Monday, July 30, 2007

The Brazen Careerist

I've just discovered Penelope Trunk's career advice at Yahoo. I thought her tips were pretty benign until I started reading the angry and hostile comments left by the vast majority of the readers.

Here are some of her tips for workplace etiquette:

1. Forget the exit interview.

An exit interview won't help you, and it'll probably create bad will. If you have people to thank when you leave a job, do it at lunch. If you have ideas for how to improve the company, offer to consult. Of course the company will decline, because they don't care. Otherwise you wouldn't be quitting, right?

Stop focusing on the exit interview and focus on how to quit like a pro. When you get a new job, your old boss is part of your new network. It's up to you to make sure that parting ways goes as smoothly as possible so that you can shepherd this person into your network of supporters.

2. Don't ask for time off, just take it.

When you need to leave work for a few hours or a few days, you don't need to ask for permission -- you're an adult, after all. Make sure your work is in good order and send an email to the relevant people letting them know you'll be gone.

This will seem discourteous to older people, who expect you to ask rather than tell. So be sure to give a reason why you're cutting out. People like to know they matter and where they stand.

3. Keep your headphones on at work.

If you use social media tools, you're probably good at connecting with people and navigating office politics -- good enough that spending all day at work with headphones on won't hinder you.

If you don't know what what social media tools are, then you're probably not innately good at making connections and need to take those headphones off before you're crushed by office politics.

From what I can tell, her advice is really geared toward 21st century knowledge workers. People who are capable of being their own means of production and aren't reliant on vast corporate infrastructure to do their jobs. These are people who just need a phone, an internet connection, and their own wits to be successful.

My guess is that this doesn't necessarily apply to most people. If you work in retail, you have your shop and your inventory and your suppliers. If you're a doctor, even a surgeon pulling down six figures, you are dependent on the hospital and the hospital staff to supply you with all the things you need.

The knowledge workers of the future, on the other hand, are completely independent and work in fluid environments. Their boss isn't down the hall, she's in an office in London or Mumbai, or he's traveling to the customer's office in Toronto this week, Sydney the next. The idea that one's job is to supervise others, or that one needs to be supervised is for people whose lives or jobs are stuck in the 20th century. The people I've seen be successful are the people who take charge of themselves and their work and aren't easily pushed around. If they are doing X, and their boss says Y, they push-back rather than submissively changing tracks.

If that's the sort of thing that will get you fired, then you don't have a career, you just have a job. And you're probably in the wrong one.