Don’t Be That Guy (In the Workplace)

Posted on August 6, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Aileen Luppert

Good idea or bad idea?

You show up at your first day of work in an office wearing shabby cargo shorts and Old Navy flip-flops.

You hate your job and decide to quit. Rather than give notice, you just stop going.

Aileen shares her "common sense" tips to start your career.

Hopefully, the answers are obvious. These are bad ideas. They are really bad ideas for your career.

Without sharing my exact age, I admit I have been a working girl long enough to have seen these happen. I’ve had more than 10 jobs including ones in cafes, daycares, corporate offices, law firms, non-profits and libraries. I’m well into my second career. I have certainly made my share of mistakes, but there are some blunders that left me curious about how someone could not know better.

Haven’t we all seen a person exercise judgment that is so poor with results that are so bad, that you wonder “don’t they have any common sense?” But stop for a moment and think. Most “common sense” things are common behaviors learned from our parents or adults in our young lives. When we contemplate, “didn’t that kid’s mother teach him better?” it should be considered that the answer might genuinely be “no.”

I have been lucky.  My whole life has included adults and professionals offering guidance and great advice. In fact, my Aunty, Eve Luppert, gave such good advice she wrote it down and sold it. When I got out of college, she helped make sure I knew some “common sense” things with which to start my career. Here are some highlights:

Dress appropriately. If you don’t know what is appropriate, over dress—in office attire.  No ball gowns, tiaras, or tuxes. Skip glitter, dog collars and camouflage too. Once you have worked for a while, you can reassess whether it is okay to put your ball gown back on. But, until you know for sure, take the advice my grandmother passed on to my Aunty: If you show up somewhere underdressed, people will wonder why you didn’t know better. If you show up overdressed, people will wonder whether they are underdressed and should have known better. Opt for overdressed.

Tell your supervisor. Until you and your supervisor have figured out the best communication style, keep the person informed of just about everything. You’re running late? Call and tell them. (But don’t be habitually late!) You’re done with your assignment and don’t know what to do next? Tell them. You make a mistake—especially one that might make your boss look bad? Tell them! Being open with your supervisor helps you learn how best to do your job and develops trust.

Do stupid jobs brilliantly. This piece of advice from my Aunty is so good, she slapped it on the cover of her book! I’ve doled it out to myself and others more times than I can count. No matter what your degree is, or how smart you know you are, do every task well. If you can’t dazzle your boss with your ability to sort paperclips or take a phone message, how will the boss ever know you have the capacity to handle bigger challenges? And, really, why would you ever be asked to do anything with more substance if you can’t handle the simple stuff?

Stay classy—always. Even if you quit the world’s worst job with the world’s biggest idiot for a boss, go out as graciously as you came in. It can only help your career. A dumb boss today might be your much needed reference tomorrow. It isn’t worth it to tell her to “stick it” on the way out. If you decide to leave a job, offer at least two weeks’ notice and keep doing your mundane job magnificently.

It is okay to be unique and have fun in the workplace. But never forget—it is a job. You are being paid to get it accomplished. Do it.  Do it well. When you’re done for the day, go ahead and slip on your flip-flops and tutu and meet some friends. That is the right time and place to talk about your ridiculous boss, explain your underappreciated brilliance, and plan for how you’ll do things when you’re running the joint.

Aileen Luppert


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