As someone who has managed a number of young professionals over my career in the AEC industry, I’ve had a chance to think about the advice I wish I had been given when I entered the workforce. It would have given me a jump start on ensuring I was the kind of professional they would value and promote.
- Dress ready. – As a boss I’ve had more conversations than I care to with someone who came to work dressed unprofessionally. The best way I can describe appropriate workplace attire is to dress ready. For example, when firm leaders are going to a client meeting and looking for a junior staff member to take along, they base their decision, in part, on who looks ready for such an opportunity. Be ready.
- It is your own job to protect your interests. – Your boss is not clairvoyant and you are not the center of his or her universe. If someone gives you more work than you can handle, speak up. If someone is not clear about their expectations, ask. Pouting and flashing a stink eye are no substitute for direct communication. For example, if you are already at capacity working on three proposals and your boss brings you a fourth, you might want to ask, “Since I’m already booked solid, which of the projects you’ve already given me should I stop doing so I can do this one?” It shows both that you’re busy and that you care about your boss’s priorities.
- Don’t just bring problems, bring solutions. – If you want a bigger title or more responsibility, show that you can handle it. For example, instead of saying, “The binding machine is broken,”, you might want to go with, “The binding machine is broken so I’ve called the repair place. I found a local print shop that can do this week’s binding for us, but we need to complete our drafts a day sooner than we thought to make this work. Okay?”
- Gossip generates more heat than light. – Palace intrigue, while tempting as a lunchtime conversation topic with your workplace bestie, should not be the focus of your professional life. Pay attention to your job, not the resident character assassins. All that focusing on gossip will do is demonstrate that you can’t be trusted.
- Find a mentor. – Either your company or your local professional association can connect you with someone who knows your industry and can be your sounding board when things around you don’t make sense, when you want something you don’t know how to ask for, or when you need a new way to solve a problem. Someone with an objective view of the problem and the players is often all you need to get on the right course.