Work 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 coworker Jean 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 work smart to 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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  • Joseph L

    In order to produce the best result, time, commitment, repetition, endurance and
    an array of additional skills are needed. These are characteristics that develop
    and become honed over years of application. Quality work ethic is not born, it
    is made. The best course of action to take when working for the first time, or
    for a new company, is to perform to the best of your ability consistently because
    your level of competence will increase with your level of consistency.


    All of these can be summarized into three big fold:

    1. Know your weakness and work work on it
    2. Understand your boss and work environment to become more productive
    3. Work with precision, have good communication skill, be able to handle stress and learn to multi task.
    Adding team work and great socialization skills to all of these will take you through even the most difficult time and task. Never be afraid to ask questions, because nobody is an island of knowledge.
    it is a huge learning point for me and this had improved my idea and enriched my understanding of effectiveness.

  • WalmanHq

    What i get out of this lesson is that one must work ‘with’ their boss, not ‘for’ them. This way, you gain more respect and credibility on the job both from your boss and your co-workers. At high school, i try to help my teacher out, let her/him know when something was wrong or not understandable so that we both benefited, instead of just letting it go or just agreeing with her/him all the time.

    Also, when it comes down to doing work on the job it is wise to make sure that work is something you love doing so that it doesn’t feel like work. Loving what you do boosts company moral as they see its employees having a great time and also boosts efficiency, with everyone readily helping out and doing the best they can, showing no hesitation to get started on a project.

  • annak

    It seems like society is teaching the millennials to spotlight their own achievements before understanding what is being asked of them, while on the job search. Personal “branding” has become the new buzz word sweeping across college campuses. My sorority has pushed this idea onto us and scrutinized those of us who see this matter differently. Eric Shannon highlights the issues that come with personal branding and I agree with his argument. While I think it is important to have a deep understanding of our strengths, I do not think creating a personal brand around them is necessary. Like Shannon, I believe that our employers would rather see an honest and sincere character who has a strong understanding of the job description, rather then someone who has spent an abundance of time building up their social media. Ultimately, your personality is going to be at the center of an interview, over your personal brand.

  • Kennedy Nicole

    This article couldn’t have been stated any better. When someone wants to be truly successful, it takes commitment, time, motivation, and a willingness to put in the work needed to get there. When I graduated high school in 2014, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and this scared me. I had gone through the motions of signing up for college classes with a four year college and declaring a major, but something just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel ready to commit to anything in the “adult world,” seeing as a month ago I was required to ask permission to use the bathroom. The transition shocked me, and I was actually very homesick when I left; something I did not expect.

    During that first semester in college, my roommate told me about a ten-Saturday certification program for Dental Assisting. After a lot of thinking, researching and talking with my family, I finally decided to transfer to a technical college close to home after my first semester, and also attend this ten-Saturday program to help figure myself out.

    I began the program during winter break of 2014, and I had never been more relieved. The instructors were so understanding and helpful, along with the other students. I caught on really quickly, studied the dental field more and aced all my tests. I was, and still am, confident that I chose the right thing because now I have been employed as a full-time Dental Assistant for over a year (promoted to Lead DA after six months), therefore, gaining more and more experience every day. I have also been accepted into the Dental Hygiene program at Northcentral Technical College come this fall. I can’t wait to further my career and become a Dental Hygienist!

  • Sgold

    In this article, I can relate to how being successful at work is all about making your boss happy. You need to show them only your good side, but you also need to be able to let loose and show them that you have your own ways of doing things that are efficient and get things done.

    The 20 things your boss wants from you are very helpful, even though they seem like the most simple things, you forget to do these kinds of things if you don’t think about it. These are all good tips to keep in mind for part-time jobs and full-time jobs. I will be keeping these tips in mind as i pursue my degree.

  • Gonza110795

    After graduating high school I didn’t choose to go straight to college. I ended up working at a local Walgreens store with the hopes of saving as much money as i possibly could for either a car or for tuition just in case I went to college. When I first started it was quite the learning experience. I tried to present myself as best I could and was willing to learn all that I could to be a great employee. It took a while for me to really get the hang of things and at first I was so worried about impressing my managers that I lost sight of what made me great in the first place.

    I remember the days where i’d try my absolute best, but things just wouldn’t work out and I felt as though the other workers were just so much better. After about a month or so my manger scheduled me to be on the floor. I was no longer working the front register and I took advantage. Putting stock away, helping customers, covering breaks, and even working photo came naturally to me. I accomplished my tasks with speed and efficiency. I was working at what I believed was a normal pace. However, my mangers thought I was working at an incredible pace that they had not been used to. I eventually became one of the better workers at that particular Walgreens and till this day those same managers will continue to let me know that if I ever needed a job, they’d welcome me with open arms.

    I guess what I learned from working at Walgreens was that I shouldn’t be afraid of adapting. I didn’t care about being the boss’ pet. All I knew how to do was, accomplish my tasks as best I could. My managers didn’t want to spend too much time teaching me and that was fine. I was often times thrown into new situations and handled them pretty well. Working there helped me understand what it takes to be a great employee and this article reminds me greatly of the time I spent as an employee at Walgreens.

  • Jason Reyes

    Honestly, i found this article to be uninteresting and lacking in any ability to teach the reader anything new. This article simply tries to teach the reader how to succeed in certain situations, where as I would rather learn how to succeed based on what I can do and how everyone has the potential to achieve any goal they want at their job through merit. As someone who has gotten jobs, scholarships, and acceptance into college sole based on merit I want to know what I have achieved cannot be obtained through mere shortcuts. The way I see it is that there is no better boss for ones own success the amount of competent work that persons put into any job, assignment, or other objective they may have at the moment.
    Please excuse me if I insulted anyone in anyway with my thoughts 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.