When I dove into the work force fresh out of school, I was hungry for challenge and eager to climb the ladder. I was chock full of my own ideas about how the business world worked and how I was going to be a rock star in my new job. In all my excitement, I was oblivious to the politics and culture all around me. Something was definitely missing and I couldn't quite figure it out.
Now five years out of school, the most important lesson I've learned that I wish I had known much earlier is something I like to call the 3 L's; Look. Listen. Learn. I know you're thinking this is nothing you haven't heard before and your multi-tasking mind is already moving to the next paragraph. But I really want you to understand what I mean here…so slow down and read carefully.
Watch those around you. Who is in high favor by superiors and why? Who is proactive and volunteering for seemingly everything? How are people interacting with each other? Who holds the power and drives innovation? You can learn a lot from simply watching people. Sometimes the biggest influencers are your peers or the guy in the cubicle next to you. It won't take long to draw the line between the ladder climbers and the laggards pretty quickly. Join the proactive pack and follow their example.
The way people communicate is directly tied to perception. Great leaders are charismatic and speak with poise, authority and brilliance. Think President Obama, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington. Apple is in the position it is today because of Jobs' ability to humanize technology. The average Joe can have and talk about an iPhone without being a tech nerd. Now think about people in your life -- a favorite professor, your favorite uncle, the class president at your university -- watch how they speak to people and how they get concepts across. See an interesting article you can't get out of your head? Pay attention to how that story was told. You will go much farther, faster if you are nimble and can learn from simple conversations and speaking styles.
Looking and Listening are pointless if you don't learn from your observations and progress as a professional. This is the point where your "education" must lead to action. You will be surprised how co-workers will see you in a new light and more readily forget you are a young buck just entering the industry. You can be the "C student" and just chug along in your job, thinking you know it all and hoping that will be enough to get you that raise. OR you can look and listen and jump to the front of the line, leaving those around you clueless as to how you became so brilliant.
About the Author
As the senior marketing analyst at Yahoo, Sarah is responsible for the implementation of audience-centric research solutions, including 'mom research' and insights around women and consumer packaged goods. Prior to joining Yahoo, Sarah was involved in the digital industry for several years, with experience not only on the publisher side but also on the digital agency side; strategizing with the likes of MediaCom and Carat on their audience segmentation analysis. Sarah recieved a Bachelor's degree in Advertising & Marketing from Drake University in 2007, and currently resides in New York City. She also is involved in industry organizations The Ad Club of New York and Advertising Women of New York (AWNY).