Another key mistake is that people don’t expand their network outside the usual suspects before they need it. MBAs are so dedicated and zealous to their alumni network that when they need something outside that network it may be too late. Most people don’t expand their network beyond their comfort circle. You need to establish that ahead of time.
Another mistake that people tend to make is they don’t know how to cope with common frustrations. They either get outwardly frustrated or ignore them. It can be either a shadow boss who is over your shoulder way too often or colleagues who seem way too helpful. Rather than deal with it, they ignore it. Yet these things make a difference in how you are perceived and how successful you can be.
Jennifer, let’s go back to your first point about decoding subtle comments at work. Why is that important?
Many times, colleagues and bosses are not comfortable giving feedback or only give it when required. If you want to get ahead and stand out, it’s very important that you find a way to get the feedback you need. That’s why you need to listen for the subtle cues and offhanded comments that might be said as you are walking out the door. In a tough and sharp-elbowed environment, people tend to turn the negative feedback back. You should try to pick the things that are negative and make an effort on addressing them.
And you shouldn’t wait for feedback. One of the things you can do if you’re not getting enough feedback is to ask for it from co-workers you trust or someone you work with tangentially. Especially when you are new in the job, identifying co-workers you admire so you don’t feel as awkward is one of the better approaches. Ask them if they can take a moment to look at what you’ve done. Say, ‘You are always spot on with this, how can I make the next time better?’ If you open yourself up to feedback, the person may start pointing out things you haven’t done as well as you could.
You should also develop some mentors who will give you direct and honest feedback. Let’s say you have a worker in a team and the person says this looks pretty good, you should say pretty good isn’t good enough for you. Ask, ‘What can I do to make it great next time?” If you hear ‘buts’ in a conversation that could be the clue that there was something else they thought you should have done.
Jennifer, one last question. For several years, at BusinessWeek and then at The Wall Street Journal, you were in charge of the business school rankings. Do you miss them?
Hahahahhahaha. You’re funny, John. Oh, wait, you aren’t joking?