How to Be a Great Employee Without Being a Drone

My dad used to tell me that if someone offered you a job you took it and you did whatever you were told! And he also walked 150 miles to school through hungry Visigoths or something like that. There’s a bit of a misconception among entry-level job hunters that to be a good employee means unquestioning obedience, head down compliance and soul sucking assimilation.  It doesn’t. What it means is the secret to long term success, career satisfaction and, ultimately, respect for your abilities. Being a good employee is good for YOU.

So how do we do this?

Show up on time or even better get there early. Yeah, this sounds really elementary but you’d be amazed.  I’ve had all levels of new employees email me on Sunday night asking what time they should come in. If you’re lucky enough to land at a “wander in around 9” shop that’s great but in the beginning ignore this.

Dress like you’re at work, not like you’re going out. Or even worse, like you’re getting in. Once you get comfortable and earn some trust you can relax a bit and mirror your co-workers.  Except for the guy who wears rolled up acid washed jeans.

Keep up the networking. This is key. Let me say it again. This is key. Continuing to form solid connections both within an organization and outside with clients, vendors, contractors or customers will make you more valuable and increase your visibility.  You’ll also meet potential mentors, coaches or future employers.

Know what’s expected of you. Don’t just wander around waiting for some direction. Get your hands on a detailed job description and set up a meeting as soon as you can to outline goals for the first 90 days. Ask for an informal review at the end and take any criticism as an opportunity for growth.  Nobody likes a crier.

Understand what the company does. Duh. Amazingly many employees don’t know exactly how the company they work for is organized, why it does what it does and how different departments interact. Understanding process and outcome will clarify your own contributions and you’ll be able to make appropriate recommendations or comments. It’ll also give you a clear path to future growth within the organization.

Become an authority on your industry. What are competitors doing well, not doing well or how are they progressing? Be aware of the latest technology, products and services. This will stimulate new ideas and innovations that are highly valued by employers.  And boy, will this make you look smart.

Many employers expect their entry-level hires will need lots of handholding, educating, guidance and probably some naps. And you will. But they’re also looking for young adults to break new ground, contribute ideas, and solve problems in creative ways. By becoming a good employee (and did I say drone? No, I did not) you can earn your employer’s trust and loyalty, which empowers you to make a meaningful and immediate impact.

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