Happy Monday, everyone, and my deepest apologies for no-showing you in this space on Friday. I was in Minneapolis for American Advertising Federation business (including the National Student Advertising Competition, which was outstanding — congrats Wisconsin-Madison!) and was occupied literally every moment of the day from waking up at 6:30 to hitting the rack around 1 a.m. I broke my streak of consecutive weekday blog posts, which galls me, but today we start anew.
I left you Thursday afternoon with a post about the necessity of researching your employer before going to a job interview. Today, we’ll talk about something else that we employers lust after in new hires, and it goes by many names: drive, desire, or as I’ve said in the title of today’s post, someone who just clearly has their heart in the job. I’ll explain, but before I do, let me say that I realize I started this series of posts as if they’d all be interview tips, and while you might be able to show inklings of this quality in an interview, it’s more of something that’ll help you KEEP a job once you get one.
Sorry for the incongruity there, but hey, sometimes I can’t wrap up all the good info in a neat little package. 🙂
So yeah, what does it mean to have your heart in it? Well, there are two types of employees who can pass muster over the long haul with their employers. One is the type who does everything you want them to do, and everything that is expected of them — and then they go home. They get to work on time and they leave on time. They come through when they’re needed, they don’t disappoint, and you can pretty much take it to the bank that they’re going to do whatever you ask them to do.
On the wide spectrum of all employees who ever work at any particular place, these are obviously some of the better ones. But they aren’t the best.
The best employees are the ones who ones who *actually care* about the company, its goals, its success, etc.
I don’t know how to make someone care about those things. I really don’t. I’ve had at least a part-time job since I was 14 years old, and for most of that time, I was NOT one of those employees who had a deep and abiding concern for the overall success of my employer. When I worked at Dairy Queen at age 14 and McDonald’s at age 16, I couldn’t have cared less about the at-large sucess of those fast-food chains. It’s probably no accident, then, that I was not a standout employee at either place.
When I was 18, though, I worked at Taco John’s, and for some reason I started caring about things like how much money we were making per shift, wasted food, etc. I’m not sure why I started caring, but I know that once I did, I ended up getting an assistant manager gig pretty quickly, and I had it for three summers in a row.
Granted, if you’re reading this, you’re probably aiming higher career-wise than being an assistant manager at a fast-food joint, but it doesn’t matter — the concept is the same. If you go to work every day and you actually give a shit about the welfare of your company, whether it’s a mom-and-pop or a mega-corporation — you’re going to do better work, and as a result, you’ll be valued a lot more than if you just go in and punch the clock every day.
None of this is rocket science, really; I mean, everyone’s who’s ever seen Office Space remembers the part where Jennifer Aniston gets lectured by the restaurant manager (Mike Judge) about how doing the minimum is, well, OK, but it won’t earn you elite status within the company. So let me give you some concrete examples of how you might do this at your current job — and without sacrificing every moment of free time that you have, or making your boss think that you’re his weekend servant (again, a la Office Space).
1) Let’s say you’re at you’re job one afternoon and you’ve really got nothing going on after you get off work. Go ask your boss if there’s anything he/she needs you to do. Just say straight out, “Hey, I don’t really have anything going on after work today — I could stick around for an hour or two if you’ve got anything I could pitch in on.”
This doesn’t work for everyone, especially if you’ve got a spouse and family at home waiting on you every night. But if it does, give it a try on occasion. Even if the boss ends up saying no and letting you go anyway, it’s a big deal, because employees rarely volunteer themselves in this way. Do it once, and you can leap ahead of your peers in terms of how the boss perceives you.
2) If working late is not for you, you can always just show your interest in at least KNOWING what the company’s goals are and what it’s trying to accomplish — in the name of understanding how all the pieces fit together so that you can help do your part. If this sounds obvious, it’s not, regardless of the size of the company you work for. You’d be amazed at how many gazillions of people go in and punch the clock every day for years, maybe knowing what they themselves are supposed to be doing every day, but having no real clue what the company as a whole is trying to do.
I worked for a dot-com flameout called Cox Interactive Media back in the late 1990s. We were a network of city-guide websites competing with bigger competitors like CitySearch, AOL Digital Cities, the local newspapers, etc. It was a scramble to make money in those days, the early days of the Internet, when people were basically grasping at straws in terms of how to generate any revenue on the Internet. No one was making any; we were all just sucking away the resources of our corporate parents at alarming rates while we desperately tried to find advertisers to keep us afloat. Ah, the good old days.
Anyhow, I worked alongside some longtime journalists who would literally get angry when we’d ocassionally land big advertisers and sponsors. They got mad because the advertising, they felt, encroached on their content. We’re talking about veterans here, folks, still not understanding that the advertising was the end and that the content was the means to getting that end, not the other way around.
Some bosses are great about communicating the company’s vision to its employees. Some are terrible. Still others keep it hidden purposely and would prefer you keep your mouth shut and your head down and ask as few questions as possible (they’re out there, although they’re a minority).
In any case, it’s somewhat rare that a junior or entry-level employee goes straight to the boss and directly requests more information and more understanding about his/her company. Most just come in, punch the clock and go home. You can set yourself apart by doing otherwise.
3) Offer to help beyond your job description. Once you find out more about the company’s direction and goals, offer to help in a way that you think up on your own. And it doesn’t even really matter whether your boss takes you up on your idea or not; it’s the fact that you formulated one on your own and offered it up the ladder that sets you apart from most of your peers.
I have an employee who does this. His name is Rob (he’s the one who sent you the email about this blog post, probably). I own an ad agency, and as the owner, I’d like to increase our revenues. No surprise there. Rob knows this. He often approaches me, volunteering to go certain events or to set up meetings with certain people in order to increase our business.
Sometimes I think his ideas are worth doing, and sometimes I don’t. The point is, he tries, and I know he’s frequently thinking about ways to grow our business on his own, without being asked. Contrast this with the majority of employees who either make no such effort, or who think they have good ideas for your business but never bother mentioning them to their boss.
What unifies these three ideas is that they are RIDICULOUSLY EASY to do, and they have a big impact on how you’re perceived in the workplace. Worst case scenario, you spend a couple of extra hours working in order to gain favor with your boss. Best case, you actually spend NO extra time working (if the boss says no thanks) and you still gain some status.
Think about it. Tiny gestures can make a big impact.
Gotta go now. It’s my son’s birthday and we’re about to party like it’s 1999. Or, more accurately, 2006, the year he was born, when he burst forth so quickly in the middle of the night (a month early) that my wife and I needed an ambulance to get her to the hospital in time — and we still only made it with 30 minutes to spare. To quote one of our favorite books around this house, Heaven played every trumpet and blew every horn on the wonderful, marvelous night you were born.
Have a good week, everyone!