Today our friend W e-mailed us with a personal question:
So, my upcoming new job is seriously the first job I’ve ever had that I’m truly excited about. Obviously, I want to do well. I’ve never really cared about other jobs nor my performance in them. I realize this is totally cheesy and earnest, but any suggestions on some decent books in the “how to succeed” genre?
I dashed off a quick e-mail, recommending Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead… But Gutsy Girls Do: Nine Secrets Every Working Woman Must Know (which I read a zillion years ago and now looks like it’s out of print) as well as Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (seriously a great book), promising to look for the post and thread where commenters listed a bunch of other good books, and reassuring W that she’ll be great. (She will!) Then I started thinking about it more, and with her permission thought I’d share her query here on the blog. (Pictured: grandmother’s report card, originally uploaded to Flickr by victoriabernal.)
The best advice I have, upon contemplating this for a few hours, is thus: treat your job as if you’re doing it for a grade. We all know that there’s a difference between when you want an A . . . and when a B+ is fine . . . and when it’s a pass/fail class. Sometimes, all you want to do is show up, keep your head down, and get your paycheck. That’s working for a “pass.” And it can be fine, for a little while — but in our experience that kind of daily existence feels hollow.
Other times, a B+ is fine — you know you’re doing better than most, and sure, you probably could be doing a lot better — but you’re juggling too much and right now, a B+ will have to do.
Then you’ve got your A game. You go the extra distance, you engage on an real intellectual basis, and you strive to do better even if you’re already getting rave reviews. You’re invested. It’s the difference between training for a marathon and phoning in a daily workout.
For our friend, we would also recommend a few more steps:
- Do some job-specific research: Set up a Google Alert on your company, and if there are some superstars there that you’d like to work with / someday be, set up a Google Alert on them as well.
- Do some career-specific research, by mining the Internet for the best sources for advice and news for your industry. You want to be on top of the issues that will affect the way you do business — the new technology that will make it easier to do, the regulations and decisions that will make your business harder, and general “tips of the trade.” If there’s a magazine or newsletter on point, subscribe; otherwise just be sure to regularly check the blogs (or set up an RSS feed). You may want to see if your field is covered by SmartBrief, as recommended by venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki in a recent blog post.
2. Network. All that networking that you did to get the job? Reach out to those people whose careers you admire, and see if you can take them out to lunch again — ask them for their best advice on how to succeed in the industry, what their path was, what mistakes they’ve made, and more. (I might even say that your list should include people who you interviewed with — and connected with — even if you didn’t get the job. Write them a personal e-mail, let them know where you landed, and see if you can take them out for lunch. What is there to lose?) In our experience, this is the best kind of networking — where you truly don’t want anything from them except for their advice. If it feels like you’re aiming really high, ask them if you could chat with them on the phone for 10 or 15 minutes instead — everyone has time for a 15 minute phone call.
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If you have time before your job starts to read some books, these have been recommended previously by commenters:
- Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers, by Lois Frankel
- Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
- Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success, by Sheila Wellington
We either haven’t read these books, or haven’t read them all the way through, but we would also suggest that our friend W check out:
- If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You, by Kelly Cutrone with Meredith Bryan
- Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), by Cathie Black
Readers, what are your best tips and tricks for succeeding at the office?