Valuable Advice

Those of you on LinkedIn know that every few days you may get an email message with the subject line “Top News,” which usually contains a compilation of articles, including many that almost hit the mark, but not quite. After scanning them, however, I usually find one article worth reading, often with good advice about job hunting. So, as a result, my first piece of advice is: If you’re not on LinkedIn, and you want to find a job, job and create a profile NOW. If you’re already on LinkedIn, take a few minutes to scan some of those articles.

Today I want to talk about one of the articles that LinkedIn circulated a few weeks ago. It was a blog post titled “The Most Valuable Advice I Received in College,” and it was moderately interesting.* What was most intriguing about it (to me) was (1) the fact that someone who is CEO of a company would actually take the time to write about a specific piece of advice pertaining to college and (2) that the advice came from his dad, not someone “in college.” And that got me thinking about my own experience and wondering if I could remember a specific piece of advice that had been given to me—either while I was in college or at any other time.

It only took a minute for me to realize that I can’t think of a particular thing that stands out as  “The Most Valuable Advice,” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been given good advice by a variety of people throughout my life. Here are two of the things that immediately came to mind, and I’ll post more as I think of them.

When I was a child, my family attended church every Sunday. I remember a sermon that started with a story of a man who had applied for an office job, and, instead of being interviewed, he was immediately asked to dust the office. So he dusted the office to the best of his ability. When the manager came in for the actual interview, he was wearing white gloves and ran his fingers across a high shelf. The shelf was clean, and the man got the job. The point of the sermon was that you should always do your best at whatever you’re asked to do. I remembered this advice when I got my first job after college: I was hired as a secretary, a job that did not require a college education, but I did it to the best of my ability. And I got promoted three times in five years.

Later in my career I was working as an account executive (sales rep) at a television station when one of my biggest clients, AT&T, was forced to divest its local telephone service, which meant that our sales revenues would take a significant hit. As soon as I learned about this from my client, I ran to my boss’s office with a “woe is me” complaint. His response, which was the good advice I have never forgotten, was that he didn’t want me to come to his office  with a complaint unless I also brought a possible solution for the problem. While that didn’t mean that he would embrace my solution, it would give us a better place to start a conversation.

That particular piece of advice is just as useful in your personal life as your work life: If your roommate is a slob, don’t complain about it, suggest a shared cleaning schedule. If you wind up with a slacker on your team for a collaborative project, suggest a set of deadlines and a system for checking that everyone is meeting their deadlines.

Especially in the current economy, complaining comes easy. If you try to consistently focus on solutions for your complaints, you’ll wind up far ahead of most of your competition in the workplace.

*The CEO’s advice was “Take the professor, not the class.” In other words, ask around and find a good professor before you sign up for a class, don’t just go by what’s printed in the catalog. And I agree that this is good advice!