Over the course of your career, you will inevitably face tricky situations that can affect your ability to thrive and advance at work. Knowing how to respond to a problematic colleague or a micromanaging boss or when to ask for a raise, can be challenging unless you have an experienced advisor. Luckily career expert Jenny Foss is here to help with this sweeping guide to workplace issues. Her dos and don’ts act as a virtual mentor in your pocket, offering tips that will enable you to handle a range of commonplace, yet difficult-to-navigate workplace dilemmas, from co-worker dramas to the quest for a promotion.
- Find a job that fits your skills closely enough – don’t wait for perfection.
- Make a great impression on your first day – don’t wear the wrong clothing or fail to ask necessary questions.
- Set healthy boundaries with your boss – don’t be a pushover.
- Avoid toxic co-worker dynamics – don’t be exclusionary or let yourself be bullied.
- Be helpful to your co-workers – don’t become overbearing.
- Be proactive about getting a promotion – don’t wait for someone to offer you a raise.
- Inspire your team with your leadership skills – don’t micromanage.
- Stay open to changing careers – don’t stay in a job that isn’t right for you.
Find a job that fits your skills closely enough – don’t wait for perfection.
Searching for a new job or trying to get started in a new career is daunting. People generally want a role that fits their skills and fulfills their career aspirations. As you examine job postings, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can land your dream role without meeting the position’s basic requirements – of course, you won’t get a job as a lawyer if you lack a law degree – but also don’t set the bar too high.
For instance, perhaps you see an interesting job notice, but your skills don’t align perfectly with all the items the employer lists. Don’t give up just yet. If you meet at least 70% of the skills required, then you are most likely a good fit for the job. To demonstrate your potential to the employer, rewrite your resume and cover letter to emphasize why you are a good candidate for this particular role. For instance, maybe you’ve never been a formal project manager, but you can point to projects you’ve managed. Change keywords in your resume to match the online posting, such as rephrasing “client relations” as “customer service skills.”
“It’s unlikely that any applicant is a perfect fit, so remind yourself that you have as much of a right to apply as any other candidate.”
Also, consider finding someone within the hiring company who can vouch for your expertise. Asking for an informational interview – a brief, informal chat with someone in a role that interests you – can be a good way to make helpful connections within a specific company or industry. If you lack the job listing’s major requirements, but still want to pursue that kind of job, then think about ways to acquire the requisite skills. This could mean taking an entry level position at the company to gain relevant experience or going back to school.
Make a great impression on your first day – don’t wear the wrong clothing or fail to ask necessary questions.
Once you’ve landed your new job, prioritize making a good first impression. If you want your new colleagues to take you seriously, look your best and exude professionalism from day one.
If you feel uncertain about what kind of outfit will help you accomplish these goals, seek advice. Ask your recruiter, mentor or trusted colleagues about the office dress code. Pay attention to what your co-workers wear by checking their LinkedIn profiles or considering what people were wearing during your interview. Select something comfortable that you can tweak to look more or less formal, as needed – a blazer you can put on or take off, for instance. Even if you don’t have a lot of money for clothes, don’t choose something just because it’s inexpensive. Make sure what you wear fits well and looks polished.
“If you’re comfortable and dressed in a way that is a match for your industry/company, you’ll be fine.”
Another part of making a good first impression involves connecting with your co-workers and boss and determining their expectations. You want to appear approachable and competent. Introduce yourself to your new colleagues. Ask them about their preferred communication channels, their hobbies and why they chose to work at the company. Don’t get sucked into office drama. Avoid gossip, conflict, political discussions or anything too personal. Ask your boss about his or her goals for your position, and make sure you understand which performance metrics will apply to your work. Get this information in writing, if possible, and don’t rely on secondhand information or heresay.
Set healthy boundaries with your boss – don’t be a pushover.
While you want good rapport with your boss, don’t get carried away and let him or her walk all over you. If your boss makes a decision that impedes your workflow, discuss the situation thoughtfully with the boss instead of complaining to your co-workers. For example, perhaps you like to check in with your clients at the end of the day, but your boss decides to add more meetings during that time. Now you have a conflict. Don’t respond emotionally or take your boss’s decisions personally. Instead, prepare an alternative solution to present to the boss when you meet to discuss the issue.
“Even if it’s a difficult conversation, having it directly with your manager is the better choice.”
Good communication will help you set healthy boundaries with your boss. That’s especially necessary if your manager assigns you too many extra tasks. For example, say your job involves handling client relations, but your boss keeps making you attend sales meetings and complete sales reports. In any job, you might occasionally have to do tasks that fall outside your job description, but if that overload becomes a regular thing, you need to speak up.
