OPINION: HARVEY MACKAY — Standing out in the office, on a serious tip

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An executive was having difficulty with her assistant, so she decided to confront her.

“Nancy,” she began, “you don’t seem to be into your work. The letters you type are full of errors, rarely do you get to work on time, and why don’t you ever answer the phone?”

“The answer to the last part is easy,” the assistant responded. “I quit answering the phone because nine times out of 10, it’s for you!”

Now there is an employee who is probably not going to get very far!

Whether you are starting out in your career or just want to improve, you need to earn the trust of your bosses and co-workers.

No matter how much workplaces have changed over the years, there are still some basic guidelines to follow that will help you stand out. These are some of the most important lessons I can offer.

• Arrive on time consistently. Yes, sometimes the traffic is bad or mass transit runs late. Train yourself to arrive at work within a specific window so people don’t have to guess when you’re coming in — or whether you’re coming in at all.

• Dress appropriately. Take note of how your co-workers dress, and follow their lead. You don’t want to be too formal, but sloppy clothes and poor personal hygiene can mark you as unserious or unprofessional.

• Introduce yourself effectively. Practice a quick introduction — no more than 30 seconds — so you can make a good first impression on the people you meet. Remember to look people in the eye and give them a nice, warm handshake.

• Remember names. Make an effort to keep people’s names in your mind. You’ll impress them and show that you’re paying attention. The best way is to repeat their names a few times when you first meet to lock the name in your head, or write it down at your first opportunity.

• Stay organized. If you’re scrambling to find things on your desk or are always late for meetings, you’ll look scatter-brained and undependable. Set up a system for tracking information and managing your time so you’re always on top of things.

• Use email professionally. Keep in mind that your email at work belongs to your employer, not to you. Write every email as if it might be read aloud in court. You don’t want a flippant remark or a bad joke coming back to haunt you.

• Share the credit generously. Collaborate with your co-workers as much as possible, and let your boss and other people know they’ve helped you. No one wants to work with someone who hogs all the accolades, but people are happy to cooperate with a co-worker who’s generous with the credit for a job well done.

• Talk to your boss. Make time to check in with your manager when you don’t have a problem to report or a question to ask. Don’t monopolize their time, but make contact to offer a suggestion about a project or ask for feedback. Let the boss know you are interested and eager.

• Volunteer. Don’t wait for your manager to ask you about joining a committee or task force. Jump at the opportunity to be in contact with colleagues outside your department and build your image throughout the organization.

• Go above and beyond. If you really want to impress people, accept responsibility that others might have backed away from or didn’t want. Never pass up an opportunity to show your willingness to learn and work hard. There will always be a place for the person who says, “I’ll take care of it” and then does, in fact, take care of it.

• Don’t give up. Stick with your projects and get them finished, preferably on time. Show your managers that they can rely on you to keep your commitments.

• Network. Get to know the most talented people in your organization regardless of their titles. Don’t ask them for help — rather, offer to help them when you can. This builds positive relationships and earns you a reputation as someone who puts the organization’s objectives first.

• Keep learning. I’m an advocate for lifelong learning, and I strongly encourage people to keep their brains fresh by learning both on and off the job. Be curious. Delve into subjects that will make you a more valuable employee.

Someone once asked Michelangelo at age 88 when he was going to retire. He answered, “Whenever I stop learning.”

These are habits you will use for life, no matter what job or title you hold. Good workplace etiquette will never go out of style.

Mackay’s Moral: Put your best foot forward to get a leg up in business.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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