How to Succeed in Corporate America in Eight Easy Steps – Part 2

Alan Belniakbusiness, General, guidelinesLeave a Comment

what NOT to do at work (as seen on

In part one of this two-part series, I covered the basic pre-requisites to being an awesome office worker.  Much of this is advice I wish I had when I was 22.  Instead, I learned it along the way.  Now I’m paying it forward.  If you missed part 1, take a break and go read it.   Here’s part 2.


  • when you can, use data – This might apply only to some roles, but I think most can benefit,  A gut feeling is good if you are an industry veteran, or in areas of work where things are highly subjective and leverage an emotional response.  Absent those jobs, use data to drive decisions.  Collect it, buy it, research it, second-guess it.  In the end, if you base a decision off something you can point to, and answer the five whys or three levels deep of executive questions, then you’ve adequately prepared.


  • respect time – If you’re three minutes late to a half-hour meeting, you’ve wasted ten percent of everyone’s time.  Sometimes you get stuck (held up by a boss in the hallway, maybe), and you really can’t just break free.  But when avoidable, avoid being late.  And if you’re that boss in the hallway, avoid launching into a full-on discussion if you see someone heading off with purpose.


  • half your time, double you message – If you get 30 minutes with an SVP, plan for 15. Chances are, s/he might be late.  Or, when you get started with your presentation/pitch/idea/etc., you could get side-tracked, they could get called out unexpectedly, or worse.  If you can keep your own content to half the planned/allocated meeting time, then you’re starting out on the right foot.  And if you actually get through it all early?  No one complains when a meeting ends early.  No one.


  • use reminders  This builds upon the ‘master Outlook’ item in part 1, but it gets its own entry.  Again, different email systems have different features.  But the ‘set a reminder’ feature in Outlook is fantastic and under-used by many.  If someone writes to you and says they’ll get to you in a week, great.  Set a reminder for a week, then file that message.  Get it out of your inbox.  De-clutter.  If you need to get back to someone else, you can set a reminder before you even send the message!  The point here is to tag and flag items quickly and instantly, so you can move and process them to de-clutter your inbox.  Doing so will make you an expert in…


  • follow up – Probably one of my biggest pet peeves of others is lack of follow-up.  See, much communication in the workplace is asynchronous.  We trade email messages.  We do stuff.  We do other stuff.  We eventually get back to one another.  In that interim, I have no idea what people are – or aren’t – doing.  I’m not suggesting a play-by-play of issues.  But if you met with someone, and there was an implicit or explicit expectation that said task would take two days, and you then learn that it’s going to take seven days, that’s a critical piece of information… information that you know, but the other person does not.  After two days go by, and then three, they may be thinking, “gee, why is this taking so long?”  You can eliminate that guess work by following up.  The same goes for just simply acknowledging that you got an email request to begin with.  Because if there’s no response, the person might ping or call you again, to check in.  This, in turn, irritates you.  Had you let them know that you had it covered, they may not have pinged you again.  See?


  • stick to the five percent rule – I’ve written about this in the past, so I won’t re-hash it here.  Go and read it – it’s a very short post.  The take-away is don’t speak up in a meeting just for speaking up, or to argue some mundane, trivial point.  Offer value… a minimum of five percent – or remain silent.


  • know the communication hierarchy – This one goes way back to a then-manager-now-friend (Hey Rob!).  What’s great about this is that I lived this one through, and we found out this hierarchy between us (credit to Rob for putting it into words).  Your mileage may vary. You may work with others in different locations where this can’t happen.  But take note of the general principle, rather than the prescription:    

    • in person > video chat > phone (live) > phone (vmail) > email


  • Lots of studies show that body language tells a lot of a message.  It’s true.  And there are times when you physically can go talk to someone, but email is preferred (perhaps you need a record of the conversation).  Instead, focus on the principle.


  • be proactive and go the extra step – People remember the other people who did that extra little bit, or who remembered that often-overlooked-detail.  I’m not suggesting you work 80 hours a week in your first job.  But avoid wearing the minimum amount of flair.  Go the extra mile.  Even better, go the extra yard when it will appear that you went an extra mile.


  • bonus for co-ops (“co-operative education students”) and interns – Here’s a tip: it’s not a job, it’s a six-month interview.  That means show up on time on day one and day last.  Be polite. Showcase your talent.  Because it’s a multi-day evaluation of who you are and what you are capable of.  It’s just accompanied by a paycheck sometimes.


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