To put your boundaries back in place, take these steps:
- Set a meeting with your boss to clarify exactly which responsibilities are listed in your job description.
- Present a list of all the extra tasks you’ve been doing alongside your regular responsibilities.
- Clarify which tasks are the best use of your time and expertise.
- Argue for a raise if your boss insists that you continue to complete extra work.
If you find yourself dealing with a boss who refuses to allow you to set healthy boundaries, you will need to be more proactive. Such bosses are usually the ones who micromanage, have unrealistic expectations for their employees or act inappropriately with their staff. If you’ve tried discussing such issues with your boss and, if necessary, conferred with HR, but nothing has changed, then consider looking for a new job. Don’t apologize for leaving, and don’t over-explain your decision. Say “thank you for the opportunity,” keep your resignation letter professional and move on.
Avoid toxic co-worker dynamics – don’t be exclusionary or let yourself be bullied.
Sadly, damaging high-school type social behaviors like forming cliques or bullying often carry over into office culture. In fact, according to the Workplace Bully Institute, 30% of people experience bullying at work or feel ostracized by office cliques at some point in their career. This type of behavior can disrupt a company’s workflow and damage employees’ mental health and sense of psychological safety, among other problems.
Don’t let yourself get pulled into a clique. If you adopt an exclusionary perspective, you make yourself more likely to miss out on exciting opportunities and diverse viewpoints. Be polite, professional and friendly with everyone in the office.
“Being an outsider might just be a great thing.”
If your co-workers actively undermine you, or you encounter an office bully, don’t just ignore the problem or get angry. Address it productively by taking these steps:
- Document each transgression and, if necessary, send your notes to human resources.
- Avoid giving bad actors information they can use against you.
- Confront the negative behavior immediately: “Why didn’t you tell me our boss needed this by Wednesday?”
- Communicate your boundaries by stating your viewpoint. For example, you can say, “Please don’t speak to me that way.”
- Prioritize your mental health. Stand up for yourself. If you are suffering a negative impact, find a good therapist or a different job, or both.
Don’t let toxic people stop you from doing your job. Keep your boss informed of any workplace problems, and turn to HR to help you resolve issues.
Be helpful to your co-workers – don’t become overbearing.
Being friendly and helpful to your colleagues is a great way to boost your team’s productivity, make friends and increase office morale. For instance, if you’ve worked at your company for a while, you might offer to help onboard new employees. Show them around the office, share your favorite lunch spots and teach them about the office quirks, such as how to deal with the temperamental printer. Don’t be overbearing, however. Let them settle in at their own pace.
“Most of us still want great friends, and we spend a lot of time at the office.”
As you get older, and life gets busier, making new friends becomes more difficult. Professional boundaries at work, such as having limited time for small talk or having to tip-toe around sensitive topics or boss-employee dynamics, make it even more difficult to forge connections. Yet, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make friends with your co-workers.
Take things slowly and let relationships build up over time. Attend after-work social events such as happy hour at the local bar. Invite people to lunch. Don’t come on too strong or make other people feel uncomfortable. Some people don’t want to make friends at work, and you need to respect their personal boundaries, as well.
Be proactive about getting a promotion – don’t wait for someone to offer you a raise.
At some point in your career, you may decide you’d like to advance by becoming a manager. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to notice your potential. Leadership requires taking charge. If you want that promotion, show off your leadership skills and communicate your goals to your boss and your company’s executives.
“Don’t assume that the number of years you’ve been on the job automatically gives you the leg up when it comes to landing a management role.”
Follow these tips to take control of your upward mobility at work:
- Pay attention to your organization’s overall strategy, so you can determine how your expertise could help the company reach its goals.
- Make your bosses aware of the issues you’ve addressed in the past and of your ability to solve future problems.
- To boost your leadership skills, volunteer to lead team projects, fill in for other managers and mentor novice co-workers.
- Demonstrate that you are invested in creating a team that get results.
Although it may take a while for a management position to open up, keep showing up and doing your work. That’s the way to stay at the top of your boss’s list when it comes time to select someone for a promotion.
If and when you gain that new title, negotiate a raise that matches your new work load. Most people find it hard to ask for a raise, but it’s important not to let your emotions interfere. Back up your request with facts and data, such as performance reviews, progress reports and feedback from your team. Steadily demonstrate your value.
Inspire your team with your leadership skills – don’t micromanage.
