someone in a performance review!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*


      Performance reviews should be a summary of the year’s feedback and progress plus for the coming year, not the first time you’re hearing about something. I WANT to give feedback so the performance review is, “Jane has made great strides in her llama grooming skills this year and is on track to develop the skills she needs to advance to llama stylist.” versus Jane hearing for the first time that her llama grooming skills over the last six months aren’t up to snuff for even her current groomer position.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I had a boss who, after two years of positive reviews, suddenly surprised me with a six-month probation on a mid-year review. Without any warning. I walked in expecting the usual, and was instead told that my performance was (and apparently had always been) unacceptable, and given a paper to sign. (I ended up keeping my job, which is more than what I can say about this manager, that job, and the next several jobs he had. It turned out to be a him problem.) That experience taught me to dread performance review, a habit that it took me years to break. Agree that review time is not a time for surprises.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Ugh, I’m so sorry you had that experience – that is literally the example I give to new supervisors on what should NOT happen with feedback for exactly the reason you state. I don’t want people dreading feedback conversations or their reviews! I mean, my main goal is for someone to perform their job to standard. How are they going to do that if I don’t give timely feedback? Someone who doesn’t know that something’s not going well aren’t going to magically fix it if no one every says anything until six months to a year later.

  24. Moonshine Cybin*

    The biggest thing has been people who make a space for you. For example, I met Sansa at a conference– she was a few years senior to me and in a more established position. At that conference, she made sure to open up discussions to me and other junior people. She would physically make space when there were a group of people discussing, and would open up the discussion so that I could join in. For example, she would say “In my experience X has been very successful, though I know Moonshine has a lot of experience there– what do you think Moonshine?”, which would open the door for me to join the conversation without having to justify my background.

    It helped me make connections that would have otherwise been very difficult, and it’s something I now try to do for everyone, especially people who are junior or less well connected.

  25. ThatGirl*

    I’ve always been a somewhat self-sufficient person who likes to figure things out for herself, not that I’m afraid to ask for help or direction, but it’s rarely my first instinct.

    In college I spent a semester in New York doing two internships, one at a well-known magazine and one at a very small ad agency. The owner of the ad agency was a somewhat gruff man who wasn’t unfriendly, but we just didn’t quite mesh. He gave me a few assignments along the way, but the bulk of my job seemed to end up being filing and answering the phone and I spent a lot of time browsing the internet.

    Toward the end of my semester, he called me into his office and told me how disappointed he’d been – that he kept expecting me to come show interest in what he was doing and I never did and he didn’t think I’d done a great job. That left me frustrated, because I was clearly somewhat shy and waiting for HIM to give me things to do… but it also made me realize I could have taken more initiative at both of my internships and come out a lot better for it.

    So my lasting lessons were two-fold: I do actually need to tell people when I’m interested in learning more about what they’re doing, and I should also reach out to people who are new, or interns, or in training, and share experiences with them and talk about what they’re interested in learning.

    1. Scott D*

      I agree with this completely. My current manager had NO IDEA I was interested in, and had learned about, computer security until one day when the security team was overwhelmed with work and I told her I was interested in helping. Of course, she took me up on the offer.

      Most people are really happy to talk about their jobs and show others. There are a few insecure people who think “if I tell someone else my job then it’s not secure” but they’re the exception, not the rule. Companies don’t just want people who can do the work–they want people who can share knowledge.

  26. Higher ed is complicated*

    First-gen white collar worker: One of the best things others did for me is set up professional development opportunities that can be easily stepped into. In my field, this is often done with conferences although I imagine other fields it could be done with other projects or proposals. My first few conference presentations were landed by more experienced professionals asking me to sit on a panel or collaborate on a presentation that they took the lead on and I contributed to. It was a lower-pressure way to observe the norms and expectations, get something on my resume, and at the event, be introduced to others for networking via the more experienced professional. Now I try to make it a point to reach out to less-experienced professionals (either new to the field or new to our niche of the field) when I have an opportunity to offer them collaboration. I haven’t been turned down yet so I think it’s appreciated by others!

  27. Annon*

    I was brand new in the industry and my boss would ask me to order some piece of equipment. I had no idea that you couldn’t order just X, but you had to know the other five + parts that went along with X. The salesperson who I had to call to order the equipment recognized I was new and gave me the script to go back to the boss to get the info to actually order the equipment and the list for what I should ask up front next time. I have so much respect for that salesperson because they recognized on multiple occasions that I was being told to do something without any experience or background and they taught me what I need to know when I wasn’t getting the information from my boss. Have mercy on the newbie and take some time to try and share your knowledge instead of being annoyed.

  28. aiya*

    To be very frank, the best way that others have helped me was by giving my referrals/connections. My parents grew up in a different country and worked in a totally different field. They were completely unfamiliar with the entry-level job-seeking process in the US (my mom was super surprised to hear that I have to prepare and practice for interviews) and even more unfamiliar with my chosen field.

    I landed a prestigious internship after grad school, where I met some great peers. After the internship was over, one of those peers gave me a referral to their new company. I then worked in a contract position at their company, where my performance really excelled. I realized that this company wasn’t really in line with what I wanted in my career, but my manager was able to advise me and connect me with a hiring manager for another institution. I would’ve gotten none of this if I were only relying on my parents’ advice (in fact, they often advised me to do the total opposite that folks in my field would tell me to do)

  29. I edit everything*

    I can’t think of anyone I’ve actually worked with who has helped my career. Not that they haven’t been supportive, and many former colleagues and a former boss are people I consider friends to this day. But here I sit, a freelancer just kind of muddling along. I’ve accepted that I will never start the publishing company I dreamed of 15-20 years ago. But I think that’s more about me than lack of support.

    But I have recently joined a couple Facebook groups for editors, and I am learning a lot about possibilities and ways of doing my work that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Still feel like an amateur, after freelancing exclusively for five years, and I don’t think I’ll ever make enough to support myself on my income alone. But seeing that other editors still have questions about things, and having them to support me in my path, has been an eyeopening experience.

  30. awesome3*

    Is it saccharine to say I learned about workplace norms by being a regular reader of this blog? It was so useful to be able to speed up the process of knowing what a healthy workplace looks like, which has been so useful even when the advice has nothing to do with my situation, it’s helped me round out my knowledge.

    1. Web Crawler*

      That’s a mood. This blog has been a lifesaver.
      I’m slow at learning new social norms- if left to my own devices, it takes me months to pick up what other people can in days. (It’s mostly bc autism.) I feel like this blog is the only reason I blend in at work as opposed to being wildly out of sync with my coworkers.

      1. NotNeurotypicalPerson*

        I’m diagnosed autism and can attest to the fact that the lessons I learnt here would have never ever learnt on my own – maybe in a few lifetimes.. It has also given me the courage that I could become a people manager (after a decade of avoiding it) and do a good job! Thanks Alison!

    2. HardlyLovelace*

      Same here, I’ve only known toxic (to me) workplaces outside of academia, and my parents are blue-collar.

    3. BugHuntress*

      Not to be super dramatic, but this blog and Captain Awkward, over the last ten years, have changed my life. I grew up with toxicity in my family and so didn’t see it in the workplace until I was mired in it (can’t see red flags if you’re wearing red glasses). Couldn’t afford therapy or coaching, so blogs like this were game-changing.

      I feel so, so much more confident and calm at work than I did ten years ago. I’m not tiptoeing around, not insecure, not apologetic. I still have a ways to go before I’ll truly know my worth, I think, but I’m working on it. :)

      1. thank you*

        Hard agree that Captain Awkward and Ask A Manager have taught me so much about adulting and recovery from a dysfunctional family of origin.

  31. NYWeasel*

    30-odd years ago, I answered a random help-wanted ad that said “Interest in (my major) a plus”. I got the job and my boss at the time took me under his wing. He introduced me to every possible working professional he could and gave me an impressive title for my resume. When I graduated, his gift to me was an international internship since I hadn’t been able to afford to take one on in college. The connections I made through him gave me a huge leg up as I was starting out and still are beneficial to me now, years after I left the field. I repaid his kindness by setting him up with a legacy of great assistants, but I’ve never felt like it was truly enough. We’ve stayed in touch though, and I think he loves seeing how much I’ve succeeded through the years.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      I think a lot of managers could stand to learn that seeing people they manage succeed, is success for them too!

  32. Llama Wrangler*

    The number one best piece of advice I got, from a professor, was to only make the decision to go to graduate school when I was confident that I needed graduate school for my career.

    I went to an undergraduate institution where a lot of people went to grad school, and I was a strong student (and liked school), so I could have imagined going to grad school. I remember talking to my professor (one of my academic advisors) during my senior year and she said I should not take grad school as the default. I am really glad I waited, and I ended up being able to get a tuition exemption from a later job to get the degree I have much more cheaply than I otherwise would have.

    1. Higher ed is complicated*

      Ha! When I decided to go on to my MLIS from my BA, I asked the dept chair for a rec letter. He must have mentioned writing it to another professor I frequently took, who pulled me aside to try to gently discourage me from going on into academia because “higher ed for the sake of higher ed is a waste of money.” – he had a humanities PhD from Ivy League so you’d think if anyone was “bought in” it was him. I appreciated the advice!

  33. Scott D*

    I had bounced around in various jobs kind of on my own to figure things out then started working in tech where managers have a reputation for being antisocial programmers who were promoted because it’s the only way to pay them more (some truth to this but I’d say only about 25%).

    Then, five years into my career, I became managed by a woman I’ll call Angela who saw in me potential that previous managers had overlooked. I’m very detail oriented, creative and organized. I’m also a perfectionist and an introvert and it takes me a long time to become comfortable with someone. My idea of fun is a small dinner party with 4-6 friends, NOT a large party where I don’t know anyone.

    In meetings, she started calling on me and asking what I thought and liked quite a few of my ideas. Then, she made me temporary lead over a team whose manager was on leave. When I saw some team members weren’t as knowledgeable as me, I just did the work myself. Rather than chastise me, once she realized what was going on, she assigned me so much work that I *HAD TO* delegate it to other team members.

    She also helped me learn when an 80% effort is actually BETTER because getting to 100 takes time from more important tasks. I learned the concept of “good enough” and when I needed to be perfect (presentations for the Board) and when I didn’t (presentations just for Angela). She also selected me to present a company idea at our annual conference of 1,500 people but sent me to a week of Presentation Skills training beforehand.

    I’ve grown a lot and now mentor younger workers and am a manager myself. I admit that, when talking to a large group, I still have occasional thoughts in my head like “why the hell are these people listening to ME?!?!” but they’re few and far between.

    Angela, wherever you are, if you recognize yourself here THANK YOU!!!

  34. Commenter159*

    I grew up in a family with “be grateful for work, never ask for anything, etc.” values. The best conversation I ever had with a mentor was about asking for what your work is worth. He told me that with my background, plus being a woman (thanks patriarchy), I was almost always going to undervalue my worth in my head.

    “When negotiating for salary, pick the number that sounds the most outrageous to you, the most you could possibly get for this job. Add $10K and that’s what you ask for.” I was terrified the first two times I did it, but it’s always worked out well and I’ve gotten significantly more than if I asked for what I thought was “reasonable”. Companies don’t sit around and think about whether their asks of you are “reasonable” and “proper”, so don’t waste any mental thought on that. It’s all just business!

  35. NowWhat?465*

    A former manager did me a kindness and told me the career path I was on was not for me. At first I was offended (I just got denied a promotion that was open on our team) as I thought she was taking a note from our previous team lead that assistants should be encouraged to stay in their roles for their entire career “for the overall success of the department.”

    But she was totally right. She ended up pointing me in the direction of a different department within our office, and I had no interest in the open role because I knew the previous person hated it, and it required a lot of skills I did not have. She encouraged me to apply anyways. Well turns out it was perfect for me! In the past three years on this team I’ve been promoted twice and implemented new programs that have been super successful.

    I never would have gone down this path had she not kindly pointed me away from the track I was on.

  36. Emi*

    I will always be grateful to the man who reported one of the other men in the office for harassment when I was a brand-new employee fresh out of college and somehow didn’t recognize it as harassment.

    1. Rocket Woman*

      I applaud this man!!

      I’m grateful to my trusted mentor, who encouraged me to report my harassment when I confided in her, and went above and beyond to support me. She also encouraged other woman who had the same problems with him to come forward.

  37. Ferret*

    I know it’s a lot to ask of hiring managers but the single biggest factor in starting my middle class career going after being raised in poverty were 2 managers who gave me a chance despite not having great experience.

    I work in a field that really rewards having tons of internships and impressive side projects. But those things are way harder to get for poor students (due to a lack of time, lack of guidance, lack of connections, etc). If those managers hadn’t given me a chance despite not being the most impressive candidate on paper, I do not know where I would be now.

    1. Scott D*

      Thanks for writing this. I was the first person in my family to go to college and, when hiring interns, go out of my way to give chances to those who may not have had many. Quite a few times I’ve convinced other managers to take a chance on someone without much of a “paper trail” and it’s usually worked out.

  38. ThisIs40*

    After college I managed to land an insanely professional job where I had to wear suits and speak in front of crowds and do other crazy things a 21-year-old is usually not doing. I had a LOT of help from the women in my office, all well over twice my age. For example, I was having trouble managing my calendar and one sat with me and taught me how she used Outlook, tasks, etc. to keep herself organized. They taught me everything from the simple things (office norms, how to meter mail) to how to speak in front of hundreds of people without dying. I’m 40 now and still use nearly everything I learned from them. Thank you, ladies.

    1. fish*

      I hope you can see from what you wrote — things like this are aggressively gendered. I hope that now that you are a full-fledged fancy-pants businessman, you are giving back by recognizing that amazing skills of the older women in your office, and not keeping them in lower-level, lower-wage positions where they pass on their amazing skills but don’t get promoted themselves.

      Obviously I can’t speak to your office, but your comment at written shows a certain amount of taking these women for granted, not a ton about giving back, and everywhere I’ve worked there have been women like this who are consistently overlooked.

      1. J.*

        fish, I’m unclear on why you think ThisIs40 is a “full-fledged, fancy-pants businessman.” I thought on first read that ThisIs40 was a woman recognizing other women helping her along, but I realize myself that that was an assumption. Reading the comment again, I can’t see anything that presupposes either of our gendered assumptions….

        1. Gloucesterina*

          How does describing a person’s contributions to one’s professional development constitute “taking them for granted”?

          1. Gloucesterina*

            Hmmm, maybe fish is reacting to the use of “ladies” in what I would tend to read as warm and familiar way of addressing a group of women the speaker (in this usage, a fellow woman) is close to?

  39. Lora*

    My STEM-focused undergraduate university made independent research with an advisor a mandatory requirement for graduation and part of your senior year schedule. It was organized by the department head, the professors all had to post brief descriptions of the research in the beginning of your fall semester and the first week of class was spent with students choosing which projects interested them. In some cases, a professor might not get any students to work on the project, but everyone would get a project to work on, none were completely boring. At the end of the year you had to write a paper and publish it or present it at a conference (not high impact obviously, but still published/presented).

    The emphasis here is that EVERYONE did it, it was part of your class schedule, and you got a paper out of it. This is a HUGE benefit for getting into graduate school and advancing in STEM, and when it’s presented as an option or a volunteer experience or when there are limited opportunities and you’re relying on the kindness of some random professor with 30 grad students and postdocs and no time to train you, for which you won’t necessarily get paid or credited, then working class students who need to work to eat and keep a roof over their heads will be forced to choose work over volunteer experiences; and relying on the kindness of a professor who doesn’t remember you or the other 1000 students he taught in Biology 102 two years ago means that minority students are often overlooked or never guided to these experiences in the first place.

