Career Advice Oct 27 2011

Don't Kid Yourself: You're Not Steve Jobs

By julie steinberg

If you're trying to move up the ladder, you're probably doing it all wrong.

So claims consultant and workplace expert Alexandra Levit in her new book "Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success," which was released earlier this month. Levit offers up 10 things people tend to believe about their careers and then following them will only set you up for failure.

FINS caught up with Levit in a phone interview to talk about common career assumptions and why they're not true.

Myth: Being Good at Your Job Trumps Everything

Even if you're the best employee the company has ever had, if no one knows about your numbers, it doesn't matter.

"Your department won't be perceived as important, even if you're doing a good job, if the right people don't understand what you're contributing to the bottom line," Levit said.

You need visibility. To get that, you'll have to self-promote without being obnoxious or overly "braggy." Start with your boss, Levit said. Update him or her with weekly status reports that quantify your results. Check in as often as he or she wants.

You can also send a gracious email to your boss and your team as well as a few higher-ups, thanking everyone for their input. That way, you highlight what you did while appearing to appreciate the help of your colleagues and superiors.

Myth: You'll Get More Money Because You Earned It

This myth is an extension of the previous one. Just because you've been doing a fantastic job doesn't mean your superiors will automatically bump up your salary. They're focused on saving money, not rewarding employees, if even they deserve it.

Again, the onus is on you to get what you want. Ask for a meeting with your boss after a strong performance evaluation, Levit said. That will give you ammunition in your compensation discussion.

Whatever you do, don't mention your colleagues' salaries, even if you know you're being paid less. It's dangerous to rely on office salary gossip because you don't know the particulars associated with it, Levit said. The person might be lying, you don't know what the job market was like when they were hired and they may have additional responsibilities you don't know about.

Instead, bring up the market in general and throw out some ranges of what people are making in your particular area. It's much harder for a boss to say no if you're equipped with market data and are able to measure your remuneration against it.

You might be worried that now's not a good time to ask for a raise because of the generally weak economy. But "it's definitely worth a shot, especially if you have a strong justification," Levit said. Organizations are still in the mindset that you're fortunate to be employed, but that will change as the economy improves.

Myth: You Won't Get Laid Off; You're Too Essential

Doing great work won't shield you from the realities of a soured economy.

To avoid getting laid off, Levit recommends you make yourself likeable. Besides getting concrete results and becoming as visible as possible, you should focus on fostering a close relationship with your boss.

"People really underestimate the subjectivity of the decision to let someone go," Levit said. "If your boss likes you, sometimes they will look the other way on performance issues and will be more forgiving when you make a mistake."

Even if you're doing excellent work and your colleague isn't, if he and your boss have a rapport and you don't, you're going to be the one looking for a new job.

It's "just so much easier to keep a job when someone is likeable," Levit said. Ask about your boss's family, your colleague's hobbies and take a genuine interest in other people.

Myth: Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow

Steve Jobs's 2005 Stanford commencement speech recently went viral in the wake of his death. In it, Jobs stresses doing what you love and not wasting any time because life is short. But "not everyone can be him," Levit said. "Everyone thinks, 'I can do that, it's the American dream.'"

The reality is Steve Jobs was one in a billion, Levit said, and his story encourages people to think it's possible for everyone.

Instead of doing what you love, Levit recommends trying to love what you do.

"Look back to the time when you were applying for this job and remember how enthusiastic you were about it," she said. "Try to emotionally re-engage with the part of you that wanted this job in the first place."

To ramp up your excitement about your daily 7-7, Levit suggests volunteering, mentoring and finding activities within the organization that will introduce you to new aspects of it.

It's also important to distinguish between having a great hobby and having a great career. There are myriad stories about people leaving corporate America to pursue their passions, but that may not lead to happiness for everyone, Levit said. Even if you love photography, it doesn't need to become your day job for you to feel like Ansel Adams. Especially if it won't pay the bills.

Write to Julie Steinberg at Julie.Steinberg@dowjones.com




Play the new finance career game from FINS!

Financial Dream Jobs - Sign Or Decline
You just got an offer for your dream job,
BUT...
you must change your name to Bernie Madoff.
SIGN DECLINE


 
  • Copyright ©2014 Dice Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.
Log in 
FINS Login
 
*Indicates required field
 
User Name*
Password*
     Forgot Your Password?
Or log in using your Facebook account:
Connect with Facebook