Work smart – how to succeed at a great company

I sucked at my first job. It was 1992 and I had just been hired during a recession at Metropolitan Bank. Barely out of training, my boss Michael called me into his office and explained that my coworker Jean had blamed me for missing her deadline.

What I learned working for Michael and in the last 20 years of hiring and managing my own team will help you work smart to avoid career-ending mistakes and help you succeed at a great company where the standards are high. Below, I share how you can be better than 95% of your teammates and get consistently promoted.

I just got promoted cartoonBack at the bank, when Michael reviewed my work he couldn’t tell if I had screwed up or not because my documentation was weak and unorganized. Even if I was a little humiliated to be put on probation just a couple months after starting my first permanent job, Michael turned out to be an awesome boss. What he wanted was simple and correct. He just wanted me to work smart.

It’s easy to suck at your job if you don’t know what your boss wants. Today, if you follow a lot of career experts, you’d think your boss wants you to ‘brand’ yourself. ‘Personal branding’ might be hot now, but we don’t want it. It’s a lot of crap. We crave honesty and sincerity. You’re not a corporation or a cow.

Creating a brand image or personality for yourself is empty marketing – a CYA policy that gets in the way of doing real work. Work smart and everything you do builds trust and value – you won’t need a CYA policy because you’ll always be in demand.

knowing what your boss wantsIronically, your boss doesn’t want to take time to teach you what working smart means. In fact, most bosses would have difficulty listing 20 specific teachable ways to ‘work smart’. Most will say it’s an inherent talent you’ve either have or don’t. I don’t buy it. Below you’ll find 20 ways to earn your boss’s respect and admiration for your work. So, decide for yourself if ‘working smart’ can be learned or not.

It’s not about becoming your boss’s pet. Ultimately, working smart is a step on the path to finding satisfaction in your work. Until you can match-up what you do with who you are as a person, you’re unlikely to find happiness at work. The problem with sucking at your job is that it gives you very little power to make changes.

would you like a new boss?You need some leverage to get flexibility in your career — that might mean money in the bank (also called f*ck-you money) or a good relationship with your boss and previous bosses (for references). You can get all those things by working smart. You can also quit your job and start a business (if you do, your boss is now the customer and all the lessons below still apply). This is about being effective, nothing else – about becoming a diamond in the eyes of your boss.

If you’re in a job search and want to work at a great company, the rules are the same. The only difference is that everything you write and say will be scrutinized more closely for clues as to how you will perform on the job. If you suck in the job search, we know you will suck on the job. Want to get it right? Use “The complete job search guide – how to land a job at a great company“.

The stakes are high. Twenty-five years ago when I was starting my career, the difference between being average and working smart was the difference between a good career and a great career. That was before the Internet. Today, working smart can make the difference between having a career and having nothing. Your competition is radically tougher today — game on!

a raise and a promotion?Your thoughts become actions so choose the advice you take to heart wisely. There’s a career expert on every corner today. Most have not built companies as I have. Most have something to sell you; I don’t. These lessons exist because I love to teach and write, which is why DiversityJobs.com offers free career advice and tips you won’t hear anywhere else. OK… I also hope you’ll share these pages with your friends and use our job search engine.

You can graduate from Harvard, Princeton, or Yale and still suck at your job. They don’t teach you how to work smart at school. If you do have a fancy degree, expectations on you will be sky-high. If you don’t deliver the goods, your boss is going to think you’re overpriced and may just let you go. On the other hand, put these lessons into practice and you’ll carve your name on the world without an Ivy League degree or even without any degree at all.



1. Don’t suck at e-mail
2. Don’t suck at instant messaging
3. Want to be taken seriously? Do this.
4. Know the shortest path to succeeding in your job?
5. 2 habits that show you are trustworthy and mature
6. Is your attitude subtly toxic?
7. Don’t interrupt me
8. Don’t make me interrupt you
9. Be precise, be specific and be blunt
10. Fail to do this and you may get fired

Above and beyond: Tame your ego


1. Got ‘the ace factor’?
2. Never do this
3. How to handle your mistakes like a pro
4. 10 ways to improve your emotional intelligence
5. Are you blocking conversation (when you think you’re listening)?


1. Perform like a surgeon
2. What your boss doesn’t want to tell you (and you need to know)
3. Stop whining – take ownership
4. Show up ready for battle
5. Know yourself and follow your bliss


  1. Rules are meant for breaking, but master them first and then break them.
  2. My team knows I don’t always lead by example. I’m better at some of these than others. Especially where I’m weak, I like to see corresponding strengths in my team.
  3. Like any good boss, I hope to hire above me – to hire a team that’s smarter and better than I am!

Get the ebook!

If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this guide later, grab the e-book version for Kindle – we’re hoping you’ll thank us with a five-star review on Amazon if you found this material helpful. The ebook also includes our job search guide.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.



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  • Great advice. Effective communication is key in every relationship including relationship between managers and direct reports. communication channels may vary ie. emails, IM etc but it has to be formal regardless. Combining a good degree with the right skills needed for the job is what most employers want. Hard work is important but working smart is what will get you maintained and moved to the next level. Am glad I read this article. Am currently enrolled for a graduate programme that am convinced is essential for my next career move. Reading this article just increased my confidence.