    Someone, years before me, figured out that the majority of the STEM students were working class, had to work to pay bills and sometimes support families, and didn’t have a clue how to get into grad school. So they made it part of the curriculum. Professors were not allowed to opt out either, it was a small school and everyone tenured or tenure-track had to offer a project suitable for 3-5 undergrads to work on as part of their teaching load.

    They also integrated Toastmasters into the program, so every week you had to get up and do a quick 5-minute update or overview of the project. Then 10 minutes, then 15…and you had to talk basically off the cuff with only a few 3×5 cards for notes for about 25-30 minutes. You got immediate feedback on what you needed to improve and had to answer questions.

    They spent a LOT of time basically teaching us how to “pass” as upper-middle class, knowing that nobody else was going to teach us.

    1. Lora*

      Oh, and a particular shout-out to my undergrad calculus, stats and physics professors who knew that pedagogy is critical to teaching math: they taught me How To Attack Math Problems. Until undergrad, I had NO CLUE that there is actually a relationship between A Thing and the abstract variable representing it, math was taught in my high school as rote memorization of algorithms to solve the homework equations in the textbook. It was not considered as a meaningful way to understand the world. I learned that there is a whole entire methodology for both getting people who imagine they are innumerate to make the connection between the symbols and the things the symbols represent, and how to work through the logic describing the relationships between the things.

      I know waaaaayyyyy too many people who still cannot do math, even pretty simple math, because they never learned how to attack problems, they only learned how to memorize long enough to pass the exam.

      1. Gloucesterina*

        This is very cool, thank you for sharing! Definitely wish I had the opportunity to learn this way. I got little blips and bits of this type of approach in my education and it was really amazing when it happened, even though I don’t inherently find math a cool fun puzzle language in the way that some people do.

    2. J.*

      Lora, this is an amazing comment. I’m of working-class background, teaching at a really fancy private high school, and the differences I see between what my students already know, and what I had to learn at a far more advanced age is very striking. Your program sounds like it was fantastic — thanks for the inspiration.

  40. awesome3*

    I had someone outright offer to mentor me when I met them. I was shocked and didn’t think quickly enough to take them up on it, but I’ve found them to be someone I can call for advice when I’m afraid others might shame me for not knowing the answer. So much of my job is based on just “knowing” things, and the person before me was one of the best in our field… maybe of all time. So it’s big shoes to fill, and most of my coworkers didn’t realize how good she was, they just thought that was the role. Having people who know that that was an annamolly and don’t expect me to know everything is really helpful for questions. I love it when I can just ask my question and not worry about feeling stupid or incompetent.

  41. veronica*

    The folks who gave me informational interviewers or just answered questions about what they did when I was deciding on my next career steps.
    The coworker who was brave enough to tell me that I was turning into a perfectionist jerk and saved me from becoming more and more annoying.

  42. New Mom*

    My first job out of high school, my best friend’s mom hired me. They were having trouble filling the position because it was a student position with early mornings three days a week and that made it pretty undesirable BUT I was pretty low on the qualification pole so having her go to bat for me was wonderful. With that job, I was able to move out of my parent’s house, which was very needed.

    There were also a few people that were the year above me in undergrad that were very helpful in my fledgling job hunt. I was a sociology major and a few people I knew went straight into the social work route after graduation and when they told me about their experiences I knew that it was not for me. I also had a few slightly older friends who moved overseas to teach English after they graduated and their positive experiences, and very helpful advice nudged me towards that decision as well. And it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made.

  43. NW Mossy*

    Here, I think particularly of the woman who hired me into my first management job. When I expressed interest in it, she met with me and did something surprising – she explained very clearly how managing day-to-day is deeply different than being an individual contributor. She was a relatively new leader herself at the time, and I think it was her way of sharing what she wished she’d known at the start.

    A couple of nuggets really stood out for me, and I share them often:

    * When you’re an individual contributor, meetings are a distraction from the work. When you’re a leader, meetings are the work. You have to shift your mindset to realize that the time you spend talking to others is where you’re getting things done.
    * Managing is never done. You don’t end the day with the satisfaction of a checked-off to-do list. If you’re someone who thrives on a feeling of accomplishment or completion, you have to find other ways to see your progress.

    She’s now sharing her wisdom in the C-suite, and I’m forever grateful to her for her foresight and her honesty. Every new manager should have the benefit of a boss who doesn’t assume that you just know this stuff and gives you the real scoop.

    1. Damn it, Hardison!*

      I never thought of your first point, but seeing it written out I realize how true it is!

    2. LilyP*

      Thanks for sharing this. I’m in a 50/50 management role where I’m still expected to turn out some individual work and I’ve been feeling so frustrated and swamped with all the meetings and little tasks that just never. end. It helps to reframe it.

    3. Anhaga*

      That first point is really excellent, and clearly articulates something that’s been bothering me about my job for a bit. I’m the manager for my team and therefore the person who attends meetings with clients to explain technical things when needed (and I’m good at this), but since we’re understaffed right now, it means I’m being run off my feet by needing to both keep track of meetings and do my bit on our project. I am going to be so much less stressed when I hire my next team member and get them trained. Then I can focus on the meetings and other manager-y things and trust my team to take care of the day to day.

    4. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      Wow, I have gradually been realizing #1 but this is an excellent and concise way to express that! Thank you for sharing this.

  44. ALM2019*

    Hope it’s okay to share an experience where I believe I helped someone else….

    My ex boyfriends family had a family run business. They all worked there as the business was around for 40+ years. None of them had ever interviewed with anyone that wasn’t their uncle/dad/grandfather. When his sister graduated college she decided she didn’t want to work at the family business and started interviewing at your typical big corporations. She was bombing every single interview. I started asking some questions and found out her Dad was giving her terrible advice – I don’t remember the specifics but I know it was things that would quickly get her rejected. I started sharing some other suggestions with her (which the family was shocked by) and she eventually found a job. I always thought this was an interesting dynamic of the families business experience vs what was happening outside of their bubble.

    1. Web Crawler*

      Your ex’s sister’s story sounds like mine. My dad is self-employed. I don’t know if he’s ever interviewed for a traditional job where you work under somebody else (as opposed to pitching your whole business to get more clients). But he sure loved to give me advice on how I should be interviewing. My sisters aren’t looking for post-college jobs yet, but I’ll be there for support when they do.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yep, my dad is now retired, was self-employed for 26 years and worked as a high school teacher for 20 years before that. Luckily I never put too much stock in his job hunting advice, but that doesn’t stop him trying to offer it.

  45. many bells down*

    I worked at a YMCA in my early 20’s and my boss there taught me how to accurately assess my strengths and weaknesses. We did self-evaluations and you were expected to defend every answer you gave. If you said you were bad at a task, how were you planning to improve? If you said you were excellent, give concrete examples.

    I HATED doing it. But it made me come up with solutions to problems and to be honest with myself and my employers.

    Same boss later went to bat for me when some other employees found out I wasn’t a Christian and tried to have me fired over it. She was utterly fair and took no crap from anyone.

  46. Rose Tyler*

    This isn’t exactly what you asked, but pre-COVID I volunteered at a women’s empowerment nonprofit where the clients were unemployed or underemployed women. One thing I did with them was resume reviews and practice interviews – we’d sit across the table from each other, I’d ask actual questions and then give them real-time feedback (“that was a really great start, and you answered about 90% of what I was hoping you’d address. What was missing was ___. Do you want to take another stab?”) All of them said it was a great experience because they could get their butterflies out and practice common answers in a friendly environment. Highly recommend it if you have something similar in your city!

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is great advice! I’d love to find an organization like this to do some work with.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        There’s a push in the public library field to try and offer things like resume reviews and practice interviews, as we often seem to be the only resource a lot of folks feel they have access to. You may want to reach out to those that are local to you, and see if they’re looking to expand or get a program like this off the ground.

  47. Stratocaster*

    I had a friend/mentor in another department on campus who was about 15 years older than me, and would often chat with me about my career and life goals. She told me once that “there’s money out there, go and get some of it” – she was encouraging me to aim high in my job search. Those words have really stuck with me, because I grew up being taught not to “be a bother” and to never ask for anything because I likely didn’t deserve it, and I should just be grateful to have a job. Her words have really inspired me to advocate for myself, not just in regards to pay, but in all aspects of my career.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is a great story. I want to just share my solidarity as someone who also grew up believing that I didn’t deserve to ask for things and feeling like I was bothering people with any request. It is hard to break that habit and I admire you for doing it!

      1. Stratocaster*

        Thanks! That’s such a hard feeling to overcome, though, and I still struggle with it. Her words also remind me that I *have* to ask myself – no one can read your mind, and even great bosses don’t always know how to help you unless you speak up. My family raised me to believe that hard work would always be noticed and rewarded, and you shouldn’t have to speak up, so if you weren’t rewarded, you either 1) didn’t do good enough or 2) your boss was terrible and you should get another job. That’s led to a lot of job frustration for my parents so I’m grateful that I had a mentor that showed me how to advocate for myself.

        I’m also in higher ed! *fist bump*

  48. TGDY*

    I had a mentor at my very first job out of college who took seriously the fact that I was working my first ever adult job. He always took the time to point out the practical lessons in what I was doing. If I made a mistake, he’d direct me to work hard on rebuilding trust. He instilled the importance of building equity with people so that trust isn’t too hard to rebuild. He let me listen on so many calls, but also let me speak up, too. He quietly supported me as I lost my mom to cancer while I was at that job, even though he was transitioning out to a new company. I use the lessons he taught me every day.

  49. GoKimmyGo*

    My current manager has really helped me navigate sexism in the workplace. How to recognize it, when to speak out, how to speak out, how to handle it. Also how to advocate on behalf of other women. And sometimes just commiserating. It is tough being a woman in corporate America, and before her, I felt like I had a lot of female coworkers and managers that tore each other down, but she really helps lift me up.

  50. Oryx*

    I had a manager tell me once that my emails were too long and full of filler info, especially at the beginning of an email. (I’d start them with, like, a paragraph of very much not-needed context. Or at least not as the opener.) He was 100% right and his comment helped me become much better at prioritizing information for quick consumption. It’s been six or seven years and I still remember that comment if I catch myself overwriting an email.

    I also have personally thanked someone for not hiring me (we became friends after the interview process) because by not hiring me I was able to find a job much better suited for my skills, talent, and interests.

  51. TechWorker*

    I had a point in my career about 2 years ago where I’d just taken on a lot more responsibility without a promotion/pay rise, the project was on fire, my manager was pleasant but not helping much (it’ll all be fine!) and my managers manager was telling me I just needed to be less stressed in order to get the promotion (!?). A manager in another department heard my complaints in the pub and offered to mentor me and it was honestly so helpful. Both the practical advice and the reassurance of him being like ‘wow you *do* have a lot on your plate, most projects are nowhere near this busy’. I’m now much happier, with a different manager and things are much more sane! But his help was massively appreciated.

  52. Rebecca*

    Something I’ve always been hugely grateful for–at the beginning of my career I did an internship that was pretty good but was never going to lead to an internal job offer. The interview for it was really informal, really just a resume and a quick chat. At the end of the internship, I was going on real, formal interviews to get my first full-time job and not getting any offers–I had no idea I had terrible interview skills until one of the interviews CALLED my supervisor at my internship and told her to work with me on interviewing better. It was very embarrassing, but also generous, because no one else had bothered, and I wouldn’t have known otherwise. My supervisor helped me practice interviewing, and I got a decent job after that. I ran into that interviewer years later and told her she helped me! Now, when I mentor young people, I always do mock interviews before they head out for the real ones!

  53. CreepyPaper*

    It was my first manager in my high school retail job who actually gave me advice that’s stuck with me since 1997 – ‘work to live, don’t live to work, your health and happiness are more important than any job.’

    Remembering her words gave me the courage to say ‘y’know what, stuff this, this isn’t worth the damage it’s doing to me’ to a good few toxic jobs during my life. I’m happily settled now in a job where I work, and come 5pm I leave and don’t have to give it a second thought. That’s how I like it.

    So thanks, Sherryl. Not that you’ll see this, but thank you, anyway!

  54. NumberOnePaulRuddFan*

    I am a cis, white woman who works in public health. I tend to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about systemic inequities and how slow things are to change, especially in government work.There are two women in particular who have really helped me harness my grievances for good.

    The first is someone who I did childcare for in undergrad. I think she recognized some of herself in me and has, and continues, to connect me to colleagues in our (now shared) field. She also makes herself available for informal consultation on challenging problems. Finally, she reminds me that this kind of work is often a long game and to take care of myself.

    The second person is a formal supervisor through my master’s program. She really showed me the importance of working within the constraints of a system to push for what is ethical and right, and to understand that often someone saying “no” is really because they don’t know how to implement the suggested changes. She showed me the power of anticipating challenges and providing solutions before they’re asked. Additionally, she really helped me smooth out that aforementioned chip by helping me recognize that people are generally working from a place of best intentions, even if it often doesn’t seem like it.

  55. Anya LastNerve*

    I worked for a very large international organization and got a new manager following a merger. I only worked for her for a year and a half, but we have stayed close for the last 10 years. Probably the most important thing she did for me was tell me I was underpaid (believe me that she had almost no ability to adjust my pay at this org) and continue to build my confidence over the years – encouraging me to ask for more money, encouraging me to apply for jobs I felt I couldn’t do, etc. Basically using her higher position and view of my work and my peers to give me an assessment of my abilities and worth has been a huge boost in my career.

  56. Parcae*

    A senior person in my field who pushed me to co-present a conference session with her. I thought I wasn’t enough of an expert yet, but she insisted that the session would be better with the voice of a newer, on-the-ground practitioner. (At the time, I thought this was a flimsy excuse, but looking back she was right. “Expertise” means nothing without context.)

    Although I didn’t do the heavy lifting on that first presentation, I made a positive contribution, which was huge for both my confidence and visibility in the field. I went on to present other sessions and trainings, and although I’ve since switched fields, the confidence and presenting skills I built have stuck with me.

  57. Voodoo Priestess*

    I grew up on a dairy farm and am still the only person in my family to go to college.

    My high school physics teacher encouraged me to pursue engineering. He told me I was the smartest student he had ever had and I could do anything. I’ve used his encouragement a lot when I’ve encountered sexism and misogyny or generally felt like I wasn’t good enough. He was a genius, and if he thought I could do this, then I shouldn’t let anyone else tell me I can’t.

    I’ve had plenty of “here’s an example of what I don’t want to be” but they’re not worth mentioning specifically.

    I’ve used this blog and the book Limbo to help with my lack of experience with internal politics and communication. :) It has definitely helped smooth some of my rough edges.

    I’ve had a few champions in my org, that have really helped get me opportunities that are much harder to get if you’re a woman. I’ve had a few great mentors that saw my potential and have really helped me grow. But it really takes white men in positions of power to make some of this stuff happen. There are very few (almost no) women in top technical positions in my industry. I don’t have female technical mentors because they don’t exist. I make it a point to mentor technical women younger than me. I volunteer with STEM outreach so kids can see that engineers are just middle-aged white men. One professional mantra I repeat often is “Be the person/mentor/manager/leader/friend that I needed .”

    We need more white men to get on board with championing women and minorities in spaces where they are underrepresented. I can’t make that change from the bottom of the org chart. I also can’t directly ask someone to go to bat for me or recommend me for an opportunity. I need a champion to help behind closed doors to say “Voodoo Priestess would be perfect for this” and have a counter when someone says “Well, she doesn’t have the experience yet.” My biggest struggle has been the double standard where I (a woman) don’t have enough experience for new responsibility but a similar male colleague has a ton of potential for the same opportunity. I can’t win that argument alone.

    1. Filosofickle*

      The word champion is really important here. This has come up in research about women at work — we don’t need more mentors. We need champions. People in positions of power who can pull us up, not just be encouraging.

    2. CommenterCommenting*

      THIS is one of my biggest frustrations. It’s such a common phenomenon and so insurmountable alone.

