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!
  4. Have questions not answered here? Please ask.
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  • Alexis D

    I am really glad that I took the time out to read this article. I feel that it gives great incite on the real world. I also feel as though I can relate to the author. At 16 years old I finally got my first job, but it didn’t last long. With it being my first job I had all types of mixed emotions, I was excited yet scared and nervous because it seemed as though I was just out their with minimal training. After about a week working there I was called into my manager’s office and told that I was taken off the schedule (basically fired) because I didn’t “look” happy. Apparently it seemed that i was always mad because of how I looked. I was completely upset and disappointed. After a few months I found a new job and I learned from my first job what I should and shouldn’t do.

  • Morgan55555

    I especially appreciated the author’s message on avoiding personal branding and instead focusing on being “honest and sincere.” I feel too often that people are seeking quick, cure-alls for their problems, which in this case would be being successful in their jobs. Many times, people (myself included) overlook the fact that honesty and sincerity will go much farther than manipulation and can apply to anyone in any situation, whether seeking a job, a friend, or personal happiness.

  • beahanson

    Its important to work smart and be effective. If you work in a mediocre manner you will get mediocre results that no one wants. Work your best and you’ll get the good results you want.

  • Shakira Shiver

    I can relate to this in that I was always taught by my mother to work smart. She also explained to me that, nothing in this world is given to you, sometimes you have to take it. Luckily I have the same go getter personality as my mom and I’m also a people person so it isn’t hard to have people like me without kissing butt.

    For example the summer after graduating high school I was having a hard time trying to find a job. I did everything I could possibly do, I met the managers, applied on time and the same day, called back in a week, etc. I realized, maybe I’m not the only one doing these things and this is why noone wants me. I’m just going by the book but not showing them who I truly am.

    I had to change the game from the normal job search. Most of my jobs were in retail and that is what I had applied to collegd for so instead of trying to make a boring name for myself by following the book and what not, I decided to take my resume and the application and put it into a sort of creative fashion magazine cover and back with things that represented me. Before I knew it I started getting many call backs. I was a little shocked because I took a professional risk by putting myself out there in that way.

    I ended up being hired at a shoe store, my manager explained to me that she had never been approached with something so creative and genuine, she knew she had the best employee from that one risk. I am a sophomore in college now and she still speaks good words on me and so do the other people form the jobs that I got call backs from. I built relationships, I thought outside of the box but for the best part I thought smart.

  • Ashamanasha

    The same thing that happened to Eric happened to me when I first started working. My boss didn’t really teach me how to do most of the stuff, I had to pick up on some things on my own. It was my first job in retail so I wasn’t as polished as my other coworkers and was looked down upon, and I hated it.

    I started to watch, learn, and execute the duties of the job even before being asked to. I went from sucking and being the slowest to being someone that trained the new people.

    Working smart was hard to while balancing school, but once I put my mind to it and realized others, including my boss, noticed my progress, it was worth it.

  • Nicolas Munoz

    This article covered important roles in maintaining and succeeding in any job.Many fail to see the constant juggle and the need for attention a job requires. As a student who also works in the medical field im always juggling both. Work is a well tune machine which requires time to figure out the sequence of what works and what dose not. This article gives you all major sources of what you must focus on to succeed personality, bosses likes, expectations etc. This article will prove to be an asset for any one seeking to further or main tain their job and or profession.

  • Kevin Lim

    In this competitive world, more business company are searching employee that is not just have a certification, but most importantly the attitude of the person as well. This article reminds me that everybody is unique but we have to find a way to make ourself outstanding compare to other competitors.

  • Lizzyt5

    I honestly wish I could have read this article right before I started my first job. When I was hired for my first job I was extremely nervous about making sure I was doing everything I needed to do in order to keep management satisfied. The tips about what your boss wants from you, I found to be very helpful. Although, I have created a great professional relationship with my boss over time, these tips will help me maintain being on good terms with my boss.

  • Lauren Thorne

    Just because you have a certificate in your hand and have gotten your degree does not ensure you that you will be successful. Many people graduate in a field in which they will never use again. Going to college is more than just getting a degree. It’s about learning how to evolve as a person and adapt to surroundings while learning at a quick pace. You go to college to enhance your people skills, communication, and network. This was a great reminder to not forget about the other important aspects needed to be successful.

  • JaneDoe

    Just like the person below said. Having a degree doesn’t mean anything. I think that its more to what you do with it; like where you put your knowledge in getting this little pierce of paper.

  • Alexis Redd

    This article shows me a lot about myself and others who I have encountered in the workplace. I feel that although I have not had a lot of experience in my field, this less shows me what to do and look for in the future. I will share this with many friends and hope to spread the word. There is nothing more important than students working towards the future.

  • Clinton Moore-Richardson

    I gathered from this article that the key to success in a job is being good at what you do and what your boss expects from you. It also helps to be as honest as possible, follow the rules and stay up to date with the information you need on the job. Personally I have been trying and failing to get a summer job recently and perhaps this article is the answer to my questions. I will try these methods and hopefully will find my job search more fruitful. chosen for top 75 websites for your career

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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.