November 29, 2011
How the biggest business myths hurt your career
Chances are you have at least a couple of disgruntled wage slaves on your holiday shopping list.
Career expert Alexandra Levit, best-selling author behind such classics as How'd You Score That Gig? and They Don't Teach Corporate in College, has the perfect antidote. Her latest book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, debunks the top ten workplace myths and offers practical solutions workers of all levels can put into practice today.
I recently interviewed Levit by email about some of the myths her book dissects. Here's what she had to say.
Q. Your book talks about how "be yourself" isn't necessarily the best advice. How much line-toeing must an employee actually do?
In a professional environment, you must learn to be politically sensitive and diplomatic even under difficult circumstances. Before you open your mouth, think about whether the listener really needs to hear what you're about to say, and how he will react to it. Even if you are sure all of your co-workers are on the same page, you're probably wrong about someone. Diplomatic people recognize that they are most likely to get their own needs met if they can communicate their goals without evoking hostility in the other party.
Q. You talk about how a job well done won't get rewarded unless you broadcast it. How do you advise people do this?
Identify the people (your boss, senior executives, etc.) whose respect and admiration you want to gain. Tailor your message to each individual, noting why each would care about your accomplishments. What value have you brought to the company or department? How is your work making their jobs easier? Write down what you plan to say to each of these individuals in advance, and identify a time to talk to them when they aren't busy.
E-mail is another helpful tool for subtly spreading the word about your successful projects. Whenever you receive a message praising your work, ensure that your manager sees it. If she wasn't cc'd, forward the e-mail to her as an "FYI." If you're worried about coming across as a braggart, add a modest statement at the beginning, such as "Sue, I wanted you to see this and know that I couldn't have done it without you and John."
My favorite use of e-mail in this context is to trumpet the outstanding results of a project to the whole department (or company, if it's a small one), thanking the team members who worked with you. This shows your collaborators that you appreciate their efforts, and it lets everyone else know that you did a stellar job managing the project.
Q. You say that stirring up controversy is little more than a flash-in-the-pan strategy for success. Is there a right way to be provocative in the business world?
If you have an opinion that you feel passionately about, an opinion that's different from what the majority of people believe, then you should feel free to express it -- as long as you can support it with a valid argument. While intelligent people may squirm a bit at controversy, they will usually appreciate a position that prompts them to think about and possibly re-consider their views. Your tone is critical. When presenting a controversial matter, always be professional and respond to detractors with diplomacy rather than defensiveness or self-righteousness.
Online services such as Twitter and Facebook can be a blessing and a curse. Before you hit send, make sure you're comfortable with the general public reading your message. Consider what each tweet says about your online brand and how it might be perceived by managers, partners, and co-workers.
Q. You write that entrepreneurship isn't a solution for everyone. Why is this?
A few key truths I wish all would-be entrepreneurs would keep in mind:
- If you want to start a company, the motivation fueled by being bored with your work or hating your boss won't be enough. You'll have to think hard about the marketplace need your product or service addresses and work at a variety of tasks to bring it to fruition. Not all people can actually do this successfully.
- Not everyone has the personality required for entrepreneurship. People who work for themselves are confident in their own abilities and are excellent salespeople. Their self-discipline is off the charts and they don't mind when their business intrudes on their personal life.
- You won't escape office politics by leaving Corporate America. Even if you're a sole proprietor, you will have to cope with disrespectful, flakey, or even backstabbing clients and partners.
- There are some things about corporate jobs that we don't truly value until we don't have them anymore. Generally, when you work for an established organization, you still have a job if your project fails, and you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay for healthcare and retirement.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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