      “My biggest struggle has been the double standard where I (a woman) don’t have enough experience for new responsibility but a similar male colleague has a ton of potential for the same opportunity. I can’t win that argument alone.”

    3. Lora*

      THIS. It is sooooo hard. And discouraging as can be, when you see much less qualified white males climb ahead on the ladder, fail spectacularly, and get opportunity after opportunity despite their failures, because they have Potential and you merely have Not Exactly 110% Of The Experience which somehow doesn’t count for anything.

      I have seen a LOT of extremely competent, brilliant, creative women and minorities in STEM quit for other fields where they won’t be quite so crapped upon. It had nothing to do with they needed more time for family or whatever, and everything to do with “I can’t cure cancer AND feel undervalued AND watch my mediocre or dimwitted male colleagues get promoted AND do 70% of the parenting AND 70% of the elder care for 73% of the money.”

  58. Jyn'Leeviyah the Red*

    I learned the value of “positive gossip” from a mentor. She would never, ever say anything behind someone’s back that she wouldn’t say to them in person, and because of that, she was 100% trusted. Whenever she did say something about someone else and they weren’t present, it was without fail complimentary. I’ve taken those modeling lessons to heart!

  59. ConsultantBae*

    My field in my part of the world (engineering, outside of the US) is VERY male and senior dominated, and those male seniors are terrible at mentorship and development of juniors and women in the profession. Basically they are the metaphorical tempered glass ceiling squashing down anybody under 45, especially women. I, however, was lucky enough because of my tricky and niche subspecialty to be adopted by two of the best mentors I could have ever asked for. They taught me, brought me in on things they were doing at high levels, brought me into rooms I would never have been invited into, listened when I spoke, directed others to listen to me as well, sent opportunities my way, and deferred to me on things that I had deeper knowledge on. One of them makes a point of getting me tea and taking notes when we’re in really male-dominated rooms as a kind of signal to the rest of the room that yes, I’m a young woman but I’m here as an expert not a gofer.

    I couldn’t be where I am without them, and they inspired me to mentorship at that level.

      1. ConsultantBae*

        I didn’t realise how awesome until I heard some of the horror stories from peers about their seniors and bosses. I was making more money and having more input, impact and authority than peers 5 years into my career because of how they nurtured me. And I have done my damnedest to nurture juniors under me in the same way. Last year I left my (government) job for freelance consultancy after 14 years and my juniors were very vocal about how I had impacted them for the better, which made me cry! I felt like I have really been paying forward what was done for me, and that makes me feel really good!

  60. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My all time favourite manager (who I’m great friends with now after I left the firm) taught me:

    How to maintain a calm demeanour when people are angry at you/your department

    How to handle performance reviews so they are fair, honest and give reasonable goals

    And the most important: how to advocate for myself as a disabled person within company politics. Without that I’d have continued to let firms walk all over me/deny me disabled parking/chairs etc.

    (He’s got major lung issues, spent time in ICU with severe pneumonia etc)

    I’ll also mention 99% of my tech related jokes come from him :p

  61. Mostly managed*

    I’m a young woman in the tech field, and my direct boss/mentor at my last agency did several things that really helped me find my voice.

    – He always encouraged interrogating assumptions and encouraged me to speak up if I didn’t understand something or thought something was incorrect.
    – He respected my intelligence and engaged with me in discussions about theory
    – He found speaking opportunities for me and encouraged me to pursue them.
    – He requested the company pay for educational resources for me and other junior employees
    – He was a mentor for a group of beginner coders (including me) and encouraged collaboration
    – He interrupted meetings and signaled when I was being talked over, or when other women were being ignored/talked over. He also would specifically call out the achievements of junior employees, especially women and BIPOC employees
    – Eventually he helped me create my own position which I moved into.

    Having an intelligent, empathetic mentor really helped me, especially since the environment I was in before that job was toxic– it was like rehab for my impostor syndrome, and I can’t thank that boss enough.

  62. LadyByTheLake*

    I was an attorney with a few years experience but I was just muddling along, bouncing from job to job without any real focus other than getting a paycheck, and no real idea of how to network. A more senior friend was impressed with some work I’d done on a project and he suggested (and facilitated) that I speak on the topic at a national convention of attorney specialists in the field. I was terrified, but it went well and that group embraced me — the awkward conversation opening was replaced with “Ah, you’re the one who spoke on Teapot Widgeting,” and went on from there — that one presentation launched me as a recognized expert and helped me to form connections that are ongoing and have been invaluable to me — in addition to teaching me how to network.

  63. NotSoAnon*

    My current boss has easily been the most influential person in my career. I’d had professional jobs prior but all entry level with not a lot of growth potential.

    The biggest thing that my current boss did/still does is he is the best listener. Truly has mastered active listening as a skill, is engaged and takes the time to thoughtfully respond. He’s taught me so much about professionalism, and helped me develop management and leadership skills through trust and accountability. He lets me make mistakes and helps me identify where I made a misstep without talking down to me or making me feel less than. It’s a really constructive growth environment and I feel like almost an entirely different person (on a professional level) and I really think it’s because he found value in my ideas and work when I was not very confident in my abilities.

  64. Lacey*

    At one of my first jobs out of college, just a temp job I took till I could get one in my field, on my last day my coworkers told me I was a delight to work with, but that I was too quiet in the beginning and I should try to be extra friendly when I start a new job so people could get a better feel for who I was.

    I have struggled with this in every job, even with this knowledge, but it helped to know it was an issue and to try and combat it.

  65. Kiki*

    People caring enough to be blunt with me and give me “real talk.” So much of professionalism ends up making folks feel like they can’t share their true thoughts with anyone. As you spend more time in the professional world, you begin to pick up on the nuances, but as a new professional employee it can be hard to understand. I really appreciated everyone who took the time to recognize I needed some real talk and explanations.

  66. Director*

    Several times!

    1. When I transitioned from working as a medical assistant to working in an office a few years after graduating from college, it was a BIG culture shock for me (I had been working at a really toxic place, shift work, and transitioned to being exempt in an office). I had the most awesome boss, though! He really emphasized work/life balance and also praised me publicly and privately to the big bosses. He’s still my favorite boss I’ve ever had, and working for him was the first time I ever felt like I had value and could be successful.

    2. A few years later, I was working at a different company that had a formal mentorship program. My mentor was AWESOME and helped me so much with moving up in my career. I think the most important thing I learned from her was “list your job responsibilities/accomplishments on your resume in order of how much you liked doing them, with the ones you liked the most up top. If you really hated something, put it at the bottom of your resume, or just leave it off.” That helped me not only avoid applying for jobs I’d hate, but also focus more on what I like about work & want to do, which really helped me get where I am today.

    3. When I was offered my current job, I asked for about 10% more than what I’d been making at my previous job. My now-boss came back with a number $37k higher than what I asked for and said I have been undervaluing my skills and experience. My current workplace is not without its issues, but I do feel like my skills are valued and compensated appropriately.

    1. Anne of Green Tables*

      Excellent advice for the resume (#2). I remember making a bullet point for a task I hated, but excelled at doing and feeling crushed at an interview when the interviewers were excited about that specific task because no one on their staff wanted to do it. For a reason!

  67. Eleanor*

    Developing a great relationship with coworkers in my office helped me land a better job in a different department. These are folks I didn’t work with but got to know in the lunch room, at office parties etc. They knew my personality and suggested I apply and sent positive recommendations to the hiring manager.

  68. NotAnotherManager!*

    I have lucked into a number of really good mentors over the years.

    My supervisor at my first job gave me room to grow (he once told me, “I’m going to keep giving you more complex work, and you let me know when you have questions or feel out of your depth.” and then trusted me to do just that), but he also gave me pointers on interpersonal skills that I needed to polish for a white-collar workplace.

    A very kind project supervisor helped me to learn to take feedback better and not take it so personally. Another gave me immediate and kind feedback on better handling customer relations skills.

    My current boss is just amazing. She pushes me out of my comfort zone (in a good way) and gives me support to try new things with a safety net. She also has my back when things go wrong and is a wonderful advocate for my teams.

  69. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    In my first job, I was completing all my work tasks, and thought that was enough (basically I was lazy and did the minimum). My manager took me aside and talked about how to be better than that – about being personable on the phone instead of brisk, how to take pride in your work even if it isn’t glamorous or exciting, that kind of thing.

    It made a huge impression on me.

    I recently got back in touch with them, and thanked them for that redirection. I’ve taken that better attitude into every job I’ve had since, and I’m certain it’s made a difference to my career progression and professional reputation, not to mention the quality of my professional relationships and my ability to enjoy my work.

  70. CK*

    I’m a social worker and the thing I am most grateful to my first internship supervisor was pushing me to have healthy boundaries, not just with clients but with the job itself. Social work is similar to other “helping” professions where it’s common/expected for staff not to take breaks, or work long hours, or use our own money (from our already low pay) to stock the office with supplies, especially if the supplies are for clients. This supervisor was kind but adamant about everyone taking breaks, going home on time and insisting that we not pay for anything ourselves, and insisted on reimbursement if we paid for things without checking with her first.

    Her example has helped me recognize when organizations are asking too much of me. It’s been a reminder both to prioritize my own wellbeing but also to remember that I can and should expect more of the systems & orgs that I’m working within. (whether or not I actually *get* more is an entirely different story, but it helps cut back on some of the personal guilt for not doing All The Things)

    1. BusyBee*

      I similarly give credit to a manager I had in my 20s that taught me a lot about asking for and getting what you’re worth. She had a good, collaborative atmosphere on her team, but would always say “we work for money” when there was pressure to believe in the mission above all else. She coached me how to ask and get a substantial raise while I was at that org.

  71. MegPie*

    My dad was a plumber and my mom was a waitress. As I’ve risen in my field, more and more I see the subtle differences in my mannerisms/the way I approach things as opposed to folks that grew up with professionals in a higher socioeconomic status. My last boss would gently shut me down when I said inappropriate or NSFW things. It hurt my feelings sometimes but ultimately allowed me to advance further in my career than I would have without his input. I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated that I’m brilliant and capable but kept getting ignored, and his guidance helped me to change my approach instead of being frustrated that the rest of the world didn’t change for me.

  72. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    Taking honestly about failure, skill building, struggles and a realistic career path.

    I think so often people (including me) talk about our successes and not the actual work and value in failures, changing careers, taking a lateral step etc.

    I will never forget when my mentor, who I have always respected as someone who is keenly adept at communicating and making human connections, whether talking about something challenging, or technical, or shooting the breeze, told me how nervous he was before meeting a senior executive for the first time. And how when he was networking and trying to make new connections, he probably only had a good connection with about half the people. That insight that EVERYONE finds networking and communicating in that setting challenging, and even the most personable people don’t connect with everyone allowed me to approach my own internal networking across my large organization a lot more productively and without a sense of failure.

    I think really talking about challenges and realities are the most important things. Those are the places we Lear.

  73. Miss Kat*

    At the age of 52 I was finally able to get back into an office job in January of 2020 – after working in restaurants at night for the last 13 years to accommodate my kids schedules. I was in the job for 2 months before Covid hit. I was able to learn most of the job before I started working from home. The one thing that helped me the most was definitely not being micromanaged. My new boss is very supportive and one of the nicest people I’ve come across. I think it helps that we are so close in age. Every so often she will tell me that I am doing a great job which is really nice to hear. Previous bosses weren’t like that. It’s a huge confidence boost and it feels really nice when she asks for my input on procedures or when she asks me how something should be done… when I know darn well she knows what she’s doing. Overall pleasantness and encouragment go a long way with me. It’s a plus that she appreciates my weird NY sense of humor.

  74. Mrs. Vexil*

    I was a buyer in a retail store for ten years. I left with no job to go to when new management made it clear they would like me to not be there anymore. One of my former sales reps, Ron, who also called on Leading National Wholesaler one county over, mentioned me to a couple of managers at that business who were looking for buyers. This wholesaler was notoriously hard to get into unless you had a recommendation from someone already connected. I interviewed, was offered whichever of the two jobs I wanted, and have been at what is now Leading Global Wholesaler, almost 22 years. I hadn’t asked Ron to do this, but he thought well of me and gave a younger colleague a boost, and I have done very well and am still mostly happy and challenged at work.

  75. Miss Muffet*

    Some of mine are also from “negative examples” too, although none of them rose to the level of nightmare-boss, thank goodness.
    – I learned how to share information with my team to empower them to think more broadly about how to solve problems, from a boss that felt “information was power” and gave me basic stuff on a need-to-know basis only and then was mad when I didn’t use information I didn’t have to problem-solve.
    – I learned how to trust my team to back me up, or know who to go to if they didn’t know the answer, when I go on vacation, from a boss who couldn’t disconnect. I felt insulted that his actions implied he didn’t trust me (and I do know that he actually did trust me) and vowed to never treat my subordinates like that.
    – I learned how to rein in my copy-editing instincts to only correct people’s emails for clarity and accuracy, and not voice, when I had the opportunity or need to review others’ work, from managers who completely rewrote things I did even when what I wrote wasn’t wrong, just a slightly different way of phrasing it. I wanted emails to sound like they came from the person they actually came from.

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      – I learned how to rein in my copy-editing instincts to only correct people’s emails for clarity and accuracy, and not voice, when I had the opportunity or need to review others’ work, from managers who completely rewrote things I did even when what I wrote wasn’t wrong, just a slightly different way of phrasing it. I wanted emails to sound like they came from the person they actually came from.

      I had a manager who never learned this and it undermined my confidence SO much. I still have to work with her (not reporting to her anymore though) and she STILL does this to me. It’s infuriating and belittling.

  76. Jellyfish*

    A couple of my grad school professors started hosting informal sessions on resumes / CVs, cover letters, and interviewing. It was similar advice to what I was reading here at the time too, but more targeted to our specific field. The university career center was unfortunately worthless, so having an alternative was very helpful.

    One of the profs also said he’d do individual consultations. He helped me refine my cover letter, encouraged me when I got phone interviews, and gave me lots of very practical pointers before my in-person interviews. He knew my background and what I was applying for, so he could make individualized suggestions on how to present both my job history and myself.

    It was really useful and also made me feel like there was someone in my corner. I genuinely don’t think I’d have my current job without his help.

  77. Moths*

    I could add a lot of people to this, but one is something that I only recently realized how much of an impact it had. In my first job out of college working in my field, I was hired to work at a small laboratory. I had no idea what fair pay was for the position, all I knew is that it offered health insurance and a salary and that was good enough for me. But I remember after I interviewed with the person I would be replacing (she was retiring) and the owner of the company, the person I was replacing pulled me aside as she was walking me out and told me that I absolutely should not accept the salary that the owner had offered. She said that it was far too low and was unfair. But then, instead of just leaving me to try to negotiate on her own, she went back to the owner on her own and told him that she would not let him hire me for that little money. In the end, she was able to get the owner to nearly double what I was offered. Not only did she help me realize my own value, but she set me on a better salary trajectory for the long term. I think back to this lady who had nothing to gain herself by advocating for me, but who was unwilling to let a young woman fresh out of college be taken advantage of. I didn’t realize the importance at the time, but I always wish I could go back and tell her how much of an impact that had.

  78. EEB*

    A few years ago my manager left for a new job, and I was promoted into her position. Before she left, she sent me an email with exactly what her salary was, when she received promotions/raises and for how much, etc. The organization tried to lowball me when they offered me the promotion, and I was able to push back more effectively because I knew what they’d been paying my predecessor. It was an enormous help.

    1. SpiderLadyCEO*

      I had a coworker do something similar for me: when I applied for his role, he told me what his salary was, and made sure that I got the same offer. And then he and my manager both went to bat for me when the office made an effort to downgrade my benefits from what his were. We lost that battle, but the fact that he sat down with me and told me what he was dealing with was so incredibly helpful and meaningful to me.

