The complete career guide to working 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 (evil) coworker had blamed me for missing her deadline.

What I learned working for Michael and in the last 15 years hiring and managing my own team will help you 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 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. 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.

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  • Fee

    As a mother of three, and someone who has just recently stepped back into the working world only a few months ago, I take this article to heart. Before I decided to become a stay at home parent, I was a full time employee and someone no one ever questioned was a bad employee. I was fast, and efficient, which made my bosses respect me even more. If there was ever any issues, I could answer them with no problem. I have been out of commission for the last 2 years and coming back into this world feels so different. Although I have always been a hard worker, I find that many people are just happy being employed. However, I notice that there are several companies with high turnover rates which is definitely something to look out for when searching for a job. When I went in for interviews, and there were plenty, I found that the companies that many companies wanted someone they could train or at least someone that was flexible. But just as they studied me, my body language and my knowledge of the job, I studied them as well and had just as many questions if not more for them than they had for me. I think in turn it paid off because not only did i get the job I desired, I got a job that I genuinely enjoy. Now onto to the next thing, my JOB. Now that I am working, I notice how vigilant managers can be, especially since they know I am “fresh from home”. The first few weeks at my job I quickly became annoyed at how closely my work was watched. I discussed this with my manager and they were actually very understanding and allowed me to work independently and even started offering me more hours (I work part time so this is a good thing). Managers respect you more when they find that you are willing to do the work effectively and efficiently and are capable of doing it on your own.

  • T Lockwood

    So true! In today’s fast paced world employers appreciate a person that is self motivated and accepts instruction BUT can carry out the task without a lot of supervision. Education and ethics go a long way! I have always enjoyed listening to my employers requirements and commiting to meet or exceed their expectations!

  • Anna Marie Hope

    I have come to notice that even though you may have had things always come easy to you while growing up, that does not mean it will always be the case. You will have to work hard, and things will come at fault to you. But you have to work through it and come out stronger. Learn from your mistakes, and do not be scared to do something extraordinary because that may be one of the key factors that makes you more qualified for job positions than others, you have to go with your gut and work to be the best.

  • Keilly Comix

    It is very interesting to know that not evening going to the best schools in the country can get you a job. I pretty much had found that out myself growing up. I personally believe that even going to a 4 year school cannot guarantee you a career. It’s all about the effort you put into to pursuing that job and the techniques you use. There will always be competition but does not mean it will be impossible.

  • Delanio

    I like what is done here, My major is currently Political Science, and i’m wanting a pre-law feel, but the type of law i’m going into is corporate. So I will be changing my major to Business Marking very soon. I want to be taking seriously in my job and or work space and hope its fun and that everyone can enjoy it. I am very passionate about law and a few of these key points I make the way i feel about work, and working in and with bigger and large organizations.

  • JessAce

    This article had a lot of useful information. When trying to make a name for yourself as the new person in the company, there are several factors that will come into play. The degree, skill set and personality helped to gain the job, but now what? Continue growth, pay attention to details, continue to learn from mistakes made, be sincere in your faults and in your appreciation of those you work with. Have enough confidence in yourself to keep moving forward in your company but do not make a name for yourself by throwing your coworkers under the bus in order to get there. At the end of the day, be better today than you were yesterday.

  • espy213

    I have had only one job in my life. The biggest turning point for that job was before I even started. When I went in for my interview with the manager and assistant manager (did not know who they were until I got there) I was completely nervous. I took the advice my mom gave me: take a deep breath and be yourself. I am pretty open-minded and communicate ideas very easily when I shake the nervousness.

    During the interview, I realized there were certain questions I did not know the answer to because of lack of experience. I simply stated that fact and they wrote down comments. I thought that the worst they could do is say no. I continued to be honest instead of painting a picture of a model employee. At the end they said they would try me out with a seasonal position. I was not really picky since I lacked experience anyway.
    The salary was discussed next. I was expecting the bare minimum. I got $2 more than minimum wage. They said they were impressed with my honest and winning personality. They said I sounded excited and fun. Like I said, I was just being myself. First interview and I nailed it. With the giant smile I had on my face and the trembling excitement, I left the room stoked.

    When the season ended, my manager called me disappointed. He said unfortunately the season was over and he had to let me (and the other seasonal employees) go. He then said to let him check the budget and see if he cannot make room on the permanent employee list for me. Unfortunately he couldn’t fit it in the budget. they were barely making budget as it is. He said he really enjoyed having me around from my out-of-the-box ideas to my will to perform task to the fullest and my great personality.

    He said I could call him for a reference anytime and that I was one of the best employees he’s ever had. I am not going to lie, I was on cloud nine after that comment. It jus goes to show that honesty wins over a** kissing just like the article states (in a more or less words). chosen for top 75 websites for your career

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WORK SMART - How to Land a Job at a Great Company and Get Promoted What would it be like to stop feeling blindsided by the job search process? To know what the person reading your resume you is thinking? To wake up feeling thrilled to be working for the company you want to work for?

You can do it with our new book 'WORK SMART - How to Land a Job at a Great Company and Get Promoted'. Click here to get WORK SMART now.

About the author


In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.