your pr career…What your College Coursework Doesn’t Teach you about Succeeding in the Workplace by Andi Wilmes

Moving up the ranks as an entry level employee and new pro can be a long and tough process. And if your university was anything like mine, it didn’t spend any time teaching the really – in my opinion – important stuff for surviving and flourishing in the workplace.  Sure I received a top notch Marketing degree, but I was not taught any real world business skills.

In the workplace, being smart and capable only gets you so far. And this fact is extremely apparent when it’s the first few months of a new entry-level job or internship. The tasks you are given frequently seem like busy work, and your level of responsibility can be minimal or non-existent.

The following basic business tips were passed on to me when I first started my career and they really helped me move up the ranks as a new pro:

Be Where the Action Is:

Ask to sit in on meetings, important phone calls, etc. You may think it is presumptuous, but your employer will appreciate your initiative and motivation. How are you supposed to become part of a team or know what’s going on in the company when you’re not where the important decisions are being discussed and made?  In most work environments you can be clueless as to what the person in the next cubical is working on. Stupid I know, but office communication no matter where you work can always be better. As the manager of your career, you must be where the action is. By being in meetings, you are much more likely to be given tasks and responsibilities, which are key to your advancement.

Read Voraciously about your Industry:

The more knowledgeable you are about your industry – and current events in general – the more prepared you will be to engage in conversations with your colleagues, boss, industry professionals, media and customers. From day one ask your boss and colleagues what newspapers, magazines, e-newsletters, etc. you should be reading every day. You can look really ridiculous if someone asks you about a current event that directly affects your industry and you know nothing about it.

Don’t Avoid the Jerks:

In every office there is a jerk. Someone you would prefer to avoid at all costs. So often though you have to interact with this person in order to move things forward in a project. Everyone’s first instinct is to avoid the person, however if you do, you can run the risk of missing deadlines, ultimately jeopardizing your career. Don’t let the jerk play the starring role in whether or not you get your work done.

Ask, Ask, Ask:

There is always downtime in an entry-level job. Unfortunately no matter how much experience you have from your internships, extracurricular activities, etc., you still can only be trusted with a certain amount of responsibility. So if your boss runs out of tasks for you, what do you do? Ask around. There are always colleagues and departments that can use an extra hand. Volunteer and you will look like a motivated team player. Don’t fall into the trap so many do, and sit by idly waiting for an assignment to drop into your lap. Your boss will expect you to be proactive and keep busy.

Interject Yourself in Everything Possible:

The more you are involved in multiple projects, departments and teams, the more job security you will have. You want to be everywhere. The person who appears to be adding value in the company is the person that won’t get fired. Make yourself irreplaceable.

Document Your Achievements:

You can’t rely on your boss to know all the great things you are doing, especially if you don’t interact with your boss on a day-to-day basis. It is up to you to make them aware of your achievements. I recommend keeping a log of achievements from day one. This will be really useful during review time when you are trying to justify a raise or promotion. Keep your boss in the loop constantly about your achievements – don’t just wait until review day. If you score a great placement, tell your boss. If you sign a new customer, tell your boss. Don’t brag, but keeping them in the loop on all the value you are adding makes them more apt to consider you for new assignments, responsibilities – and more money.

Ask for Forgiveness and Not Permission:

As a new pro, you will have the tendency to ask your boss permission all the time. Even on things that you can easily decide on your own. A lot of time is wasted on waiting for approval. If the question you have is nominal, your boss will admire the fact that you are able to use good judgment and make decisions without a lot of hand holding. In this economy, your boss is likely doing the job of 2-3 people, so they will appreciate making less decisions each day.

You are the only person you can count on to manage your career. Those who understand how to play the game are ultimately rewarded. If you look around at the people who are superstars at your company, they are likely doing most of the above things. So go join them!

Andi Wilmes is the director of marketing and communications at Beringea, Michigan’s largest venture capital firm. She can be reached at