  79. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    One of my early bosses made it a point to invite me to ask about their reasons, and found time to sit and explain those reasons to me – it helped a lot in understanding the profession I was getting into, and the reasons for procedures and policies that existed, as well as the ethical framework of the field.

    Another made it a point to sit me down and say “Here is what I see you doing well, and here’s some suggestions on how you can use those skills to your advantage.” Coming from a very critical family structure, where nothing I ever did was done well enough… the idea that I had strengths was foreign to me. That same boss, when they were forced out of the institution, took the time to sit me down and teach me how to identify my accomplishments and put them on a resume – I had never thought of myself as being the sort of person who would have accomplishments, because I was always told how much of a disappointment I was.

    Dressing skills – My father’s grand boss took me aside and taught me how to tie and wear a Windsor knot. My father hated ties and never wore them (he was the first white collar worker in his family), and the change in the knot made me so much more comfortable in interviewing, because it looked so much less haphazard than a four-in-hand. Sounds like a small and ridiculous thing when I type it out, but… it mattered to me as a person trying to be a new professional.

  80. Girl Alex PR*

    When I was active duty military, my middle child was diagnosed with a terminal disease. I was devastated and my husband I decided that I should get out because he would need 24/7 care until he passed away, and his condition meant that could be days or years. I submitted paperwork to my new boss, a Navy Chief. I told him why and he said he understood. A day later he came to me and said he had gotten me orders to a command where I could have the flexibility to be with my son, and keep my Navy career. He advocated for me when he didn’t even know me. Because of him I was able to be with my son while he died and remain a Sailor. I did three more years, finishing out my contract and advancing. I will never forget the effort he put in for a near stranger.

    1. Humbled*

      This brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry about your son, and so glad you found support and compassion when it was most needed.

      Maybe not relevant to you, but related to Alison’s question: The military obviously has its problems, but it wasn’t until I had family in the military that I understood its enormous role as a means of class mobility for the socioeconomically disadvantaged. There’s a reason why people of color make up so much more of the workforce there than in the academic humanities departments (where other members of my family like to talk a big game about diversity but whose approaches are more self-serving and self-congratulatory than not). I assumed everyone who went into the military were excited to have guns and planes and shoot stuff up: I know now that many are excited to have a desk and a job that involved emptying an in-box.

      It’s basically the US’s biggest engagement with socialism and in many ways a successful welfare program, and I am embarrassed now by my pious and self-righteous scorn for it without knowing anything about it.

  81. Ann O'Nemity*

    Teachers! All my foundational guidance about getting into and succeeding in work came from teachers. I wasn’t going to get it at home. Heck, I can remember a case worker walking my mother through how she should go about getting and keeping a job, how to budget money, pay bills on time, etc.

    One of the most pivotable pieces of advice I got was from a professor who told me that no one was going to take me seriously if I continued to look, sound, and act like a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks. He was a bit of an asshole actually, and certainly could have delivered the advice in a kinder way. But he wasn’t wrong. Social class DOES play a huge role in white collar work environments, and it’s way harder to be successful if you don’t fit into those norms and expectations.

  82. Kits*

    I am eternally grateful to the older women in my life who showed me how to be myself and successful and a strong contributor. I worked in not for profits most of my life and women helped me so much. They took the time to teach me, but more importantly, advocated for me. It wasn’t all of them – but the ones that did stay in my heart forever. One of them is now my best friend.

  83. Campfire Raccoon*

    The best boss I ever had taught me to:
    -Drink water instead of soda and exercise at lunch if at all possible.
    -Say, “I don’t understand. Explain it to me.” In response to sexist and racist jokes.
    -Stare down stupids in a polite but firm manner.
    -Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence.
    -Double and triple check my work.
    -No really, check it again.
    -If your data is off by a multiple of nine, it’s probably a transposition error.
    -Deal with toxicity in a calm and respectful manner.
    -Never put anything on your resume you don’t want to do at your next job.
    -Utilize the resources available to you.
    -Realize your limits, strengths, and communicate them.
    -Make the new kid deal with the auditors, let them annoy each other.

      1. Campfire Raccoon*

        She also taught me that if you are going to develop a coke habit while living as an expat in Saudi Arabia, you should not leave your cash stash and blow on your kitchen table.

        It should be a cross-stitch, really.


    I have a friend who is director level. He likes to tell people he got there with hard work. While his work ethic is part of the story, the other part includes specific things other people did at key points in his life.

    He struggled in grade school and teachers strongly recommended putting him in remedial classes. His parents didn’t agree with the teachers’ assessment and declined help. At the time, there was stigma attached to special ed kids. Kids were often told in special ed that they could only hope to get to x grade levels below their non-special ed peers. His parents choice meant he avoided the special ed stigma and the “less than” label that came with it.

    In 6th grade, he had a math teacher who said he didn’t need remedial help, he needed to be challenged. They put him in advanced classes and he started to thrive in school.

    When he was a senior in high school, he got a job working for a mason. He liked his $16 an hour and told his parents he wasn’t going to college. His parents were not having it. He went to college and got an engineering degree.

    Then he passed a certification and the main owner of the company he was working at insisted he be promoted to management. There was opposition from other owners, but the main owner played the “I’m 60% owner and I say he is getting promoted” card. Without that main owner fighting for him, he never would have been promoted to management.

    He definitely worked hard to get his degree and certification but he is where he is because people advocated for him along the way.

  85. Sparkles McFadden*

    For every example of “what not to be” and outright crazy people, I can think of many more people who helped me along the way.

    – My boss for the job I had while I was in college. He taught me that optics matter. He explained how to manage other people and give constructive feedback. He also taught me some basic budgeting and accounting skills, eventhough that didn’t have much to do with my job at the time.

    – The owner of a local boutique who knew I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to dress for a corporate environment. He taught me how to choose what would look best, and how to make a small wardrobe look bigger. He also let me stretch out payments so I could have starter wardrobe.

    – The boss who hired me to work for a company that would become my work-home for 30 years. He showed me the importance of direct and clear communication,I would frequently get some truly horrendous assignments that others didn’t have to do, but it was OK because my boss explained that he knew the assignment was bad and why he had to give it to me. He also showed me how to deal with difficult and underperforming employees, how important it was to share credit, and never finger-point or blame anyone.

    – The manager who found me a position in a different department because he knew my Grandboss wanted me out of the current department (she had a friend who wanted a job).

    – The opposite situation: The Grandboss who overruled a prospective boss who didn’t want to hire me because “I would feel more comfortable with a man in the job.” (Grandboss told Boss to “Figure out how to get comfortable.”)

    – The manager of the IT department who recognized my technical skill and encouraged me to apply for jobs that I thought were beyond my skills (they weren’t).

    – …and the many male coworkers who acted as advocates in situations where I was the lone woman.

    I tried to pay all that back where I could. I often wonder how effectively I did that.

    1. Bird bird*

      “Figure out how to get comfortable” is an AMAZING way of putting the responsibility back on the problem person.

  86. Dana Lynne*

    People have been so helpful to me throughout my career. It’s really quite humbling to take this opportunity to look back on all the turning points over the years and notice how many people were just plain old KIND and GENEROUS. So thanks for that.

    Luckily my college professors were very good at training me for the actual field I went into first, broadcast journalism, so college was actually the right preparation for that career. My parents knew nothing about it and tried to encourage me to become a dentist. I am like, the least likely person to be a dentist that you would ever meet! They meant well but they were no help at all with career choices even though both of them had been to college.

    When I moved from radio to TV, I simply asked someone I knew slightly and admired in the field for help with TV makeup and she said, sure, and I came to her dressing room one evening and she showed me. When I moved from my first TV job to another TV job a colleague showed me how to put together an audition tape and what was needed. Just sheer kindness and helpfulness.

    When I was trying to move from TV to newspaper after being fired, some former colleagues at my college newspaper who were working at the place I had applied put in a good word for me, because there was a big prejudice against broadcast types in the newspaper business of the day (this was in 1988). Without their support I would never have been hired.

    When I had my kids, two other working moms at that newspaper were incredibly helpful when I basically asked for some of their time and asked them for advice about how to be a working mom. I look back on their generosity with gratitude to this day.

    When I decided to try to move into teaching, a woman prof at my alma mater whom I knew only by reputation showed me how to create the unique kind of resume that is required when you apply for university teaching jobs. I had never seen one before.

    When I did get hired and moved to teaching journalism, two colleagues at my first college were incredibly helpful and spent, cumulatively, hours with me showing me the ropes — all the basic things of navigating what was expected in terms of scheduling, how to write a syllabus, how to manage grading so I wasn’t overwhelmed, etc. I had only been in academia a student up until and had never had to think about how all that worked.

    When I became miserable due to politics and turmoil at the first place I taught, the husband of a colleague there told me about an opening in my field at a nearby college. I would never have thought to check on that place for work, but I was hired and am still there, teaching writing, 13 years later.

    I try to pay this kind of thing forward. Sure, I thanked these people at the time, gave them appropriate gifts, showed my gratitude — but I have never forgotten how generous people have been to me throughout my career (now approaching its end) and I try to be helpful and to do mentoring things whenever I can. Just simple kindness to others is really important.

    Thanks for the reminder to think about the good people in this world.

  87. My boss rocks*

    I was on my way to an interview for my first internship during college and got in a minor car crash, everybody was ok but because of the way insurance works in my country I had to wait for the insurance rep and it took a lot of time. It was before everybody had cel phones, so I used my change to call first the insurance and second my mom and I asked her to call the interviewer to let her know that I couldn´t make to the inverview and why. because.
    I was sure I had lost my chance because “you can’t miss an interview, it’s an instant rejection” (or that was what I believed at the time) but the interviewer was so nice and understanding, she reescheduled for the next day and told me that the fact that she received the call (even if it was my mom) let her know that I was a reliable person. That day she showed me that a reasonable person will consider the circumstances before making a decision.
    It all ended really well… I got the internship :)

  88. Chilipepper*

    I cannot think of any help I got, but I do ask young women at work (its a very female field) if they have thought of taking on one of the very small leadership roles we have available at work.

    I think it makes a difference to them. For example, one said she was not too fussed but when I said, this is one of the few ways to get experience to put on your resume, she changed her whole outlook and is now in one of those small leadership roles and is thinking about the idea of building a resume and a career even though she does not know the career she wants yet.

    It just had not occurred to her. And it was as simple as asking her if she thought about x.

  89. Vistaloopy*

    One of the most helpful things is something I learned from this blog – the concept of “capital.” In the past, I would advocate/challenge (often emotionally) any management decisions I disagreed with, and it cost me a promotion and caused a lot of stress. Everyone around me was doing the same thing (it was a dysfunctional department) and was struggling too. Years later I found AAM and learned about capital…I’m no longer in that environment, but I now know you need to pick your battles!

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Amen! Office capital is the single greatest regulating factor to help me know when to stress and when not to stress about work. As someone who struggles with cues as well sometimes, this is absolutely gold. And also Alison’s mantra to assume the best and give colleagues the benefit of the doubt but also call out poor behavior with tones of disbelief. All jobs need mandatory AAM training!

  90. pretzelgirl*

    In college I worked at this tiny call center. They helped local schools do fundraisers. They would hire us to call the community and sell cookie dough, pizza, coffee and trash bags (so random lol). It was the easiest stinking job in the world. They would make us pizza and cookies all the time. You only worked 4-9, I loved it. I actually learned a lot there. How to communicate on the phone and talk to people professionally. The manager there told me to: “Never despise small beginnings”. She had the best attitude and was a wonderful manager. I loved her. I always remember that phrase and try to apply it when I am feeling bad about my place in life.

    Also my current boss (without him even really knowing it) helped me heal from my past toxic job. He trusts me, lets me do my work with out micromanaging me. Understands when I need time off for family stuff. Its wonderful.

  91. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    To the guy who gave me freelance writing jobs and training that kept my resume afloat during the pandemic, I owe you everything!

  92. teapot yoga*

    When I was in my early 20s I worked as an editorial assistant at a publishing company. It was the sort of gig with a pool of Editorial Assistants and Assistant Editors in their early 20s, each reporting to different Editors.

    I applied for a promotion to Assistant Editor on someone’s team, and I did not get the position. It came down to me and my colleague, and she got the role. I was disappointed but not heart broken.

    The man who turned me down for the job said the nice thing, about how hard it was to decide, yada yada — and then encouraged me to consider applying to be a sales rep. This was sort of two steps above where I was and also a job that seemed super intimidating! I’d *never* have considered it without him saying it would be a good fit. He then really helped me prepare, when one of those positions became available a few months later–a job I got!

    It’s been almost 15 years. I had a very successful career as a sales rep, eventually managing a team of 25, and now I run my own business, teaching wellness folks and artists how to make sales easy and fun in their own business.

    In a lot of ways, I owe my whole career to that man!!

  93. fedupmarketer*

    I started a new job and had a lot on my plate. Something went out to the company without me reviewing or approving and I thought it was awful, badly written with even worse design. I had a mini-breakdown to my mentor at the time who asked ‘does it really matter?’. I thought about it and decided no – it wasn’t ideal but nothing would really go wrong. It really helped me frame what is actually important vs. something that can wait till we have time. It’s really helped me cope with stress and focus on what matters.

  94. Bluesandclues*

    On my last day of a first internship, my very cool boss gave me some advice for professional women specifically. She told me that as a woman, it’s easier to get pigeon-holed into being the nice, friendly, agreeable person at work at the expense of being known for competent work. In a reference, her first manger could not stop talking about how nice and easy she was to work with, but mentioned very little about the quality of her work. She encouraged me to find the balance of being known for agreeableness and excellent work so that I’ll be known for my work instead of just qualities that I’m socialized to adopt as a woman.

  95. Tomato Frog*

    I attended library school online, and I had a job as a graduate assistant at a different campus of the university where I was enrolled. Unbeknownst to me, my boss looked into — and successfully got — tuition remission for me. Normally GAs at this school got tuition remission, but it had never been done for someone who was working on a different campus than the one where they attended school. There was no benefit to my boss in getting this for me. When I asked her about it, she just shrugged and said it was only right I should get the same benefits as other GAs. It slashed my school debt, which is, of course, life-changing.

    This boss was a project archivist — which is a temporary position, presumably she was not someone with a lot of pull — but she was constantly working to get more hours and benefits for the students she hired. I remember someone maxed out the number of hours they could work, and my boss kept finding ways to rehire her. She was always up for wrangling with the bureaucracy on our behalf. At the time I was impressed and appreciative; now that I’m working at a university and see how complex and confusing it can be to advocate for yourself and others, I’m even more appreciative.

  96. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I had a coworker–I’ll call him Joe because he’s a dead ringer for another Joe–who pulled me aside and showed me how to do what I’m good at on the platform I was working on instead of doing what I had been taught. He taught me how to add new features to the platform. It was a complete game-changer; my productivity went up tenfold overnight and my quality scores went from worst to with 10% of the top performer on the team. He left during a voluntary Reduction in Force, and I wept on his last day. I’ve built upon that system over the years, but the foundation is still basically what he taught me.

    I was hired into the job because the previous RIF was over-productive and they’d gone from overstaffed to understaffed, right before an unexpected spike in demand for their services. I’ll call my supervisor Reba because she loved country music. I still have no idea why Reba hired me–I can’t imagine bombing my interview worse without malfeasance–but she did. My first dozen or so projects, Reba sat down with me and would eliminate requirements that were services we didn’t offer, nonconforming, impossible, or otherwise bad; it taught me that not all requirements in the real world are valid. When I started working long hours (this was before Joe pulled me aside) and had fixable errors on the initial samples, Reba would repeat every time “I can explain late but I can’t explain wrong,” both of which still stick with me and guide my actions.

