1. “Following up” and “staying on” people is key.
This is probably the most valuable skill that younger people can have, being able to stay on top of people and “riding” them until you get what they promised you (in the nicest, least annoying way). This is both an art and skill that you become better at with time, but ultimately understand that your fear of being annoying/aggressive should be outweighed with the fact that your ass is on the line for something that an outside vendor or team member is supposed to get you. Also, trust that those who have been in business for longer than you fully expect you to check in and don’t get annoyed by your follow up emails. If anything, it helps remind them that they owe you something and may get it shot up to first priority on their to-do list. Just make sure you get them whatever they need to complete their job (i.e., the ball should always be in their court – think of work as a big game of “hot potato” where you should never be the hold up of something not getting done).
2. Everyone gets mad at everybody.
Business requires a great deal of friction and conflict tolerance, and the earlier on you accept this, the easier life will be. I have gotten better at conflict management and resolution throughout the years, but this was a tough pill I just recently swallowed – understanding that you will never please everyone, no matter how hard you try to keep everyone happy.
3. Confirmation bias is both your best friend and worst enemy.
Confirmation bias is the phenomenon observed where people have internally noted something about you, and everything that you do subsequent to that note is observed through the lenses of confirming their initial thought/suspicion about you. Confirmation bias is exactly why first impressions are so critical, in establishing that positive connection with someone. If you ignore someone (whether intentionally or unintentionally – see 6 below), but only later begin to realize they are important in the political structure of your organization and you start talking with them, trust that this person has already formed an opinion about you, and everything will be an uphill battle for you there. Studies have noted that confirmation bias makes it hard for people to change their minds (and often unfortunately go hand in hand with a subconscious level of racial discrimination), and so you will want to make sure you do everything in your power to ensure people think positively about you. But note that confirmation bias can work to your advantage, in that if someone already likes you from your initial meeting, they will fill in those gaps of missing information with positive inferences.
4. Perception and impression management is everything.
One of the reasons why “face time” exists is for perception purposes. It used to frustrate me that I could not walk into my office with flip flops or leave before 5:30pm during my summer internship, but I knew that people would form rapid judgments about me if I did. You want people to automatically associate the words “assiduous” and “industrious” and “hard-working” with your name, instead of the slacker who peaces out at 4pm on most days. Sometimes, I would go to the extreme of impression management by deliberately leaving my office around 4:45pm to get some Starbucks coffee, and I would “bump into” partners of my firm leaving for their 5pm Metra trains on my way back in, who automatically inferred that I had a late night ahead of me. Sometimes this was true, sometimes this was false. Also relating to perception, be careful with what you put in emails. Know that every email that you send with your company’s signature block can be distributed, forwarded, and sent around and make you (and the company) look bad.
5. Trust is slow to build, but easy to break.
Just like in any relationship, trust is something that is formed over time. The minute that you bring someone into an email exchange by cc-ing a superior or do something else that shatters the faith someone had in you, is the minute that trust is lost. While you can attempt to regain that level of trust in someone by slowly making mends, understand that once trust is lost, it is almost impossible to get back.
6. People can be unforgiving.
In business, people are expected to make quick decisions, and those quick decisions are easier to make if you piss them off somehow. If you do a single incident that damages your relationship with someone, best of luck trying to repair that one. Just like the “eggshell plaintiff” that you learn about in law school, you will have to assume that the people you do business with have the highest sensitivities and thus hold the longest memories. Be wary of this fact before you do anything that might irreparably damage your relationship with somebody (unless, of course, you are strategically doing so to never interact with them again).
7. As the underling, you are expected to know the secret “lowest-on-the-totem-pole” code of conduct.
Like the fact that you are the one dials the group into the conference call, the person who prints and distributes the agenda for everyone prepping them for the call, and the person who sends around calendar invites to your team members. Also, the fact that you should re-send, re-forward, and re-circulate emails to more senior people on your team, in case their inbox is overflowing and they need some guidance from you.
8. Be nice to EVERYONE.
Don’t be selectively nice to those who you “need” to be nice to. Word spreads like wildfire, and if you are snotty with a receptionist before an interview, trust the receptionist will soon tell Billy in the copy room, who then in turn will make a comment to an associate Amanda on the hiring committee while dropping off mail, who will then let the hiring partner Hal know this information at the next committee/Board meeting. Before you know it, you will not get an offer due to your inability to abide by this simple golden rule.
9. You will need people to have your back.
If people like you, they will have your back. If people don’t like you, they won’t have your back. “Having your back” means that people will fight for you to stick around or if any question arises where fault or blame needs to be allocated/assigned, others will step up and defend your honor. Sounds cheesy, but this is something that I definitely was unaware of in my first job experience. Even if you report to just one person, understand that those around you who also report to the same person have influential pull to shape the impression that your boss has of you. So don’t make the mistake of only caring to please that one person you report to – you should be aware that your actions to other members of your team will play a role in whether you get promoted or not.