Back in the day, before my glorious career working in software development, I was a department manager at a very large music store on the east coast. Before that I had several oddball jobs throughout college, such as working at a hot tub warehouse, renting cars, delivering lumber, and working as an intern at a telecommunications company. Through all of that experience and the work I do now I realized there are several common behaviors you can exhibit that can help you stand out and keep you off the firing line.
I am not saying you have to keep busy all the time, but always look busy. If your boss comes around the corner make sure you are close to some work. If on a sales floor be near some products you are stocking, if at a desk have work up on your computer, if in the warehouse hold a broom, etc. I used to yell at my sales staff like a cowboy, “Move around boys! Do something!” I knew that there was not always gear to stock and only so many customers you can follow up with on a slow day, so busy work was not always in order. But if the big boss came walking around you want to make sure you still look busy.
Stay In the Loop
Interact with your fellow colleagues. Even if you hate socializing, make it a point to stop by the boss’s office, or even other team members, just to say hello. Ask how they are doing. You can even think of some simple work related questions that you know the answer to, but you just want to spark a conversation. You don’t want to end up with a basement office like Milton in the movie Office Space.
Maintain Floor Awareness
This was something one of my old bosses used to repeat over and over. Besides trying to stay in the loop with your colleagues, you want to know what is going on around you. If you are on a sales floor, you want to greet every customer and make sure you know what customers are already being tended to. If you made a sales visit to someone’s office, make sure you are aware of what they are doing or how busy the customer is. If you work on a project team know the schedule, know when customers are coming to the office, and know what other team members are doing or if they are out of the office. You want to be aware of anything that might affect your work or your day.
Track Your Work
Even if your boss asks for it or not, keep a log of the work you do each day or at least each week. Did you set up a new merchandise display or work with a customer on a sales estimate? Did you write ‘X’ amount lines of code or work with other team members to resolve an issue? Yes, it is extra work, and who wants that? But, it is invaluable to the boss when they ask what you are or have been working on and you are the one who can quickly produce an answer.
Dress the Part
Do not under or over dress for the job. What is everyone else wearing? You wouldn’t wear a suit to a construction job just as you would not wear shorts and flip flops to your sales or office job (unless you work in Hawaii or Jamaica).
Always Be Learning
Study your craft. If you do it will show in your work. If you know your products your customers will notice and appreciate it more. If you keep your skills sharp the craftsmanship in your work will be apparent. For a developer that could mean less coding defects, a writer could make fewer grammar mistakes, for a salesman that could mean getting the right product into the customer’s hands.
Try New Things
Don’t be afraid to try new things in the workplace. If you sell drums, try to learn about selling guitars. If you can play the guitar, learn about how to repair them. If you can write requirements, learn how to create design diagrams, or even learn how to write software code. Maybe the office needs help running reports, or training employees. Think of small ways you can become more useful in the workplace.
Always Say Yes, Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Huh? What does that mean? When your boss asks you to do something, never tell them no. Usually what they ask you to do will take priority and trump other tasks. At the same time, if you are overloaded with work, do not be afraid to say that you are too busy. It is better if you can help the requester find someone else to perform the task, ensuring the work does not get left undone.
Don’t Be Late!
Those that know me know that this is what I have the greatest difficulty with. I am not a morning person. If you are late to work, don’t be afraid to stay late past normal work hours to try and make up for lost time. While at work, never be late to a meeting unless you can notify the meeting organizer. Nothing irks a manager more than someone who is perpetually late. So do your best to not do it.