    The Senior Developer there–I’ll call him Tiberius because he’d think that’s a compliment–taught me how to train, onboard, and mentor new coworkers, but did so via negative space. I learned how to build others up by using Tiberius’ modus operandi with me as a list of things to avoid (e.g. surprise PTO, coverage instructions where new information forces old off the page, cryptic and obfuscated comments/notes/instructions, etc).

    My supervisor at my previous job forbade what I had been good at (due to issues with my predecessor) and left me to my own devices–it was trying, but by the time I left, I had several new skills in my wheelhouse, most of which I’m still using. I don’t think she was trying to sabotage me; judging from her reaction when my grandboss and I agreed that going our separate ways was the best thing for all parties involved, I wasn’t even on my boss’s radar 99% of the time. She also inadvertently provided me a wealth of experience with how much worse things could be, to get me through lesser trials and tribulations. I don’t think she ever forgave me for my predecessor existing.

    1. Anhaga*

      “I can explain late but I can’t explain wrong”

      That is a really useful concept–it applies really well to my current position. We have a much easier time telling clients, “Hey, we hit an unexpected bump in the process so it’s going to be a few more days” than we have explaining six months later why we missed a major problem with their website.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’m glad Reba’s manta has even more good to do. That brings me a smile on a trying day.

  97. Karen Walker*

    I was fired and I was having a tough time coping and I went to a therapist who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety.

    The depression wasn’t a surprise, but the anxiety was. I found my anxiety was playing out so I was basically my own worst enemy when it came to my career. If I resented my boss, I didn’t react professionally. If I was unhappy with my workplace or the work I was doing, I convinced myself that there were too many barriers to finding a new job and I just had to put up with it in order to pay bills. If I ran into walls trying to do tasks, I convinced myself that no one would help me figure it out so I’d figure out a way to work around it, which led to more resentment, or I wouldn’t do the work and feel ashamed of myself. I’d take corrections from colleagues as a personal attack and if I had a disagreement with a colleague I wasn’t able to let go of my resentment of them.

    I coped by drinking too much, so I came to work hungover at least once a week. I would be ashamed of drinking enough to be hungover on a workday, so along with feeling physically ill, I’d be doing subpar work and be in a shame spiral.

    I got therapy, got on meds and got a new job where I could start fresh. Now I listen to criticism and and process it in healthy and professional way. I don’t freak out every time I have a 1:1 with my boss. When I run into a wall with a coworker, client or vendor I remember that these things happen and there’s help available to me if I don’t know what to do. If I get angry or annoyed I acknowledge how I feel, tell myself that my anxiety will make this feeling consume me if I let which will make the situation worse for me. I only drink recreationally now. My self-esteem is better and I have better working relationships.

  98. SufjanFan*

    I started my career as an administrative assistant for the CEO of a nonprofit, which wasn’t what I wanted to do but I wanted to get my foot in the door somewhere. Word got around that I was an English major in college, and someone in the marketing department asked my boss (the Chief of Staff) if they could use me for some light marketing/editing work. She agreed, and then I started with small projects for that team while doing my admin duties. Eventually, I moved down fully to the marketing department and I worked there for 6 more years, working myself up to a senior member of the department. I was very lucky that one person saw potential in me, and also that my boss let me grow and didn’t hold me hostage in my admin position.

  99. Anhaga*

    I have finally completely left higher education and academia, but I learned some really useful stuff there.

    The positive stuff:

    How to network. I attended a lot of conferences as a graduate student, and my professors all helped us grad students get to know the ropes by introducing us to other established scholars, modeling how to talk to people about their work without making it all about you, asking useful questions that help to both further everyone’s understanding of the topic and to show that you’re a thoughtful person, how to be relatively comfortable (or at least not really really uncomfortable) in cocktail hour chatter, that sort of thing. I’m not the most accomplished glad-hander, nowadays, but I know how to put on the professional mask that makes me comfortable in meetings with clients and allows me to communicate effectively and not sound like a nervous fool.

    That seemingly unrelated skills often turn out to be incredibly useful. My first job in grad school was working on a digital humanities project that required me to learn basic HTML and image editing. As I was looking ahead to a career as a literature scholar, that didn’t seem like it would be terribly useful unless I worked on similar digital humanities projects. And then I realized that academia was not the place for me, so I had to hunt for ways to use the skills I’d honed as a grad student and writing instructor in the non-academic workplace. I thought I’d be limited to writing and editing type jobs, but then found a niche in tech where my very basic knowledge of HTML combined with the strong analytical skills of graduate work in the humanities was all I needed to start on a completely new career that pays well. I *still* need to mail that thank-you letter to the director of the digital humanities project I worked on; I owe this career to the skills he had me learn in that position.

    More recently, I’ve been lucky enough in my current position to be helped by a boss who knows how to recognize strong potential even when a person’s work experience isn’t exactly what position seems to require. I got my job because of that, and neither he nor I regret the decision in any way! I’m now trying to develop that sense myself so that I can make the same kind of hires.

    The negative stuff:

    I’ve learned from a number of the managers I had while working in for-profit education that I never want to be the sort of manager who doesn’t stand up for my employees or who gets stuck selling changes and policies that I *know* are horrible and damaging as being positive and good. I will leave an organization now before I do that. I’ve also learned the warning signs of an organization that’s more dedicated to a good appearance than giving actual good service to its clients/customers. This also helped me develop my DGAS attitude that makes it much more likely I’ll stand up for myself and anyone I’m managing if I do end up in an organization like that.

    1. chilipepper*

      I really want to get a sense of what new career you moved into as I have some similar skills and don’t really know where to turn for a new direction.

  100. SpiderLadyCEO*

    A classmate I didn’t think I was close to remembered years after the fact I had casually mentioned wanting to work in politics. Her ex-boyfriend was looking for someone to hire to work on a local campaign, and she called me – this set my whole career path. Had she not remembered that, had she not been brave enough to call a girl she only had a few passing conversations with, I would be in a very different place right now honestly.

    I actually just got back from lunch with her, and she’s still brilliant, years later. I appreciate her willingness to reach out to people!

  101. Quickbeam*

    I was in my late 20’s, multiple degrees, and had a job in a region that was so high cost of living, I’d never be able to afford a house. I was in a professional role that had strict residency requirements. I was taking night classes but just could not figure out how I could retrain for another career. It was in the times before the internet.

    A nun at a Catholic college near me took me under her wing, helped me reframe my goals and got me in touch with an accelerated BSN program (nursing). She gave me the contact information for the very few programs of that type at the time and I was able to get the repreqs in, apply for a scholarship and get my BSN in one year.

    I’ve now been a nurse for 34 years and I owe a lot to that one person who filled in the informational gap for me.

  102. just another reader*

    I am a young woman in a male dominated field. When I started out a few years ago, there was another young woman in my department, a few years older than me. We went out to lunch a few times, and I literally brought a list of questions for her. Everything from “how do promotions work here” to “I keep falling asleep in meetings, help!!” She listened and gave me honest answers and advice. I am very thankful for her.

  103. sara*

    In my first developer job, I’d been hired as a front-end UI developer. The plan was for the other devs on the team to write all the back-end and complex front-end code and I’d go through and make things look right etc. Worked great for a few weeks and then it turned out I was faster than expected at all this. So I asked if I could instead start teaching myself back-end rather than waiting around.

    My boss was skeptical but said sure, as long as the other stuff got done too. But two of the engineers I was working with were so helpful and enthusiastic, really took the time to show me how to get my environment setup, good places to look at example code, tutorials I could take etc. They were honestly so generous with their time and knowledge (and then later, their honest feedback!). Thanks to their help (and working my butt off, and the fact that this was my 2nd career so I found the non-coding parts of my job a lot easier than most junior devs), I got promoted to intermediate full-stack developer in about a year, and have totally changed career tracks as a result.

    Nothing wrong with doing pure front-end work, but as it turns out I’m not that good at it… Thanks to those more senior coworkers at my first job, I really was able to find a career path that suits me much better than front-end developer.

  104. Sleepytime Tea*

    I had a boos who was wonderful, and she was a first time manager. Previously, she had been in a role similar to mine. This was crazy job, we were all slammed and overworked. I was putting together an analysis and she wanted to review it prior to it going to the execs. She started making changes and such, and I told her she could just give me her updates and I would make them as I knew how busy she was.

    She sighed and said “sometimes I just miss doing the work.” And it was then that I realized that I never wanted to be in management. I love my work, and I don’t want to give it up. It’s been a number of years and that has yet to change.

  105. Dittany*

    Here’s a formative experience about workplace gossip:

    In one of my first jobs out of college, I worked in a factory that had a morning shift and a night shift. I started out on the night shift, and oh my did my coworkers have things to say about the morning shift. They’re incompetent, I was told. They don’t clean up after themselves, their production numbers are shit, they don’t do X Y or Z correctly. They can’t do ANYTHING right.

    After a few months, the company did some restructuring, and I was moved to morning shift. And oh my, they had some things to say about the night shift. They’re incompetent, I was told. They don’t clean up after themselves, their production numbers are shit, they don’t do X Y or Z correctly. They can’t do ANYTHING right.

    (If you’re wondering who was right: They both were. There WERE genuinely incompetent people on each shift, but the feud was also due partially to the fact that the shift heads had different workflows for certain things, and partially due to trickle-down bad will from the fact that said shift heads hated each other and had barely been on speaking terms for YEARS.)

    I’ll always be grateful to that job for teaching me to take workplace griping with a grain of salt.

  106. HigherEdAdminista*

    My last boss told me, “You are doing very good work, but no one around the college knows who you are.” This is something I took to heart because I do have a tendency to do things quietly. I don’t put myself up for opportunities, because I assume if I was “good enough” than someone would ask me to do it. I assumed the people in charge were keeping track of what I was doing, and that they would assume if I didn’t come to them with a problem, it meant the work was done.

    It turned out none of this was true. People who want to assume the worst of you will use your quiet nature against you, and assume you aren’t doing anything, instead of that you are just quietly finishing projects. Additionally, even if people like you and assume you are doing fine, they aren’t going to know what you are capable of unless you let them know what you are doing.

    That boss encouraged me to join committees, which lead to me being allowed to lead some projects, which lead to me showing some in leadership what I could really do… which lead to more offers to do things. I am never going to be the type of person who knows everyone or who wants to be in charge of everything, but this has helped improve my work relationships and I know there would be very limited opportunities for my future without this advice.

  107. kbrew*

    I started out working in factories and fast food. A friend got me a job (that I was under-qualified for) at the law firm she worked at. I was able to take that experience to a legal/tech company, where I worked my way up through the lowest-level department and (right now), I am a one-person team in another department. I’ve worked my butt off to get to where I am, but I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for that one helping hand.

  108. HR Exec Popping In*

    Like some others have commented, my parents did not go to college nor have professional white-collar jobs. My first manager when I moved from a small fairly rural non-profit to the NYC Fortune 100 corporate world helped me tremendously by telling me not to apologize or minimize my accomplishments and that my skills and intellect where on par or better than my peers. I was frankly intimidated by coworkers who went to BIG NAME schools or previously worked for BIG NAME companies. His confidence in me helped me shake the feeling that I didn’t belong or wasn’t good enough. Well, maybe not fully shake but at least got me to stop actually saying it out loud! :)

  109. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Honestly, the most important things I learned about my job came from random one-off conversations. I did have an actual mentor at my first two jobs, but he ended up wanting to sleep with me, and when told no, started an affair with another subordinate of his (all three of us were married and no they were not open marriages), which kind of put a damper on the rest of his mentorship, and retroactively devalued everything else he’d taught me. Here are the quotes that helped me the most:

    1) My second year in corporate America, my supervisor surprised me with a “I work to live, I don’t live to work” and “Never be loyal to the company you work for to the point where everything else comes second. The company will not be loyal to you.” My parents were workaholics, I cannot recall one time my dad came home from work before 8-9 PM (they had an 8 AM start time), or a single time when he hadn’t cut a vacation short to return to work, or a single weekend when he hadn’t gone into work. Dad was a great role model otherwise, so I just assumed that living to work was the right way to live. It was eye-opening to hear otherwise from someone that I knew to be talented, upward mobile, and with a great work ethic.

    2) After my boss put me on a surprise probation that I’d mentioned upthread, I had a chat with a close friend of his, who was also a friend of mine, and was also in a manager position where he was doing a great job. He explained to me that job security is not a thing that exists. He said, “every morning, I wake up and go into work knowing full well that I may be escorted out the door before the day is over.” (He did get escorted over office politics. He now owns his own business. He was later asked if he wanted to return to Big Company where he and I had worked together, and said no.)

    3) I used to be hung up on workplace relationships, friendships, worried about what people thought or said about me, then one day our whole team went out for lunch (where I already knew, from the lunches I’d had with them before, that they would gossip about everyone not present), except for one teammate and myself, who had an urgent task to work on over lunch. I said to my teammate “you do know they might be talking about you or me now”. He said “I used to work at a mental institution” (which as I later found out, was a county hospital.) “I had people say things about me to my face that are normally said behind one’s back, and at this point, I really don’t care what anyone says about me when my back is turned. It’s not my problem.” Somehow this had a profound effect on me. Today 15 years later, I like most of my coworkers, take a genuine interest in the people I work with, and enjoy work friendships, but I won’t bend over backwards to make sure everyone likes me.

    Another thing that taught me a lot about my work was being on a 24/7 on-call support rotation for the applications we were writing and maintaining. Don’t get me wrong, I hated the “you are not in control of your time” and the “getting up in the middle of the night to log into work” facets of being on call, and hope to never do it again. But it taught me a lot about my work, coworker relationships, having your teammates’ back and being cautious of the ones that do not do that; to better understand my end users; but mostly, that actions have consequences and the sloppy code that I write today will be behind a three AM call several months down the road.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      the sloppy code that I write today will be behind a three AM call several months down the road.

      Can I get that tattooed on the inside of my coworkers’ eyelids?

      1. IHopeAllJoesGetATalkingTo*

        This is me, in ever single code review. I won’t nitpick many things but in the failure paths of your code it better be absolutely clear why it failed to a 3am brain. My catch phrase in one org was what will I think at 3am in the morning when I see this.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I can usually muster the adrenaline at 3 am, so my razor is “what will I think of this in 6 months when I rediscover I wrote it?”

          My old code proves that I can be a phenomenal own worst enemy when I want to.

  110. Wool Princess*

    My first job out of college was as an administrative assistant, which including some financial work, which I enjoyed and wanted to do more of. I asked our team’s financial manager, who had started his career at our org as an AA, what I should do if I wanted to have a career path like his. He offered to delegate some responsibilities to me, and suggested I make the case to change my title to financial assistant (which I did successfully, likely also thanks to his behind-the-scenes-advocacy). My career went in a different direction, but the financial experience was critical in getting my next two jobs.

    The experience taught me you can create opportunities for folks AND take work off your plate at the same time. Although I learned the hard way you need to be careful about what you delegate and who you delegate it to (and HOW you delegate it – man I don’t miss the internal politics of a large university).

  111. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    One of my professors recommended me to a manager in the industry when I was a couple of months away from graduating. That was awesome. I also have had the benefit of learning from a bunch of awesome women in various online forums.

    Things I learned from bad bosses:
    1. do not mix Oxy and gin;
    2. do not begin your staffer’s annual review with “Why are you still here?”
    3. when your staffer asks for a day off to file for divorce, the correct response is NOT “oh, you can throw yourself into your work then.”

    1. bookishmiss*

      Hmm I feel like you and I may have gotten reviews from the same manager. A former manager once told me I have a bitchy aura. It remains my favorite piece of job-related feedback, years later.

  112. Anon for this one*

    A colleague provided some moral support as I was gearing up to apply to jobs after reaching the limits in my role. I had reservations and feelings of inadequacy while looking at postings, thinking I didn’t know/have experience in enough facets of a job and that it would makes things difficult and unpleasant if I were to get it. She said, “If you can do the job on day one, that’s a lateral move. Don’t make a lateral move, or you’ll quickly feel stuck in that job too.” Reframing in this way clicked in a way other things (e.g. might as well express interest and see what they say, known gender differences in percent of qualifications met when deciding to apply, etc.) hadn’t.

