Monday, January 01, 2007

The Necessary Skills -or- How To Be Useful (You Pick)

Recently, a friend asked me this:

What skills, aside from typing, will I learn that will be of use to me in an office position?

The following are my tips for working, really anywhere. They apply to front-line peons and top-floor executives alike. Someone following this pattern should be able to manage to stay ethical, make friends, and advance within an organization.
  1. Know how to read a P&L sheet.
  2. Know what a P&L sheet is.
  3. Know how to read financial statements (see #2).
  4. Be able to think on your feet in a phone conversation.
  5. Be able to talk about nothing at all while you do the real work in the background.
  6. Learn that all internal systems are more functional than the tasks that they train you for, and make it your goal to learn the true power of each system.
  7. Make friends with your co-workers and be humble (especially at first) so that when (not if) you screw up, they'll want to help you.
  8. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS admit that you screwed up RIGHT AWAY. It makes fixing it and staying out of trouble SO much easier.
  9. Make nice with the boss. He/She has your nuts.
  10. Eat lunch with your co-workers. And don't be a pretentious prick.
  11. Always listen to gossip, never create it, never pass it on. Don't be stuck-up about it, just listen when it comes up, and politely refuse to discuss it.
  12. Make friends with Google. And I mean really good friends. Knowing how to craft search queries that get results is the same as being really smart.
  13. When you hear a co-worker wonder something out loud, find it out and report. When you hear a boss do the same, repeat. The more you are willing to learn on behalf of others, the more valuable you become.
  14. Always be willing, always be honest. This is what a yes-man isn't. A yes-man sugar coats the facts in order to tell the boss what she wants to hear. A real worker tells the boss why something is a bad idea, and then expresses willingness to start the idea in motion if it's what the boss orders. Honest willingness is treasured by smart bosses.
  15. Train yourself to focus and give quality results under pressure. One might say that the only time your work really matters is when you're under pressure. If you can give top-notch results when it really matters, you're valuable.
  16. Look for traits you admire in your co-workers and (a. Tell them about it, and (b. Emulate that trait.
  17. Find ways to be friendly to everyone you meet at the office, including higher-ups. Don't go out of your way to bump into a muckety-muck, because you will anyway. If you're in the habit of helping when possible, you'll help a muckety-muck automatically, and the fact that your help was genuine, and you would have done it for anyone, will stand out in the boss's mind.
  18. Know who your friends are, and proactively watch their backs. This will encourage them to do the same for you.
  19. There is no invisible line between employee-type and boss-type. Bosses become bosses by playing the game well, and everyone is playing roughly the same game.
  20. Understanding and remembering constantly that every action you make at work effects your future at work makes all the difference.
  21. When things are slow, experiment with internal programs or systems. Try things that are not part of the normal workflow. Sure, they've taught you the most efficient ways they know to do your job, but who knows? You could find a better way.
  22. Find small ways to be different in your workplace. Try not to be annoying in this. Approachability is the goal here.
  23. Excellence is a great way to be different, but it can have the opposite effect. Best to be excellent and find additional ways to be different.
  24. Don't gloat about excellence, and never rest on laurels. Just focus on getting better.
  25. Try to understand jobs and responsibilities that are way beyond your own. Ask questions. Understand how the business works as a whole. Innovation comes through big-picture understanding.
  26. You always make the best economical sense to your employer when you are as useful as you can possibly be. If you find a problem, offer to help fix it. If you aren't extremely busy, ask the boss if there's some extra way you can help. If there are other duties that you can ask to learn, ask and learn them. Find ways to make yourself more and more useful. People who know the org most completely often get promoted because they understand the company from the top down.
  27. Don't forget to keep working on your fundamental skills. Learn key commands in the programs you use. Learn to type faster. Learn to 10-key faster. Become a better writer. Anything you can to augment your basic skills will help both in your professional life and in your personal life.
Thanks Jeff!

1 comment:

Eric said...

These are some very good points. I shall have to try to use them.