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.
Email This Page
Print Friendly

  • Rebekah Cowan

    What I gathered from the article is most colleges do not prepare you for what you will encounter in the real world of jobs. I do believe though that there are schools out there that do prepare you quite well for when you do get hired. The college that I attend puts you right into the action as a freshmen in the first semester. I am an education major and have been in the schools since day one of my freshmen year. This has allowed me to make a decision on if this was something I would like to do for the rest of my life as well as given me the confidence to go out into the work force and be a great teacher. I do not feel as tough I will be blind sided by expectations or overwhelmed because my school has adequately prepared me.

  • Carrielynn Hawkins

    I have learned from this that your boss doesn’t want someone who is asking them a million times how to do something they want you to be able to solve some problems on your own. I have also learned that if you make a mistake say you made it. Its better than trying to blame someone else. Its easier to admit your mistakes and learn from them than to pass them on to someone else. Don’t be afraid to bring up the subject of doing something that is not in the plan that may save time and money the worst they can say is no or they could even say yes.

  • kreye004

    This article is very insightful and helpful. What the writer is saying appears to be that being successful in the work place takes more work than just the work of the job. People skills, communication skills, the ability to self teach and/or learn quickly, and being sincere are included in the work. Being kind and amiable is also important, but kissing butt is not. Take criticism well; learn from mistakes and do not repeat the same error. Learn to find your own mistakes without being told them, and fix them pronto. Fully listen when someone, especially your boss, is talking, even if you think you know what they have to say. Wait your turn to speak without interrupting, and don’t take up to much of the conversation.

    Most all of the advice in this article makes sense. Although much of it seems like common knowledge, many people are lacking and should evaluate themselves and their work ethic. At least this has been my experience. Even previous managers appear to lack discipline and proper etiquette. I have worked with a people that do the bare minimum or average, and only a few that have gone above average to stand out. I like to think that I, personally, fall under the latter, for I do have good references from my previous employers.

    Nobody enjoys whiners, do-nothing-ers, and brown-nosers. Succeeding in the work place requires hard work, but is not impossible. With or without a college education, your boss will expect you to work hard. Do not disappoint him/her.

  • kaitlynn

    I think that being effective at the job is both the most important characteristic in a worker and the most rewarding factor, as well. I currently work in retail, and I have been since high school – that’s almost six years! I have seen many different managers, and all of which have given no direction in what they want, some lack degrees, and all have poorly managed. However, I have learned that by having good work ethic, being efficient and on-time, and learning how to multi-task are what make me an asset to a company. Not because of great management molding me into the perfect employee. I also think that creating your “own brand” is pointless, and yet required at the same time. Ideally, your work ethic should define what position you get, if you get promoted, and your pay rate. However, in the real world, what defines all this is who you know, who you suck up to, and what you market yourself as. You have to WOW the people who interview you, you have to go to college (because that’s what everyone else it doing and you need to put something on your resume to even get the interview), and you have to make yourself stand out – or you’ll fade away. Therefore, it is my strong belief that you have to be both efficient and claim your own signature to make it in the world today. chosen for top 75 websites for your career

Follow JustJobs on Twittervisit our facebook pagesubscribe with RSSFollow Me on Pinterest

Job Search

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.