    I did get a job during that search and—plot twist!—she’s now my new supervisor. :)

  113. bookishmiss*

    My first non-retail manager was a huge help to me. She helped me calibrate professional behavior and norms, possibly leaning a little to the conservative side of professionalism, but it was the reset I needed. She also was extremely supportive during a mental health crisis, and pushed me to improve both professionally and as a person. So, Sarah, if you’re reading this – thank you, again.

  114. Ann Furthermore*

    Two things really stick out, although not really things that anyone went out of their way to teach me.

    When I went to college, my parents wanted me to get a job, and the only thing I could find was in the cafeteria. I hated it. Hated washing dishes, wearing a hairnet, all of it. Hated it. As a result, I didn’t try very hard, and it was always easy to find excuses to not go to work. The next semester, I called the food service manager about getting some shifts, and she said, “Well, you didn’t always show up, and when you did, you didn’t do that great of a job, so I don’t have anything for you.” Lesson — show up and do your job, and make an effort to do it well, because nobody owes you anything.

    Many years later, I got a new boss, and he and I clashed right from the start. Now I know that it was likely due to two things. One, he was given a very slanted and biased view of his team from upper management (e.g. that we were all a bunch of lazy slackers and they’d hired him to yank us all back into line), and two, I was pregnant when he became my boss, and was much more high-strung and emotional than was normal for me. So I’m sure that managing me at that particular time in my life was no picnic. After maternity leave, I came back to a job in another department. At one point, my manager assigned me to work with my old boss on part of a really huge project. I reminded her that we had a pretty bad history, and she essentially told me to leave the past in the past, suck it up, and deal with it. I’m so glad she did that, because she was right, and also it really challenged me (in a good way) to find a way to work successfully with someone I’d had so much trouble with previously. We ended up working very well together, and he was even quite complimentary of the work I did on my part of the project. I even got a roundabout apology from him for his past behavior. Leading to the other lesson I learned from that: working with someone as a peer can be completely different than working with them as your manager.

  115. Peg*

    Having grown up in a house where nothing was ever really good enough, and having 10 years of work experience where I was underpaid and undervalued, a friend sat me down in 2014 and told me something I’ll never forget. “Generally men look at job descriptions and say “I could do that” even if they only fit half the criteria. Women often look at them and think “I fit all the criteria but still don’t think I’d be good enough.” (I recognize that this isn’t true for everyone but it was ABSOLUTELY what I needed to hear at the time because I was suffering without realizing I was holding myself back by doubting myself, while watching people with less experience and skill get promotion after promotion.)

    I revised my resume, applied for a stretch job in a new industry but that felt like a good fit for my skill set, nailed the interview, doubled my salary. Still there today, 7 years later and if you include bonuses I’ve actually tripled my salary from 2014. All I needed was a confidence boost, a reminder that I could do it.

    1. Peg*

      I missed a sentence that provides context. The reason my friend sat me down was because I hit a point where I needed to leave my job (it was being outsourced) and I was paralyzed by fear when it came to applying for new jobs. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for anything.

  116. Irish Reader*

    I had been freelancing for a Dutch client for a few months, and they asked me if I’d be interested in project managing clients based in Ireland, as they wanted to grow that market but didn’t want to commit to getting offices here just yet. I jumped at the chance. When you’re a freelancer, you’re all ears when it comes to trying out different revenue streams! I did that for 3 years, before I decided to go back to in-house work, but I’m always grateful they took a chance on me. I’m still FB friends with a couple of people from that company, and they did eventually get that Dublin office.

    There was one manager who was known for being incredibly frosty in meetings, but she actually gave pretty solid mentoring advice if you got her on a good day. i.e. don’t get stuck in a niche, build your rep, how to push back on difficult customers.

  117. OtterB*

    The first one I think of is from a 3-week high school internship at a science research lab. My supervisor was a woman PhD. The fact that she existed was my first guidance (hey, I could do this). She had me do some simple computer tasks, which helped spark my interest in computers in college. And I remember sitting in her office listening to her talk on the phone and she was always so friendly I remember her southern accent saying “I ‘preciate that!” And I suppose there’s something about women being pressed to be friendlier, but the idea of being appreciative to people who have done things for me is still a good idea.

    I had an early project leader who told me in an annual review that I needed to step forward more. It ticked me off, to be honest. I went from that conversation into a cross-group technical meeting on something or another and … essentially took charge. I kept thinking, you want me to step forward, I’ll step forward! Surely somebody’s going to shut me down soon now. And nobody did. As long as I was making recommendations that made sense, people would listen to me!

    There was another manager at that same organization who had a reputation for being hard to work for. I hesitated about taking the job with him. But I thought he was great. He expected you to be able to explain the reasoning behind something you wanted to do. And he said “The price of a criticism is a constructive suggestion,” meaning don’t just gripe, say what you think should be done instead.

  118. Shirley Keeldar*

    In my first job out of college I made some mistakes—each one understandable, considering how new I was, but they kind of added up and my boss had to tell me my job was in jeopardy. This was really hard for me to hear—I’d always been good at school and to stumble this badly in my first non-school thing felt devastating.

    I fixed the mistakes, learned to ask for clarification a lot more than I’d been doing, and my boss was so supportive—I never got the sense that she held those early mistakes in her mind or let them tarnish her opinion of me. For her, I was “young woman starting on a great career” and not “young employee who goofed up in ways that embarrassed me with clients.” Only looking back do I realize what a gift she gave me with her confidence in me after a rocky start.

  119. Salome*

    I have a dear, dear friend who works in an adjacent but not competing field. She and I field questions and frustrations with each other all the time:
    How do I handle a contractor who is doing X?
    How do I handle a consultant who is doing Y?
    How do I deal with the fact that my boss isn’t listening to me when I tell him what I need to solve this problem?
    How do I get on top of the burnout?
    We also celebrate each other’s victories and remind each other to take care of ourselves.
    It has been so tremendously helpful to have a peer who understands the situation without needing a whole bunch of extra background.

  120. cat lady*

    For me, it’s the people who have told me I was ready for the next step in my career before I had even started thinking about it, and who then offered me those opportunities. The first was a department chair (academia) who I met at a conference– we chatted, went to each other’s talks, and she mentioned that in a few months she’d be hiring for a Director position of [thing I presented about] looking for a specialization in [niche dimension of thing I presented about]. I thought “good to know, this will go nowhere, I’m still in grad school and won’t be on the job market for at least a year.” She sent me the job ad a few months later and seriously encouraged me to apply, and I did– I finished my PhD while working, and my first professional job was at a level I never would have thought to reach for if someone hadn’t told me I was ready.

  121. anon because this is a story i tell at work*

    My undergraduate research advisor was HUGE on having a life outside work. He had the largest group in our department and had people who would work themselves to dust for him. There was literally always someone there but he made us take downtime. Once a week during the small window the morning larks overlapped the night owls he took us off campus and forbade work talk.

    At the end of my senior year, I had a series of family emergencies that made me seriously consider dropping out of school three weeks shy of graduation. After I cried in his office for an hour, he took my keys from me told me to go take care of them and of myself, scrape together what I could for my other classes and not to worry about my grades in his. I was taking a BUNCH of research for credit and he said that I’d fulfilled the requirements. He didn’t want to see me again until the end of the summer when he hoped I’d come back for grad school (I was already accepted).

    I graduated. I didn’t go to grad school right away; he understood. My family came through that series of crises. I could not possibly be where I am today without his influence. It’s helped me leave bad jobs and recognize good ones and I’ve been the sort of manager who makes sure my team knows that I will be upset if they put the job before themselves or their loved ones for a while now. You can draw a straight line between him and who I am today.

  122. Ms. Moneypenny*

    The first attorney I worked for knew I was job seeking and was helpful in steering me in the right direction. When I told him I had interviewed at my current firm, he contacted the attorney who interviewed me and talked me up and told him he should definitely hire me. I’ve been with my current boss and firm for nearly 14 years.

  123. Learning to say no*

    Helping the women I work with directly (and now manage) be comfortable saying no to men when they ask them to do admin tasks or doing things for them when those they could do it themselves.

    We work heavily with our sales team (in no way an admin role) and some of them except us to schedule meetings or put together documents or presentations for customer meetings that we aren’t a part of. I used to always be a yes person until I decided that they have hands, fingers, and a brain and can schedule meetings for themselves and put together their own customer presentations. I then passed this on to the people I manage, gave them verbiage to use, and everyone is much happier.

    There are always exceptions, of course, if someone is busy or it’s an urgent request they can’t get to. But that is different :)

    1. Ashley*

      Can you offer any helpful phrases for the push back? And while I know, no is a complete sentences it doesn’t always go over well.

      1. Learning to say no*


        – I won’t be able to put together a presentation, but here’s all the relevant information and a summary of the pricing.

        – I won’t be able to do that, but attached you’ll find all relevant documents that you’ll need for your meeting with the customer. 

        – I’m working on some high priority items right now and won’t be able to do that.

        (or if you’re just busy, you can give a reasonable date that you can get to that with the below addition): 

        – I’m working on some high priority items right and realistically won’t be able to look at this until next week.

  124. Caroline*

    First off, I think going to an undergraduate business school helped because they taught us a lot of the things that people post here saying they only knew about because of their upper class families or whatever – workplace norms, the fact that you have to have internships and networks, down to how to dress in different environments.
    A coworker helped me by telling me that my resume underrepresented my work.
    My favorite boss helped me by helping me navigate office politics, and telling me that I should look to do in my career that I liked, regardless of others. She also spoke a lot about how to present your strengths and the things you want to do vs not.

  125. Just Me*

    My boss looked for someone to hire with no experience after law school. And a colleague took time to answer questions.

  126. Stephanie*

    I interviewed for a job and had a great connection with the interviewer. Came back for the second round, it didn’t seem to go as smooth with the second person but I was hopeful. Cut to: I did not get it but that first interviewer gave me specific actionable advice that I used to apply to the company I now work for and I am so grateful to him.

  127. Hannah*

    My very best manager tended to model the behavior I needed more than anything. I will always remember sitting in a room with her, trying to get a report done. We disagreed on how something should be framed. We talked about it a while and then she said “I hear you and do see your point but as the lead here, I have to ultimately do what I think is best. That’s my responsibility. So I’m going to do it like this.”
    I disagreed with her on the report but tt is long gone. That frame for respecting the person you are disagreeing with while still holding your power will last me a lifetime.

  128. Metadata Janktress*

    A student job got me on my career path. It was kind of a boring, rote job initially, but then I found out what the field contained beyond my rote work. So I asked my boss how I could get into the field. Not only did he write my recommendation for my graduate program, he gave me practice work, advice, even training when possible. He also allowed me to work on things beyond my job description when I asked about it. (It was not expected for me to do so at all, I legitimately wanted to try it.)

    My current boss is also amazing. He’s fought for me to stay beyond my contract, recommends me for different committees and work groups, and helps me with professional development. I am lucky that he has the political capital to do as much as he can. Honestly, getting to work on tasks and being trusted to do so has helped me more than anything else with my career as my field is both theoretical and very practice-based at the same time.

  129. Anonymous Koala*

    I had a boss in my first job who refused to give me the answer to a problem I was having. Instead she told me to figure it out and come back to her with a solution. I was so frustrated with her at the time (and in general I think this isn’t always the best way to manage) but in my case the lesson was really invaluable. It taught me that it was acceptable (even encouraged) to think about problems critically and to bring problems with proposed solutions to my bosses instead of just acting like a cog in a machine following a script.

  130. Rocket Woman*

    As a young woman in the STEM field, the biggest thing I learned through a fellowship in college – amplify each other!!

    Meaning, if someone pitches an idea and no one catches on, someone with more clout should repitch and say “As Rocket Woman suggested earlier…”

    If I get interrupted, I am always grateful to people who say “Rocket Woman wasn’t done speaking.”

    If someone tries to claim my idea as theirs – “Actually, Rocket Woman suggested that earlier, glad to see you’re running with it.”

    I do this every time I can or others as well. People notice, and do it for you too. It’s powerful.

    Thankfully, I work in a mostly good work place where this isn’t typically an issue. I am still grateful for colleagues who pick up on these things and chime in, because as comfortable as I am saying “I wasn’t finished” it sometimes has more clout for crappy individuals when it comes with someone with more seniority (or a man..).

  131. Rachel*

    I has the best boss when I was pretty early career that knows everything about Excel and was more than happy to teach me tricks/shortcuts and formulas any time I asked. She was really busy in this position but always had time to help and I often talk about her glowingly when I interview for new positions when asked about my proficiency in Excel.
    Just a great person/manager in general and we still talk 1-2x per year to catch up many years later.

  132. SentientAmoeba*

    Blunt feedback, flexibility and clear guidance. All the places where I have truly thrived have given me room to do the job as I see fit within the guidelines, have information available to reference so I have the bigger picture and redirect if I get out of hand.
    I’m struggling in my current job because the learning curve is incredibly steep but for someone like me who gets bored if I’m just doing the same thing over and over, its got both good and bad aspects.

  133. Shannon*

    The first boss who scheduled regular one on one meetings with me did me a huge favor. Before that job, any meeting with my boss had been a source of anxiety, because they almost always were only done for bad news. Normalizing regular check ins and feedback helped me accept them as part of the working relationship, and I’ve carried that ease forward into all my other jobs. Now when I’m interviewing, I ask about their review structure and feedback practices, and it’s saved me from a couple places that I suspect would be bad fits for me.

  134. Permission to ask*

    Twice, someone on the inside of a company has reached out to me to tell me to ask for more money.

    Once, a woman (senior to me) who recommended me for a job at her company called me when she heard I had an interview scheduled. Wished me luck, told me she wouldn’t talk to me again until decisions were made, and said if I got to salary conversations with HR- “Ask for what you’re worth. Ask for more than feels comfortable. This project is fully funded.”

    Another time, I submitted a freelance contract to a company and the finance manager, also senior to me, almost immediately sent a text to my phone noting that the rate I’d asked for was half of what they’d paid others for similar work. He told me if I’d like to resubmit the contract, he would process it right away. I doubled my rate and sent it back.

    I do this all the time now for people interviewing for internal positions that are junior to me. Just reach out with a “good luck and remember our department has a robust budget” message before the whole hiring process gets started.

  135. Ace in the Hole*

    I’ve had a wide variety of manager, both good and bad, and I’ve learned something from all of them. But I’m answering this from the perspective of helping a someone know how to give help to those who need it (instead of advice on how to get help). Here are some of the things that literally made the difference between me having a promising career vs being stuck in dead-end jobs forever:

    1. Most important: managers who paid attention to and valued people’s *potential* as much as their accomplishments. I have had a number of managers who hired me or promoted me based on my energy, references, communication style, work ethic, etc. even though I lacked experience or education most people look for. Their reasoning was that you can train a good employee to do a good job, but good employees are hard to find. This was HUGE for me… I can and did learn on the job and became competent, but there was no way I would have gotten a foot in the door to more skilled work if it weren’t for the people who were willing to take a chance on me. I distinctly remember one case where I interviewed for a job as a delivery driver. Literally the only hard skill required was ability to drive a manual transmission. In the interview, I honestly told the boss “I don’t know how, but I’m sure I can learn.” He decided that someone who was that honest and confident was worth giving a chance given my otherwise strong work history.

    2. Related to the first one: creating and encouraging opportunities for professional growth for existing employees. At my current organization, I started of doing unskilled manual labor. But I was given opportunities to learn more skilled work (operating equipment, more specialized work, etc) which allowed me to demonstrate my strengths, and management prioritized promoting internal candidates when possible. I’ve moved from unskilled laborer to a specialized technical position that typically requires a bachelor’s degree, almost entirely based on things I’ve learned on the job.

