When you’re first starting out in a company, the little things you do can make a big difference on how successful you can become there. To learn about how to make the right move, and stand out at work, I spoke to Robert Dilenschneider. Dilenschneider is the founder of The Dilenschneider Group, former CEO of Hill and Knowlton and author of eight books including “The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life.” In this brief interview, he talks about how to stand out, the common mistakes employees make, dealing with managers you don’t get along with, and connecting with older generations.
Dan Schawbel: What are your tips on how new hires can stand out in their first year on the job?
Robert Dilenschneider: Your first year on a new job is critical because your immediate superior and your colleagues will be shaping opinions and making judgments about you that will be important for the rest of your career. Accordingly, it is vital that you learn about the business’ objectives and link all your activities to them. Seek ways to help others do this as well, especially superiors. Help foster teamwork.
Get “caught” at succeeding — do not brag but ensure what you do and achieve gets noticed.
If changes are required, wait until you have established yourself within the organization before taking action yourself or recommending it to your superiors. Determine and capitalize on your strengths. Let people know what you are working on and seek honest feedback on whether you’re making a significant contribution. Most important, be sure to keep learning. Seize training opportunities. Should you take a few classes? Would having an advanced degree such as a MBA help you move forward within the company?
Dan: What common mistakes do new employees make?
Robert: Again, failing to work closely with colleagues and advancing the company’s stated goals will sooner or later result in disaster. Distancing yourself from the company, its objectives, and its people will leave you isolated with no one to champion you when you want to make your next move either within the organization or at another company.
Bragging about your accomplishments or taking credit for someone else’s efforts will not endear you to those who can control your professional future. Perhaps the biggest mistake is badmouthing your boss. Successful people excel in the art of managing their bosses — a boss can fire you, promote you or make your life miserable.
Another fatal error is not paying attention to the office grapevine the company’s “cultural network” that disseminates information informally that could have an impact on your future. In this age of social media, both good and bad information about you can be disseminated in seconds.
It is imperative that you are accessible. People won’t give you information if they don’t know you. It is also important that they trust you. Make an effort to be friends with people at work who are not the kind of people you would normally socialize with. Don’t limit your grapevine to your own department. Expand it throughout the organization.
Younger employees often make the mistake of sending out e-mails that are critical of others. They don’t take into consideration that this is a very public form of communication that could wind up in the inbox of those they criticized.
Dan: How do you deal with a manager that you don’t get along with?
Robert: First, ask yourself what you may be doing or saying that has created friction with a manager or colleague. Work to understand why you do not get along. Ask for a one-on-one meeting where you can sit down and talk about the issues.
But don’t expect your boss to change. Recognize that the boss may have a lot of responsibility, but too little actual authority in the firm and offer your help. Your job is to make your boss look good. He or she may not excel at managing people. Learn what your boss’ external and internal pressures are as well as his goals.
Commit yourself to proving your support whether it is writing memos for him about what your department has accomplished or how it can further contribute to the bottom line. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem. Conflicts can be resolved when both parties honestly discuss what went wrong and how it can be fixed.
Dan: How do you best connect with older generations in the workplace?
Robert: Older workers, who forged many of their methods and skills in an earlier, non-digital age, need your help in honing new communications tools that you may be familiar with since childhood.
The biggest contribution you can make with older employees is to teach them how to connect through social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all vitally important to how we are perceived by and interact with the world. Offer to take time after working hours to sit down with an older colleague and show him how to connect with professional organizations vital to your business or update his skills section on a LinkedIn account.
Remember that an older worker knows what has worked historically and what has not, and you may be surprised at how willing they are to share their insights. Generational strife has always existed in the workplace. Helping an older worker gives you a new ally and ultimately will contribute to your own success.
Dan: Why do you believe that the first years of your professional lives depict how far you’ll go in your career?
Robert: For better or worse, the first years of anyone’s professional career are the years that lasting impressions are made. The first years form a platform that people will refer to over and over again. These years also establish friendships and relationships that will go far into the future.
Just as important, these years are a time to discover whether or not you have made a suitable career choice that will bring personal fulfillment as well as economic security.
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