Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pro Tips: How to Succeed at the Office

I have worked in an office setting since college. Back then, it was as a work study student in various offices, finally ending up at the Financial Aid Office. Since then, I have continued to work in a professional setting. Given that I have been gainfully employed since the age of 21 (something I am immensely thankful for), I like to think of myself as successful. I have a salaried job, with actual, good, benefits. I rarely am required to work weekends (but I do sometimes, anyway; more on that later) and I have made great friends and connections in my professional life. So please, allow me to share my professional life with you, by way of some 'pro-tips' that have helped me along the way.

  • Be Organized!
Anyone who knows me well knows I LOVE office supplies. I cannot go to Staples unaccompanied anymore because I will spend excessive amounts of money. I love office supplies so much because they keep me organized. Even in school, I operated with color coded notebooks, folders, and pens. Part of the reason I am so successful at work and school is because I keep things organized. If my desk suddenly becomes too cluttered, I take a break to organize and prioritize. I live and die by my to-do list, that I write each morning when I get in while drinking my coffee. And I make it a point to cross off items as I complete them. The satisfaction is wonderful. 3-ring binders are my friend. If you come to my office and it looks really messy, call a medical professional because there is something wrong.
I take color coding very seriously. Cameo by Ophelia!

  • Dress for Success
At the risk of sounding cliche: dress for the job you want, not the job you have! I know, I know. It IS cliche, but it is also true. When, like me, you are one of the youngest in your office, (or your field, for that matter) it is important to take it up a notch, fashion wise. Whether the dress code where you work is as simple as "no pjs, gym clothes or jeans (except on Fridays)" or as complex as mandatory suit and tie or business casual, it's important to look polished and professional. Even my casual Friday outfits convey a professional look. I work at a university, so I have to be sure to set myself apart from the students. It's not enough to be clean, have dangerous skin covered and be comfortable. First impressions matter, and I operate by this thought process: If I went into an office or business and saw someone who worked there, wearing this, what would I think? It actually helps!

An example of a Maria work-day look! 
  • Be Friendly AND Polite (F&P)
These may seem obvious. They may seem like the same thing. But they are not always obvious and while they go hand in hand, are not the same thing. When I tell you to be F&P, I mean to both your colleagues AND your customers. This goes beyond the 'be a team-player' and 'treat others as you would want to be treated' though, those are both important things. While I am not always F&P (because I am not a robot, nor am I perfect), I try 100% of the time to be F&P in all walks of life. Even if I am having the crappiest day ever, when I answer the phone, I turn on my F&P switch. My favorite way to be F&P on the phone:
I answer with "This Maria, how can I help you today?" and smile while on the phone; though they cannot see it, your pitch and tone change when you are smiling, and they will sense it. The smile really makes a difference. It changes my whole body language, and it makes calls much smoother.

You can be polite without being friendly. And polite, by itself, is just fine usually. But I don't like to settle for just fine. Even on my difficult calls about money (which happen almost daily in my world) I still smile, use the persons name, and take a friendly tone. It makes a world of difference. I've been told I am good at "diffusing tension." I have no big secret for this, except for always trying to be F&P.

  • Work Hard
I have reached my level not because I have credentials and experience, but because I give everything my all. I've never been a bare-minimum kind of girl. Coming in and doing just what is expected of me and then leaving just isn't possible, and my work ethic has resulted in promotions and raises. I learn, I ask questions. I go above and beyond. I work on weekends and bring work home with me during the busy season because it's important to the students. This is not to say I nail it every time or that I don't occasionally slack off; again, human! But a strong work ethic transcends age, experience, etc.

  • Take Care of Yourself
This one is key. It's the same thing we hear all the time; eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep. But seriously, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. I know that if I am feeling hungry because I forgot breakfast (which always turns into hangry and hangry is good for NO ONE) or sluggish because I haven't slept well, I don't perform as well at my job. I used to work my 8+ hour day eating breakfast and lunch (or one loooong meal all day) while sitting at my desk working. Whole work days would go by without going out side or even standing up longer than to go the bathroom. And as someone with bad joints, this is a huge no-no. I've started going to the gym on my lunch break. It kills two birds with one stone; it gets me away from my desk, and gets the gym done and out of the way! I still eat at my desk, but I am getting up, walking outside across campus, working out, and coming back. It drastically changed my days. I do this about 3 times a week; sometimes when it's nice out I swap one of the gym days for a nice long walk outside in the cemetery adjacent to campus. It's revitalizing. We all read articles about how the 9-5 office grind is slowly killing us, and I'm not going to let that happen.  You shouldn't either. And, if you're not keen to go to the gym mid day, at least take a walk outside, so some stretching, get coffee (outside the office), etc. Your body, brain, and boss will thank you for it!

I do not presume to be the most successful person, nor do I want to tell you how to do your job, but this is what has worked for me and as I have some readers just entering or re-entering the workforce, it seemed like a post worth writing.

What are some of your pro-tips?