    3. A firm hand in dealing with harassment. I’m a young woman in a 98% male industry (actual statistic, not hyperbole). While low-level sexism from customers is typical and doesn’t bother me, there have been two cases where I was seriously rattled by someone. In both cases, my manager and coworkers did an amazing job of supporting me. I’ll spare the details because they’re long, but the short version is I probably would have left the industry if my team and boss hadn’t responded as well to these incidents.

    4. My manager encouraged me to go back to school. I dropped out of college because I couldn’t find a full time job that was compatible with the local community college’s class schedule. Several years later, my boss told me: “You’re a good employee, and you do good work. You’re too smart to not finish college. When I was your age I got away with not having a degree but times have changed and you’re not going to have the same opportunities I did unless you finish school. So if there’s anything I or [employer] can do to help you get your degree, let me know.” He backed that up by giving me a flexible schedule so I could work around my class times… very unusual in our line of work. Without that there was no way I’d have been able to go back to school without quitting my job. Thanks to him I finished my associates degree and am nearly done with a bachelor’s – which has opened a LOT of doors for me. He retired shortly after I got my AA and I still think of it as a parting gift from a great mentor.

  136. Former military contractor*

    The single biggest impact that someone had on my career was when I was first staff at a university, supporting the business side of the university in the enterprise IT group, just out of grad school (not relevant to the career at all), at the ripe old age of 25. I was in the habit of answering every question and speaking up frequently during meetings, and after not long (3 or 4 of these meetings, maybe) my boss took me aside to explain that it wasn’t class, I wasn’t being graded, and if I’m the most junior person on the team my primary role in an interdepartmental meeting is to listen and learn, that other technical people had the responsibility to answer questions, update status, etc. She also managed to effectively communicate that she really did want me to speak up if there was something I saw as an issue/concern that no one else mentioned, but that I needed to more carefully evaluate the room, the roles, and my specific role before I spoke up. She hit the nail on the head, I was behaving just like I was in class because I hadn’t ever had a different model.

    That was 20+ years ago now, my title is now Director, and I still consider whether *I* need to be the one to speak up in a meeting. Every time I do I bless that manager who took me aside to help me see that just because I know something or have an opinion, it doesn’t mean that I have an obligation to open my mouth (unless it really IS my role to do so….these days, it often is, but not always, and I still appreciate that kind and business-critical lesson she gave me).

    Incidentally, it was also the first time I’d gotten clear feedback from a boss with a needed change, and that helped me to internalize “hey, feedback is here to help me to do better at work, not criticize me as a person.”

    1. Gloucesterina*

      What a great story and model for giving feedback! I’ve never been super eager to speak in either classes or work meetings, so it wouldn’t have occurred to me that for someone else, their expectations and practices for one setting might transfer to another in ways that don’t necessarily serve them or the group.

  137. Mallory Janis Ian*

    I learned about holding a high bar by giving clear, dispassionate feedback from when I worked at a Wendy’s restaurant in college. I worked on the evening shift and occasionally covered on the day shift.

    There was a quality control guy over all the Wendy’s owned by the same franchisee in our region. His name was Lloyd, and ANY customer who came through the drive-through or at the counter could potentially be Lloyd. He would park down the street from the restaurant and send someone in to place an order for specific items and bring them back to him. He would sample all the items and rate the overall quality, whether he received the correct items, etc.

    Then he would come by the restaurant, and that was when we would find out that one of our customers had been “him”. He would come in and greet everyone, very friendly, and then he would go over a quality rubric about whether the order had been successful or not. It was all just plain, direct feedback with no drama or recriminations, but it kept everyone on their toes to know that any order could be “The Order” that would be inspected and brought back for quality review.

  138. beanie gee*

    My very first job was “file clerk” at a small insurance company as a senior in high school. I filed folders in the file cabinets.. It was pretty boring, and I could finish my work pretty quickly. When I was done, I would mostly sit at the front desk and not do a whole lot.

    Pretty early in, one of the managers at the company gave me the suggestion that if I was done filing, I could ask around if anyone had any other projects I could help with.

    It sounds so incredibly obvious, but I was a clueless teenager, so it really impacted me. Immediately people started giving me more interesting side projects and I turned into a barely useful file clerk to a really useful get-things-done person in the office.

    I think of that experience often and how basic a suggestion it was, and how much I still apply it to my work, 25+ years later.

  139. Anne of Green Tables*

    The person who helped the most was a manager that probably has no idea how much she did to change my future.. My first few years out of college were spent in the nonprofit social services realm. Discovering an aptitude for computers and a disinclination to live in perpetual poverty, I shifted to corporate work and earned a tiny bit more money in what seemed to me a huge upgrade in work environment: no one yelled or threw things and there was plentiful air conditioning.

    I worked hard and poured hours of personal time into learning everything possible to make me faster and more efficient. More work came my way as a result and I worked with more managers than others in my position. Because of a paper-on-the-Xerxox accident, I learned that I earned far less than my counterpart who had been there twice as long and expended a small fraction of the effort. Disheartening, but in pre-AAM days my rule was to accept what was given and never consider how to present what I brought to the job and ask for more.

    Luckily one of the newer managers thought a lot differently and behind the scenes got my salary nearly doubled. I was floored. It just happened. She was a formidable person to work with, high up in the org chart and took the time to look at the low rungs and push through change.

    Whoever said money can’t buy happiness never had to choose between milk or bread at the grocery store or color in the worn parts of their black shoes with Sharpies. That someone cared enough about my skills to reward my efforts actually made me work even harder and be happier while doing so. Financial security is a tremendous life boost.

  140. Emma2*

    I knew a woman early in my career who had a relatively senior role at her company (but not the most senior in her team). She had a rule that any outside consultant she hired had to field a team that included at least one woman or person of colour and that person had to have a meaningful role (you could not tick the box by bringing someone along to sit in a corner and take notes). I know she must have used significant political capital on this, but it made a real difference for a number of people who were given opportunities to prove themselves in front of a very important client. I definitely benefited as a woman and she has always stood out to me as someone to emulate.
    I have appreciated it when people have given me very specific feedback about how to improve things (not just “your presentations could be more structured”, but also “here are some practical ways you might achieve that”).
    Not me, but someone I know worked in a big law firm environment. The firm put on an etiquette class followed by a formal dinner for their junior associates (my friend was truly shocked when she took a bite of what she thought was a potato appetiser and tasted a scallop for the first time). I think this is a really useful thing for a company to do if staff will be expected to attend dinners with clients, etc in settings where certain norms may be different from what they are used to.
    Also, when I was early in my career, more senior people who would give me topics to cover in meetings. It can be hard as a junior person to jump into a discussion among more senior people or to be put on the spot. When someone says in advance that it would be useful if you could share something based on the work you did on X, and then turns to you in the meeting, it gives you space to step into that role for the first time (or second or third time).

  141. Rose Ceremony*

    I know that hiring managers are not usually in the position to offer much feedback to those they don’t hire, but in one case, someone took the time to provide me feedback that probably saved me years of frustration and helped me to course correct my mindset regarding how my career might pan out. I was in my second non-profit job in 2004 when Indonesia and other countries were devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. The non-profit I worked for supported refugees and internally-displaced people, and often responded during natural disasters. A call went out soliciting interest from those willing to be seconded to SE Asia for several months. With my boss’ permission, I applied. The hiring manager took the time to interview me, and at the end of the interview took several minutes to ask some specific questions and provide me feedback, something along the lines of “We appreciate your willingness. I’d like to ask you – are you envisioning relief work like what you’ve seen in the movies? Where any and everyone can be of help in terrible situation?” I was a little surprised, but that assessment was honest, and I let her know she was correct. “In a situation like this one, it’s not enough to just want to help others – it’s crucial that those we send to the field have key technical abilities, with practical experience in things like water purification, structural integrity, public health, or even accounting… Do you have technical experience in any of those areas?” I admitted that no, I didn’t. She thanked me and told me that they wouldn’t be selecting me to go to the field at this time, but in the future, if I had concrete skills that aligned with the needs of a particular crisis, I should certainly put my name forward. This completely upended my view of relief and NGO work, but in the most realistic way. I was able to rethink my skills and how and in what settings they might be applicable. While I’ve never done relief work, I’m so thankful that this manager took the time to tell me why I wasn’t a good fit, but what a good fit really looked like. I might have learned this lesson in time, but I still encounter so many people who think that wanting to help is enough – but oftentimes, it can do more harm than good, it can add chaos to an already more-than-chaotic situation. I think this is a particularly American trait, in some ways, and while there are certainly times and places to just jump in and help, there are also times and places to step back and let those with the proper expertise take the lead.

  142. Anonosaurus*

    One of the best lessons I learned at work was back when I was a teen working at the local grocery store. I thought that all I had to do was perform the tasks of the job i.e. restock the shelves, work the register, etc and I didn’t trouble myself to be friendly to my coworkers – I was not actively rude, but I wasn’t interested in social niceties and made no particular effort to be cordial. I was shocked when I was fired. The manager said that basically nobody wanted to work with me and he expected coworker to make an effort to be pleasant. Now that I look back on it, it would have been nice if someone had taken me to one side to give me that message as a final warning rather than just firing me, but I have never forgotten the lesson – it’s not enough just to do the job, you need to pay attention to working relationships, too. Not to the extent you become a facsimile of yourself, but it’s not realistic in most jobs (at least not the jobs I have held – I am not a sysadmin) to turn up, do the job, grunt occasionally at people and go home. The grocery store manager did me a favor, really.

  143. Really Just a Cat*

    Really helpful were those who advised me to always have a Plan B–a career choice that I’d be happy in if my Plan A (a notoriously difficult career path) didn’t work out. Two sides of this that I really valued:
    1. When I wanted to quit graduate school in my first year, my dad told me that I could as soon as I could articulate exactly what I was going to do instead. If I could come up with a plan for a satisfying career and convince him that I was as excited about it as I was my chosen path, he would support me quitting. I never could come up with anything else, and that gave me the determination to carry on.
    2. A grad professor who advised us to have Plan B. She told us that Plan A–our career choice–was difficult and many of us wouldn’t make it for one reason or another. We have to have a Plan B that would be satisfying enough that if Plan A doesn’t work out, we know what to do next. My Plan B was really just to ‘run off to Australia and see what happens’ so I’m really, really glad that Plan A worked out. But it was really useful to at least think about Plan B and to accept that sometimes your career choice doesn’t work out, and that can be about the market or luck or any number of things that should not reflect on your own self-worth, and it’s advice I’ve passed on to others.

  144. archangelsgirl.*

    Many managers have reinforced to me the importance of reflective practice in my career, and that time spent reflecting is time well-spent. Arguably there’s a fine line between being reflective and over-thinking, but I always appreciated mentors who dug deeper into ideas that I would have, and would praise me for being reflective. For me, being reflective means thinking about what I did well, thinking about what I could add to make a good outcome great, thinking about what I did not-so-well, and thinking about how to improve. I’m sure everyone does this, but there must be something about the way I do it that is noteworthy. I don’t know what that would be. But anyway, I always appreciate being praised for it – it means so much more to be praised for how I carried out the job than the job itself.

  145. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    My boss at my first job (international non-profit, admin) right out of grad school. She taught me Professionalism 101 in every way I can think of, from how to send a professional fax (type it, do not scrawl) to how to handle very difficult, very sensitive situations with calm, direct reasonableness. She really had to pull me way the eff down over a bunch of different issues — both of my parents took work way too personally, so I had to unlearn a lot — and did so with amazing diplomacy and aplomb. She also recognized my strengths an put me forward for more responsibilities, helping me grow.

    Even though it was three jobs and almost twenty-five years ago, I find myself using the valuable critical thinking skills she taught me, and living up to her professional standards, every day.

  146. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    Honestly the best thing I’ve done for my career so far has been to begin reading AAM daily.

    The other biggest supporter of my career has been the director of my team. She was hired three years ago, and I had been in my job for about five years and she came in and instead of cleaning house and building a team from scratch, she met with each of us and asked us what we wanted to do. I told her I was dreaming of project management and she really helped me build a role for myself and helped me get the department to pay for some PM training. She trusted me in a way no other leader has done before and it’s been some of the best years of growth in my career.

    I’ve tried to share what I have learned from AAM with others. I had a younger coworker join our team and she was always super negative about herself – she put herself down CONSTANTLY and I took her aside and I told her what Alison has said: If you talk about yourself like that in front of people who don’t know you and your work, the only impression you’re giving them of you is a negative one. Do you want the VPs and AVP and other people to believe the things you’re saying, or do you want them to think of you as competent? She has clearly taken it to heart and has massively cut down on the negative self-talk. It was really gratifying to see her listen and learn.

  147. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I moved from the east coast to the west coast to work at Tech Giant. When the recruiter asked me for an expected salary, I lowballed myself – and then was thrilled to see them meet my number exactly (which should have set off some warnings for me, but instead I was just excited, oops). So it should go without saying that I was underpaid.

    My first manager at Tech Giant was meh, but decided pretty early during my time there that they hated being a manager; the next manager that I was transferred to took one look at my salary and gave me a massive (23%?) raise at the next opportunity (Tech Giant only does raises on a specific schedule) and immediately started pressuring me to put in for promotion. It was a very good and cool feeling to have someone putting their budget where their mouth was (as I’m in the gender minority and they aren’t).

  148. MBA*

    I’m not sure where i picked this up, but along the way (and probably not early enough) I learned that work isn’t school. The people that “study” hard or try their hardest don’t get necessarily get A’s. Work often isn’t asking you to memorize a bunch of stuff and spit out an answer– rather, it’s on you to do your assignment and add value.

    There are a lot of skills in the workplace that are as valuable- if not moreso- than being good at schoolwork type work. In the corporate world, someone has to be personable and make the selling happen. Someone has to design the tradeshow booths. Someone has to sit and sift through all the legal stuff. Someone has to be personable and manage the people talent.

  149. WoodswomanWrites*

    When I was an outdoor educator, I lived full-time at the site where I was teaching The fifth- and sixth-grade students lived there for their five-day program. It was easy for us educators to wander out a little late to meet the students waiting for us each morning. At a staff meeting one day, our director talked about how this was a once in a lifetime experience for the kids that they’d been hearing about and looking forward to for years. He reminded us through stories of the impact we had, and then mentioned that it wasn’t fair to shorten their days because we were dawdling. That was a critical lesson has stuck with me for years–an important reminder about what commitment to others means, taking the impact of your work seriously, and realizing how being late is disrespectful to others waiting for you.

    1. Anne of Green Tables*

      Those are great lessons that pay off everywhere in life!
      Also, the director wasn’t wrong about the impact you had in the outdoor education program. As a 6th grader, the experience was amazing and spawned a lifelong love of hiking. Without the school program, I never would have gotten to visit a forest or even a cabin. Even the preparation for the trip has a big impact: my dad, who I rarely saw, was in charge of taking me to find boots and we had a good time out together.

  150. Ms. Teacher*

    I am a teacher. I remember panicking in the morning before school about a loop thrown in my lesson plan. The veteran teacher next door looked me in the eye and said “It’s only a job.” It really helped to put things in perspective for me and keep my emotions in check.

    I switched jobs after a few years, and my new department head encouraged me to continue my education and get a master’s degree, as it’s a guaranteed pay raise in my state. I started my masters the next year, which led to a gifted endorsement, which led to a specialist degree. I’m so glad I did it, but I don’t know when I would have started without that push from my department head.

    Lastly, I’ve benefitted hugely from online teaching communities, particularly teacher blogs. I’m so grateful to the teachers who take time to share their ideas and resources freely, as it helped me grow by leaps and bounds in the early years of my career.

