Google+ Facebook Twitter Pin It Reddit

Jameco Corner: Advice for the Ages

By Greg Harris

My older son just got a job. While this is obviously a huge milestone for him, it also feels like a milestone for me. After graduating from college and a summer of leisure, he has a new apartment, a new city, a great job and most importantly, a paycheck. I found myself thinking back to when I began my career and remembered the words of wisdom my father and grandfather passed along to me and figured it was time to share all of that wisdom and more with my child, who did an excellent job of pretending to appreciate the advice.

As a marketer, I know how important it is to write to your audience and while I could have written multiple chapters that would be ignored, instead I opted for two carefully typed pages (with a very small font).
Career Advice

I started with the advice that had been passed along to me, "Our family plays by the rules, and we don't cheat. It's fine to aggressively interpret the rules, but we don't cheat." I remember when I got this advice thinking that it was pretty obvious, but later in my career when presented with choices, I remember my father's voice echoing in my brain in order to help me choose the right path.

I quickly moved on to my own advice and introduced the concept of building your own brand. "Everything you do at the office ultimately makes up your personal brand image (or reputation)." You want that brand to stand for something and set you apart, so figure out what it means to be you. I went on to suggest some ideas for his brand like "always give your company more than it pays for" and "always help make your colleagues better even if you don't get any credit for the effort."

All of these pearls of wisdom left me thinking back to my first real job. I had been working for one of the country's largest technology companies for about six months when I traveled home for a family event. Within moments of walking through the door I was cornered by my Uncle David who was in his last decade working for a different large technology company.

Uncle David wanted to hear about my new job but beyond that he had some of his own nuggets of advice that he wanted to share. I enthusiastically told him about my work, he listened patiently until I finally took a breath at which point he calmly told me that I was doing it all wrong.

"What am I doing wrong?" I asked.
"You are working too hard," he said.

I was dumbfounded. Working too hard? He went on to suggest that I was giving the company more than what I was getting in return.

"How much are you making?" he asked. I didn't feel comfortable just blurting out my salary in the middle of this family event so instead I just started to stammer. He carried on, "Well the goal in life is to make your age." That was not a concept I had heard before where you take your age and multiply it by $1,000 dollars. Well at my young age I was already able to check that off the list, but it seemed like there was more to a career than simply focusing on my salary.

Uncle David went on to teach me about his approach to getting as much as he could out of his employer. "Here's my advice, when you get to the office in the morning the first thing you want to do is read the newspaper. If anyone ever asks you tell them you never know where you'll get your big ideas. After you've finished the paper, it's time to get some coffee and ideally a doughnut. The coffee machine is where the important company communication happens and that's the best place to be seen within the company. After I've topped off my second cup I make my way back to my desk and try to make myself look busy until the time is right," and he paused seeing if I would take the bait. And I did, "Right time for what?"

"Time for the bathroom. You should always resist going to the bathroom at home where no one is paying you a dime and save it for work where you can be paid to do your business." And that's when I knew that as much as I loved my Uncle David, we were from different eras and different professional planets.

I’m sure much of my advice to my son was equally dated. What couldn't possibly be dated is the concept of creating a professional brand – a code of principles – that says that if you are on the team, here's what you should expect when you work with me.

Do you have a professional code you live by? I would love to hear what advice you might have from someone starting out in the workforce. Drop me a note if you get a chance.