Once you find yourself in the position of managing other people, it’s up to you to motivate your employees and inspire great work. First, bring everyone together and get them on the same page. Just as athletic coaches rally their teams before big games, you must unify your team members and get them excited about meeting the team’s challenges.
Be clear about team goals, but don’t micromanage how your people accomplish their tasks. Use your position to provide your team members with the resources they need to succeed, then let them get the job done. Step in only if it becomes clear that they need more guidance or support. Help your team members resolve conflicts in an open, professional manner. Don’t take sides. And always praise and reward team members when they succeed.
“Being a successful manager means thinking of the greater good as much as possible.”
Remember that everyone makes mistakes. Don’t demand perfection from your team; it’s not realistic. Stay flexible whenever possible. Help your team members manage the other demands on their time, like family needs or health issues. Prioritize their professional development. Your kindness and understanding help keep your team members working hard and feeling content and happy. This is especially important in circumstances where staff members’ feelings of being disconnected are more likely to flourish, such as in an all-remote work environment.
Stay open to changing careers – don’t stay in a job that isn’t right for you.
Making a success of your career takes countless hours, hard work and many sacrifices. What happens if, somewhere along the path, you discover that you no longer like your career? Do you just throw away all your hard work?
“You’re simply not trapped (unless you tell yourself you are).”
Before you decide to pivot careers completely, determine whether your feelings are fleeting or permanent. For example, do you just dislike this particular boss or do the company’s values no longer mesh with yours? If your urge to leave persists, and you become certain that your job is no longer the right fit, then take sufficient time to search carefully for a better one. Don’t act impulsively, or you could end up in the same predicament again.
Research other fields, and ask people working in industries that interest you what they like about their jobs. Gain as much information as possible about each career you may want to pivot to before making a decision. Try shadowing someone, if you can, to gain real world experience in a potential position.
One way to make a career shift is to consider changing departments at your current company. For example, you could go from sales to client relations if you feel that that might be a better fit. Talk to friends, family members and colleagues who have gone through a career pivot.
The more information you can gather, the better chance you will have of advancing in your current position or finding the right new path.
About the Author
Jenny Foss is a career recruiter and CEO of JobJenny.com.
Jenny Foss’s book, “Do This, Not That: Career,” is a comprehensive guide that offers practical advice and strategies for navigating challenging workplace situations. With a focus on providing actionable solutions, Foss presents a wealth of knowledge and experience to help readers effectively handle various professional dilemmas they may encounter.
The book is divided into 75+ chapters, each addressing a specific difficult workplace situation. Foss’s writing style is concise, direct, and accessible, making it easy for readers to grasp the key concepts and apply them to their own careers. The organization of the book allows readers to quickly locate relevant sections based on their current or anticipated challenges.
One of the strengths of this book is Foss’s ability to present both sides of each situation. She outlines what to do and what not to do, providing readers with a clear understanding of the potential consequences of their actions. By highlighting common pitfalls and offering alternative approaches, Foss helps readers make informed decisions that can positively impact their professional growth.
Throughout the book, Foss emphasizes the importance of effective communication and interpersonal skills. She encourages readers to be proactive in their careers, offering guidance on how to approach difficult conversations with colleagues, managers, and clients. By providing practical examples and real-life scenarios, Foss equips readers with the tools they need to navigate conflicts, negotiate job offers, and handle performance reviews.
Another valuable aspect of Foss’s book is her emphasis on personal branding and self-presentation. She stresses the significance of building a strong professional reputation and offers insights on how to develop a compelling resume, optimize social media profiles, and create a positive online presence. These sections are particularly relevant in today’s digital age, where one’s online image can greatly impact career opportunities.
Additionally, Foss addresses various workplace dynamics, such as managing difficult coworkers, dealing with office politics, and handling work-life balance. She provides practical strategies for maintaining professional relationships, managing stress, and setting boundaries to ensure long-term career satisfaction.
While the book covers a wide range of workplace situations, some readers may find that certain topics are not directly applicable to their specific circumstances. However, the comprehensive nature of the book ensures that most readers will find valuable insights and advice that can be applied to their professional lives.
In conclusion, “Do This, Not That: Career” by Jenny Foss is a highly informative and practical resource for individuals navigating the complexities of the modern workplace. Foss’s expertise shines through in her clear and concise writing, providing readers with a roadmap to effectively handle challenging situations and achieve long-term career success. Whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced professional, this book offers valuable insights and actionable strategies that can help you thrive in your chosen career path.