  151. Turtlewings*

    A couple of years ago, I was about to get a promotion, replacing a coworker who had retired. My immediate supervisor took me aside and gently told me I needed to ask for more money, because I was getting low-balled. I would never have had the nerve to do it if she hadn’t encouraged me. I suspect I still left some money on the table, but at least I was able to open my mouth and make it clear that yes I DID want a raise to go with this promotion, and I got one!

  152. Maree*

    I had a manager in my early twenties who shaped my entire professional identity. I come from a very blue collar family and had never been taught how to behave in a white collar environment. My jobs prior to this were all retail, so full of people my own age and demographic.

    When I worked for this manager, I was still in party mode, pulling all nighters and then going in to work the next day. I was performing to an acceptable standard, but nothing spectacular. She pulled me aside one day and had a serious chat to me about professional behaviour and the awesome opportunity I had with this company, and told me I was on a quick track to messing that up as the higher ups had heard about my after hours activities. This lady changed my way of thinking and I’ve based a lot of my management style on what I learned from her. I consider myself lucky to have met her when I did.

  153. Jeanne*

    At my first real management (Level 3) job I was the youngest manager (in a 5000+ employee organisation) by about 15 years. I had no idea of protocols. I asked for advice from my manager and got told “You’ll be fine.” That didn’t answer my specific questions!! Because of my role I had a lot of contact with one of the senior Board members. She ended up helping me a lot with things like dress standards (and where to buy the clothing – that’s how little I knew!!) and appropriate behaviour in very formal situations.
    The HR department at that organisation was amazing. They provided me with support, advice and coaching. They taught me how to recognise and praise good work and how to deal with issues. They suggested a particular trainer who helped me learn how to grow an amazing team.
    The departmental accountant taught me how to read a budget sheet. Budgets were due just after I started and I had no idea. He then went on to teach me how to use Excel (and this was a really early version of it!!) so that I could develop and set budgets for projects and for the overall service.
    I am incredibly lucky to have worked there, as a relatively senior manager, and to get the support and advice I needed, when I needed it.

  154. Texas*

    Made a space where I could ask questions. I was able to learn /why/ a process was done a certain way or why a rule existed. It allowed me to extrapolate out that logic and put it into practice on my own.

  155. GreyNerdShark*

    One of the first bosses I ever had gave me these words of wisdom:

    “If you aren’t in it for the love or the money, what are you in it for?”

    That helped me realise that I had to get the right reward for what I did, and if I wasn’t getting enough love and good times or enough money , then do something about it. Work and non-work…

  156. nep*

    When I finished Peace Corps, I wanted to stay in-country and work as a reporter. (I’d worked as a reporter before PC.) A fellow volunteer was in touch with a veteran journalist for one of the US’s most important newspapers and put us in touch. He agreed to meet with me to share his insights, tips; he had worked as a foreign correspondent for years.
    He was immensely gracious and gave so much of his time. Over lunch we talked about how I might proceed and the like. At one point he said, ‘You know–the most important thing is you have to know you can do this.’
    Endlessly grateful to him. One of the good ones, for sure.
    (I went on to work as a reporter for many years.)

  157. Yes I do*

    I had two great experiences. I had a manager who told me “Everyone makes mistakes” when I was beating myself up about an error. It’s so simple but I was really early career in a job with the most responsibility I’d had yet. I still hear her in my head.
    I also had a senior colleague put a job posting on my keyboard. I didn’t think I was qualified and she told me to go for it. I did and got the job. It launched a really stellar career for me. It was especially kind because my departure gave her a lot more work.

  158. mountainshadows299*

    My first great experience with a supervisor was in my late 20s with a supervisor who was a year younger than me but incredibly ordered and organization minded. I started out in a profession that pulled on my empathetic strengths, but didn’t require a lot of drive, partly because my own parents (a government worker and a social worker turned SAHM) are themselves super empathetic and not career driven. I never saw myself as either a competitive person or as particularly detail oriented, but this supervisor asked me to step out of a support role into a role that required authority, leadership, confidence, and precision (I literally changed roles on our team). She took me to a conference with her and another team member and included me in networking and discussion even though I’m not as put together (quite frankly, I’m a bit socially awkward). She was really a great role model as a supervisor and leader, and as a result of following her example, I had enough self-confidence to step into an adjacent field that pays better and is more competitive.

  159. DiplomaJill*

    In my early 20s I was in a meeting where we learned our (my) work to the client — and they HATED it. I was upset and angry, but the account manager was so calm and rational and turned the whole thing around by asking these smart questions about WHY they were feeling/reacting that way, and it got me recently the information to create something they loved.

    After the meeting I asked her how she knew to do that, and she said said she can learn more from a bad reaction than a neh reaction, and using their reaction as a jumping off point meant we could leverage it.

    It totally changed how I think of failure, and how I approach tough conversations.

  160. nep*

    Second one–when I was in my late 20s, had one of the best bosses in the universe. Such a smart, straight-up guy, who respected his employees to be smart and do the work.
    He sent me to Europe to cover a conference. I’d never traveled overseas. He helped his employees by putting them in a position to learn and show what they can do. (I didn’t do anything stupendous for the company at this conference, but boss apparently wanted someone there and took a chance on me.) This boss’s confidence in people went a long way and paid off big time.

  161. Workerbee*

    An older colleague told me that managers come and go, but coworkers last longer. By that she meant it was just as if not more important to cultivate good relationships with colleagues.

    I can say that for the vast majority of my career, this has proven true again and again.

  162. Diatryma*

    A bit over a year ago, I had a toxic job that was just never going to work out. Not only did friends agree that I needed to leave, my spouse declared that all my paycheck over what I had made as a paraeducator was mine, and didn’t count toward the household at all– I did not have to worry about our financial situation if I quit. I had a poor evaluation and was looking forward to the PIP because I thought it would force my supervisor to examine my work and give me clear, quantifiable feedback along with better goals than ‘no mistakes ever’ and ‘improve at these extremely subjective skills’. I was miserable, the PIP was more of the same feedback I’d gotten with very little expectation that I’d meet any of the goals, and I ended up asking a sort of work friend who had been outside my chain of command but was now in it what she thought. I surprised my boss a week or two later with a resignation; she seemed baffled by it.

    I tried to volunteer for COVID-related screening positions (I worked at a hospital) during my notice, but was told that they still needed me in my position, where I did very little work. Then the work friend from before, who had been organizing our COVID testing system, asked if I’d be interested in 1) a position in another section, and 2) until that position happened, working as part of the testing system (I’m being a bit roundabout because people I know read this.) I withdrew my resignation, ended up with a great temporary job where I was praised regularly for my contributions to our early response, and moved into a new section with people who appreciate me. I’m so much better off.

    So that work friend, who was never quite in my chain of command until the very end, who helped me figure out when my supervisor was awful, who quietly let me know when she saw things that were wrong so I’d know it wasn’t just me (and so I’d know they’d been wrong, since I didn’t always recognize it after a while), she basically made it so 2020 ended worlds better than it began, at least on a me-level.

  163. nnn*

    In university, my part-time work-study job had offered me a full-time position during the summer – well-paying, as student jobs go, but unrelated to my field of study. Then I was offered a one-month internship for a big-name employer in my field of study, which was an amazing career opportunity. However, money being irritatingly finite, I couldn’t give up a full summer of well-paid employment for even the best of internships, and I had no reason to believe that my summer job would let me take a full month off.

    So I raised the situation with my summer job manager, fully expecting that she’d say no, just so I could tell the internship what I’d asked and they’d said no.

    To my utter shock, my summer job manager told me that of COURSE I had to take the internship, and they’d hire another student to cover for me for one month.

    So I did the internship for a month, Big-Name Employer was extremely happy with my work, and I had a full-time job waiting for me when I graduated.

    Basically, my entire career can be credited to the fact that my manager at my summer job let me do this internship.

  164. BTDT*

    I was an intern when Covid hit. My boss had previously told me I’d be hired FT after graduation, but all hiring stopped when everything shut down. I applied to other jobs, but they were scarce and none were entry level in my field. I knew I was facing a long unemployment stretch. When I confided in 2 coworkers about this, both of them went to our VP and told him that my work was critical to the success of our strategic projects. They sold it so hard that the VP went to the president of my division and got funding for my role. Me, the intern. I’ve never had anyone go to bat for me like that before. I get teary eyed every time I think about it. I hope one day I can pay it forward.

  165. Feeling Humble*

    My first job was at a local authority. It was never going to be my career but it was a great starting place.
    My bid and my grand boss son realised that I was not going to stay in the time forever. They let me do a day release course to boost my qualifications.
    On the course i found I loved all things legal, and discovered that, with further training, I cooks become a Legal Executive. But, this was not a role that a Local Authority emploed.
    Grand boss however, was very good froebel with the senior partner in a local law firm.
    He got me an interview at that firm, and I was offered the role as a trainee legal executive.
    I’ve always been incredibly grateful for this generous introduction to the firm, and thinking about what they did for me as I write this, just wow! The job wasn’t being advertised, they literally created a role for me. The only other trainee legal executive in that firm had come up through the ranks as a legal secretary.
    How amazing was my grand boss!!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It is actually refreshing to know that someone else’s phone does more and wilder autocorrects than mine! I didn’t even know who Froebel was. Now I do!

        Your grandboss really was amazing. That is more support than I’ve ever received, or seen anyone receive, at work. Good for him!

  166. PspspspspspsKitty*

    This applies to food manufacturing. It might not work for other industries.
    Background: My father has worked for the same company for 30 years. He moved around a few times but has never wanted to progress his career. He doesn’t have a college education either. So all of this stuff was new to me.

    I befriended people who were closer to the end of their career than the beginning. I mean, I like to be friendly to all people, but I purposely sought out work relationships with those who were further along than me. This usually meant a supervisor of another department where we work on multiple projects together or handled business issues. I also asked for opportunities to learn other roles to see how I might want to progress in my career.

    Doing these things helped me in my first job because I reach a point of misery. I asked them for advice on careers, what they did to move up, interviews, resumes, negotiating. I also asked them to help me figure out what skills make me great at what I do. My next job is exactly what I wanted. I found that those who have been around for a while generally want to help people succeed in their own careers. Friendships ended coming out of this. I had a couple of them call me to see how my career was going.

  167. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I just thought of something I would advise people not to do. Ten years ago, I was in mid-level developer roles, and was interested in growing into an architectural path; but we didn’t have any architects, I’d never worked with one, and didn’t know what it entailed or how to become one. I was dating online at the time and my bright idea was to message someone on Match whose profile said he was an software architect, to ask him more about his job and how he’d grown into it. Do not do that. I thought he wouldn’t see me as a possible date anyway, because he lived about an hour away from me – turns out an hour commute is normal and expected in online dating. I ended up going on several dates with this person. He was at a very bad stage in his life following a personal tragedy a year earlier. He was a bit of a mess if truth be told. And I was new to dating. By the time he was done with me and cut contact, I was also an utter mess and it took a month for me to become my normal self again. At no point during our dates did we talk about the architectural path, or work in general. Anytime I’d try to talk about work, he’d change the subject. (I had a coworker later on who’d worked with this guy before, and said he’d never seen him do any actual work, so odds are he really and truly had nothing to say and no information to offer me.) It was a dumb thing to do, 1/10 do not recommend.

  168. Quinalla*

    I used to use a lot of self-deprecating humor to help soften my messages to people – I’m a women in a male-dominated industry and I’m constantly struggling with the line between being the ice queen and the pushover /sigh. I had someone I admire a lot call me out in it in the moment when I was doing it with him on the phone. He said that I needed to stop doing that so much (a little self-deprecation can be ok occasionally) as I was a competent, valued employee and saying that just makes people start to believe it including me. I really took that message to heart, not sure he even remembers telling me, but it was important to me.

    My strategy now for softening what is going to come across as much harsher from a woman is to display warmth. Sometimes a simple thanks or let me know if I can answer any questions or relating to when I learned something I’m correcting them on now, etc. This allows my message to stand without any softening, but I make sure next to it I’m still conveying warmth. It makes me look much more confident too, which I usually feel pretty confident, but I wasn’t conveying it. And truthfully, I like to be warm and polite already, so this wasn’t a stretch.

  169. Beth*

    Back when I was in grad school working on a degree in technical theatre, I found myself in the extremely uncomfortable position of being in temporary partial charge of some aspects of a show build. I had to supervise and direct costume shop staff who, unlike me, were seasoned professionals with years of experience.

    As I was hesitantly and awkwardly asking one of them if she would do a specific project, she told me brusquely, “Just *tell* me what you want me to do. That’s what I’m here for. You don’t need to ask my permission.”

    And you know, she was right.

  170. SaffyTaffy*

    One of the founders of our school waited until my slightly-overbearing, loves-to-say-no boss left and then approached me with an idea of starting an archive. Me, a very junior employee with no archiving experience. But he knew I’m a good researcher and that I’m a little underemployed. So he gave me the project, and uses his name where necessary to get things done. He put me in touch with the right contacts and has encouraged me, and mostly let me fly solo since then. So I can say I’ve built our school’s Historical Collection & Archive. How cool is that?

  171. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Sadly, I don’t even know who to thank. I was working as a part-time teacher at a highly dysfunctional language school and very much wanted a stable job. The boss was a geek who built computers and coded in assembler language, he was putting together the hardware and software for a method to learn English on the computer. This was truly pioneering stuff back in the 80s. I was asked to perform secretarial duties for the sales director, and someone then pointed out to the boss that I would be much better suited to writing content for the English programme. I’m sure the boss didn’t work that out for himself and I wish I knew who told him that

    Looking even further back, Mrs Fyfe was a truly inspirational French teacher, and I’m not sure I ever would have come to live in France had I not learned to love the language and culture with her. She used to always float about in long black swishy dresses (back in the day when it was for mourning only), we always looked down in the hopes of spotting her broomstick, to no avail.

  172. AM*

    I’m the first in my family to have graduated university, have a parent and sibling on the autism spectrum and a very broken extended family dynamic (blue collar, issues with violence &alcoholism etc). Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for “office culture” when I graduated. My office clothes mostly came from the thrift shops when I got started.
    Some of the best guidance for me came through gentle but knowing nudges from my manager. They ranged from the practical to the esoteric. When I was invited to travel for business, she recognized that I had never flown/travelled like that before and supported me to develop a plan for the trip to manage my time/tasks on the job but it also helped me think through things like wardrobe expectations and making good impressions. Throughout my time working with her, she modelled and stressed the importance of building relationships across the business and outside of it — it perhaps seems obvious to some, but having come from a family where it was normal to cut people off for petty arguments and who treated relationships as transactions, my manager’s encouragement helped me see the mutual benefit of taking the time to know people even if there wasn’t direct, immediate benefit in the interaction. That encouragement helped me develop the courage to attend networking functions and conferences with local professional associations where I was able to begin to build my own reputation and receive recognition for my work. That eventually led me to being able to find new opportunities and jobs that have led me along my career path in increasingly fulfilling ways.
    She also encouraged our whole team to not just work hard but to work well, and she often shared books such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits as well as other professional development opportunities that emphasized the importance of developing soft skills in the workplace. The awareness and use of those resources helped me move away from bad habits instilled out of survival to being a more consistent and reliable employee. I’m still learning many aspects of the corporate world but I’ve learned and grown immensely since I started out and I know that some of my success is attributed to that manager who was able to see me for the misfit I was but kindly, gently guide me towards the norms I needed to know.

  173. Cool Screen Name*

    I do not have a degree in the field I work in. One of the managers (not even mine) recognized that I would be limited in how I could advance so took the time to tell me about a correspondence program that work would pay for that would help me gain the skills I was missing in my job. I took his advice, asked permission to take the course (and work DID pay for it) and completed the program. I am now certified and this has helped me get two jobs since I completed the course. That would not have happened without his mentorship.

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