#1: Dealing with your Boss
Think of yourself as a “black box”. A black box is something that takes some inputs from someone else, deals with all of the complicated BS out of sight by themselves, and comes back with useful and straightforward outputs. An example of a “black box” is Uber… you press a button and a car shows up to take you somewhere. All of the complexity is hidden from the end-user. That’s how you should be when it comes to your work. Your boss will explain what they want from you, answer the questions you have, and then you should come back in a day or two with the concise (and correct) byproducts of your work. Spare your boss the complexity. That’s why they hired you in the first place.
With that being said, don’t take this too literally. If you’re legitimately stumped about how to deal with a problem, it’s better to talk through it with your boss than to sweat it out on your own for 2 weeks and end up disappointing everybody. The “don’t bring me problems without solutions” rule can be broken semi-frequently as long as you’re not doing it every day.
Ask questions about anything you’re not crystal-clear about. What you want to avoid is 1) not asking questions when you should, and 2) asking the same question over and over because you didn’t fully internalize the answer. Asking tons of questions but never really repeating a question — because you are starting to get it — is best.
Don’t take hard feedback personally or emotionally. It’s just business.
Never make your boss look stupid in front of other people.
#2: Communication Skills
Learn when to use e-mail / when to use the phone / when to talk face-to-face. In general, e-mail is better for topics that contain a lot of minutiae, need to be documented somewhere for future reference, and not emotionally charged. Phone and face-to-face are better for dissolving conflict.
NEVER send an e-mail when you’re in a highly emotional state. Take a walk.
Absolutely, positively, no racist / sexist / homophobic jokes. Never.
Shut up when you’re in hallways and bathrooms. People are listening. Nosy people loooooove to snitch on the 22-year-olds for saying something inappropriate while they’re gossiping in a place that they think is private.
When speaking in meetings, get to the point in the first or second sentence. Young people often feel pressure to drone on and on to give evidence that they’ve put work and thought into whatever they’re about to say. Don’t do that.
Be an A+ listener. Often the best way to move up is to be the person that your boss (or boss’s boss) vents to about stuff that’s vexing them, even if it’s just to have another warm body in the room while they say it.
Adding to the previous point… keep your eyes away from the laptop during group meetings. Be attentive, or you might miss something really important.
#3: Dealing with Coworkers
Your #1 job around coworkers is to be likable. Be nice. Don’t come off like a brown-noser. Be generally enthusiastic about your job but not a slave to the corporate machine.
Don’t talk badly about anybody that’s not around. You should deliver negative feedback in private, and positive feedback when around others. Just be nice. Be chill.
Learn Excel & Powerpoint better than everyone else on your team. If you’re super good at it, people will start pulling you into meetings and projects that utilize those skills, and that gets you access to the most interesting information and the best projects.
At office parties, drink exactly 50% as much booze as the average attendee. You can accomplish this by slyly leaving your half-drunk beers on tables or the bar.
Mentors are good. If you can find somebody to show you the ropes and give you useful advice about your career, it’s usually a good idea to build a mutually beneficial alliance with that person. However… be careful about this. Some people are not good role models. Some advice from older people might be outdated (e.g. what they’re suggesting made sense when they were your age in 1997, but for whatever reason the cultural or technological environment has rendered that approach useless). It’s not useful to have a tight mentor/mentee relationship with somebody who is not well-respected in the organization. And even with people who are generally good mentors, all of their advice exists in the context of the particular lens with which they view the world, including cognitive biases and prejudices and emotional blind spots and so on. So while you should always listen to their advice, you alone have to decide whether or not to implement it, and the answer to that question isn’t always “yes”.