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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  • avatar

    Melissa April 8, 2014, 12:00 am

    I really enjoyed reading this article. It has opened my eyes to think more out of the box. I work at an IT company that sells CRM software to businesses. I am there internal CRM System Admin. Day in and Day out, I am glued to the computer, making our CRM work better for our company (which has grown in double its size since I have been there within the year). I love my job and I love the people I work for and with.

    Every one of the 20 Things Your Boss Wants from You is what is expected at my place of employment. And I try to engage and act on every one to the best of my ability. And every time, every day, I am getting complimented on my job, what I do every day, my thinking process, my honest opinion, positive personality and the such.

    The CEO of the company, a young 40 year old man, also abides by these steps and ‘rules’. If he expects these 20 things to be act upon, he will do the same, giving that same respect back to his employees.

    I will be bookmarking this page. There is so much here that I and anyone can learn from on daily basis! At least a refresh or reminder!

  • avatar

    Chadley Perkins April 6, 2014, 4:08 pm

    It really is easy to suck at your job when you don’t know exactly what your boss wants from you. I know because I have completed entire jobs just to have the boss come over and say restart its all wrong.

  • avatar

    April Fitts April 6, 2014, 5:45 am

    I also sucked at my first job. I was too accustomed to being free and not used to being so controlled. I was fired for eating three minutes into my shift. Although I felt that everything was under control, I had rules to follow. Before I could break rules I had to master them, which I had not been able to do by that time. It took this day for me to learn that I wanted to live by an example, which pushed me to work harder at my next jobs than I did my first job. After I began to work better than the “old” me, I began to work to be better than my new coworkers. It takes exceptional coworkers that are above you to push you to your potential. This article helped me to reminisce on an important part of my life and to learn from it. Not only that, but it was good to know that I am not the only who sucked at their first job!

  • avatar

    CBJohnson March 19, 2014, 7:11 pm

    Many of the points or rules listed in this article are ones that I have had to use over the years. My first full-time job in the corporate world found me struggling to meet expectations. In order to keep my job after probation, I had to make a change, which meant becoming more aware of those expectations. As a buyer, at the time, this involved taking notes at every meeting and of all requests and sometimes reiterating those comments back to participants. Doing so helped to solidify my reputation as someone who understood and could meet deliverables. To this day, I always keep a notebook.

    As well, I found that when internal and external customers trusted my judgment and work ethic, positive comments trickled back to my respective boss. I have enjoyed the privilege of having four bosses who never worked in the same state or office as me, but because of my reputation has a reliable and hard worker, there was no need to constantly look over my shoulder. They understood that I took my job serious and knew the job inside and out.

    As the article stated, one of the most important rules I have learned over the years is to have a solutions to problems, otherwise it may come-off as a complaint or as whining. In fact, the first corporate company I worked for had a rule that if there was a problem, the individual bringing it to light had to have one or more solutions. This method helped to save time with brainstorming and to establish how well the individual understood his/her job. Yes, there was the potential for the person to ignore the problem, but eventually the issue could rear its head and affect other areas of business…leading back to the person who could have helped resolve the matter at the start.

  • avatar

    Lauren March 19, 2014, 5:38 pm

    I have found in my work experience that it is always best to go above and beyond your basic job description.
    Managers and supervisors love it when you can problem solve on your own, and are trustworthy to handle issues on your own. Be dependable by doing even the very basics consistently well. Take your position seriously, even if it is entry level. I have always taken the initiative to learn as much as I can so that it is easy for me to be promoted because I already learned how to do many of the advanced skills needed in that higher position. I see so many people in the workplace that want the money and higher title but are unwilling to do the work it takes to get there. Work hard, be dependable, always show honesty and integrity. These things will help you be very successful in whatever job you have.

  • avatar

    david neuberth March 17, 2014, 9:52 pm

    I liked reading this. It gives me a good mindset and makes me more aware. I will share this page with others and use these resources to help find myself a great job!

  • avatar

    karab March 16, 2014, 9:53 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article. It is so nice and refreshing to read advice that is naturally honest and practical. I definitely took a lot away from this piece and plan on putting the info to good use.

    I really related to the sections “2 habits that show you are trustworthy and mature” and “Want to be taken seriously? Do this”. I try to always be as up front and honest as possible. I will be the first to admit when I have made a mistake, and I do my best to fix it or come up with ideas to present as solutions.

    I think this article is a great read for someone struggling to gain popularity with their boss at work. This piece pointed me in the direction of book I plan on looking up titled, “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal”. There are many great lessons to be learned and plenty of room to grow.


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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.