List 32: How to be professional (or at least fake it)

How to be professional. Students gain skills and knowledge, but too many of us get our first job without a true understanding of how to be professional. At a time when many people are looking for jobs or desperately trying to cling to jobs it’s a good to time to review how to be professional (or at least fake it).

Below are 40 harsh realities and best practices of the professional world. Few of these are mentioned in the average b-school curriculum, but unless you do something really phenomenal for #16 it’s hard to succeed without mastering or at least faking your way through these.

  1. Just because you are allowed to wear something to work doesn’t mean you should.
  2. The person with the more impressive title may not be the one who makes the most money.
  3. The person with the nicer desk or office (or any office instead of a cube) may not be the one with the better job.
  4. Those things being said, it’s really nice to have an impressive title and a nice office.
  5. A good boss can make a bad job tolerable or even pleasant.
  6. A bad boss can make a good job suck.
  7. Sometimes you’ll be passed over for a promotion then have to train your boss. That is bullshit.
  8. Never overstate your abilities.
  9. Never understate your abilities.
  10. Ask for the opportunities you want.
  11. If you ask for something you may be told no. Be prepared for that.
  12. Citing the experience of someone else (“But he got to do that!” or “She makes that much money!”) is not a helpful negotiation tactic.
  13. Never threaten to quit unless you are prepared to follow through.
  14. Any aspect of job that is not written down is subject to change at any time.
  15. First impressions matter, so always be ready to make a good one.
  16. Do something really phenomenal in your first few months on a job and that reputation can carry you for years.
  17. That said, if you are new to a job don’t tell people all the stuff they should change. If it’s not something you can do yourself shut up for a few months, or people will think you’re obnoxious. That reputation can stick with you for years as well.
  18. No one cares about your resume once you are hired.
  19. Listen.
  20. Sometimes you need to fake a little panic even when things are under control, so that people know you are taking their problem seriously.
  21. It is better to be slightly over-dressed than to be under-dressed.
  22. Always carry business cards, even if you have to get them made yourself.
  23. Seek out opportunities for training and learn as much as you can.
  24. Don’t judge a job by salary alone.
  25. Document every decision. In most cases you don’t need complete meeting minutes but an email with bullet points of what was decided sent to those in attendance creates accountability and prevents later disagreements over what was decided.
  26. If you become the person who sends out notes after every meeting it will be a pain in your ass, but people will love you for it.
  27. “Repy to All” should be used only if the reply is of vital importance to everyone on the email. This is rarely the case.
  28. Block out lunch dates, vacation time and other conflicts on your office calendar to make it easier for people to schedule meetings with you.
  29. Sometimes you’ll have to work with people you don’t like. Knowing how to deal with them cordially is a valuable job skill.
  30. Some people will not like you no matter what you do. Try to avoid these people.
  31. But make sure the office admin likes you. I don’t care what you have to do. Make that person like you.
  32. Proofread your email.
  33. Delivering bad news is unpleasant but better than being fired for hiding something that your boss needed to know. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen.)
  34. Bad news won’t sound as bad if you can suggest ways to correct or at least minimize the negative impact.
  35. Try not to cry.
  36. Always check your teeth after you eat anything.
  37. Always leave a job as cordially as you can no matter what the circumstances are. You never know where those people may turn up again.
  38. Drinking with co-workers (and especially your bosses) should always be perceived as a “proceed with caution” situation.
  39. Don’t put anything on LinkedIn that you wouldn’t discuss in a job interview.
  40. It’s probably best to apply that last one to everything you publish publicly on the Internet.

What is your advice for how to be professional?

I’m making a list a week until I turn 40, and in between I write about social media privacy, online security and whatever else comes to my mind. Put your email in the box and click the “Create Subscription” button to ensure you never miss a post. (No spam, and you can opt out at anytime.)

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