  • When I received my first job at the age of 18 it was scary for me. Working in a place where you are the youngest one and everyone feels as though they are above and that no matter how hard you work you still aren’t putting your best foot forth. This article taught me that even with a college degree it doesn’t amount to how successful you will be in your job/career because because the expectations for you are going to be high to fill and you have to hope that you meet the standards.

  • I personally found the article to be motivational and inspiring. It brings real life situations and real time job mentality to the table. Many people leave school assuming that is enough, they now know enough. However, I found that careers in themselves never stop evolving. One must always be willing to learn and adjust to be the best they can be and excel in their position. Humbleness and willingness to learn breeds success. I truly enjoyed the post. I will recommend it to others.

  • I personally found the article to be motivational and inspiring. It brings real life situations and real time job mentality to the table. Many people leave school assuming that is enough, they now know enough. However, I found that careers in themselves never stop evolving. One must always be willing to learn and adjust to be the best they can be and excel in their position. Humbleness and willingness to learn breeds success. I truly enjoyed the post.

  • I enjoyed the lesson I truly believe I work smart for the most part. I really like the last line of hiring people smarter and better than I am because with loyalty they can excel a business.

  • I have held multiple careers since leaving college and this article honestly speaks to all of the challenges not only I myself have faced, but I see others who come out of college begin to face. You are always taught to stand out, ask questions and be proactive. While this is true, when you first get your new career, you are better to be less hear than seen.

    You have to make sure that you are always aware of everything going on, but only comment when asked. A lot of your older coworkers, even those only 1 year older than you, will be offended sometimes when you chime in on something they feel as if you have no knowledge about. Also you have to remember the first thing which is, forget what you learned in school and even your old job, what you are going to do here, you are starting at day 1 of your learning.

    All in all as you move up the ladder your voice will be louder and your ideas will be considered so please don’t let go of those ones you had from your first day in the office as they may be industry changing. Just take your time and know when you get your turn to manager, learn from the successes and failures of those before you and apply them to all of the idea you have or may have had. You will learn that it helped you a lot more than you realize along the way.

  • I can so relate to this article. I recently got hired at a big retail company, and that part about your boss not wanting to take time to train you is so true. She appreciated and was very happy that I had learned all my responsibilities by just learning from my peers. I also have asked her before about what she things of my progress and asked her what she thinks matters in my jobs if its sells or credits. From her answer I have learned how to be a good employee and one that managers are happy with.

  • I loved this lesson on how to work smart and succeed within the workforce. I can relate to this article because I obtained a high level position by following similar steps listed here. My first job was folding newspapers for the local weekly news and then I gradually worked my way up to different positions.

    This generation is well known for dreaming big and hoping to be successful, but they are also known as being entitled and wanting to do minimal amount of work to achieve success. However, I tried to take a different approach by reaching for high goals but working very hard to obtain them.

    While at my job at the newspaper, I was the only person who would volunteer to cover events, stay late to meet deadlines, and want to learn new positions that I wasn’t in charge of. My boss was very busy so I also had to teach myself how to do certain projects or work new programs. I was originally hired to fold newspapers, but then I ended up writing articles, doing graphic design, selling ads, managing social media, managing big public relations accounts, and do the office accounting. I wanted to learn every aspect of the company so I could be useful and valuable to the company.

    Eventually, I learned so much that they promoted me to Office Manager. Then when I started doing payroll in addition to my other roles, they promoted me to Vice President of Operations. I was running a small business at twenty-three years old. It wasn’t because I became the boss’ pet or felt as if I deserved each promotion. Instead, I tried to stay humble and just strived to learn more about the company. I didn’t want to suck at my job, as the article talks about. I wanted to do well, I wanted to respect my boss, and respect the company’s time by making the most of my day. Doing so allowed me to run a company at such a young age, and ultimately move on to work at a private university.

    I’m so thankful to have had these experiences and I truly believe we can all be successful. With hard work, we can achieve any goal we set our mind to.

  • Only being 19, I have been successful in the jobs I’ve had, always putting forth pride in doing a great job. My jobs have also been all cleaning jobs which is not what I had planned but it was the only quick money at the time. I also played many sports in high school, therefore I could only be a seasonal worker and couldn’t get a better job.

  • I feel as though in every job you start out with, you’re going to suck at it in a way. Like describe in the article, “it’s easy to suck at your job.” Working at my first job, it was very easy to suck at it. What made it easy is not working smart at all. My first job was working in the food industry at In N Out burger. In N Out gets busy very quickly and you have to move quickly and think smart about what you’re doing. It all starts with the person taking orders.

    • Customers order in various ways, so the associate has to be smart and think carefully about how they run through orders. When the order goes back to the cooks, the cooks have to make each burger properly. Then the burgers have to get the correct amount of fresh fries so the customer can be sent with a great quality meal. It’s all about working smart the first time around so there won’t be any mess ups to redo any of the same steps or have complaints come around. It is easy to mess up by not paying attention.

      • When I was first starting at the job, I would make little mistakes frequently by not paying attention and not being careful. I thought I just sucked at working there. However, I started changing my attitude around. I started paying attention and working better as a team with my coworkers. I started working smarter and harder. It’s not about being your boss’s pet because you still can suck at your job which will be frustrating for your boss. You’ll succeed more by playing it smart.

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