As you know, I quit my day job a few weeks back to become a full-time fitness instructor. I have been working since I was 17 and today if I could give advice to 20-something women about how to survive in a corporate workspace, this is what I'd share:
1. You're not there to make friends.
Don't socialize with your colleagues or open up too much to them. Don't meet them for drinks. In the end, everyone's there to make money, not friends. Remember this- if you fall out with a friend outside of work, you can stop seeing them. If you fall out with a coworker while trying to be friends with them, you have to see them every day until one of you changes jobs.
2. Dress well.
My only rule for dressing up for work is that you look elegant and classy at all times. This means no short skirts, no sleeveless tops, and no shorts. You want your male colleagues to listen to your thoughts and take you seriously, not stare at your legs.
3. Eat and drink frequently.
Your brain needs sustenance to work. Keep healthy snacks like nuts and dried fruit in your desk drawer and nosh on them at small intervals so you don't starve yourself until lunchtime and snap at everyone else in the office just because you're hungry. Drink a lot of water. If your coworkers wonder or laugh at how many times you go to the loo, let them. It's your health.
4. Respect everyone.
I know a lot of people who didn't respect me when I started out but when I became a manager, they were falling over themselves trying to flatter me. Don't be that person. Respect everyone, no matter their rank. People move up in their careers and you never know tomorrow who you need to be nice to to get work done. Don't kiss ass, but don't look down on those who are below you in the work heirarchy.
5. Make MS Office your best friend.
Learn MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint very well. No matter how many jobs you change, MS Office is constant. When I started out as an executive I used a lot of Word and Excel. As a manager I constantly used Powerpoint. Become super comfortable with all these programs.
6. Learn keyboard shortcuts.
When I was a marketing executive, I noticed my boss using keyboard shortcuts for increasing and decreasing font size, changing sentence case, etc. Later that day I googled keyboard shortcuts for Outlook and Word, wrote them all down on a piece of paper and stuck it with clear tape on my desk. Because of that, today I have them all memorized. Doing this one single thing saved me time, frustration, and years of wrist pain.
7. Get rid of the little annoyances.
Sometimes everything's going well at work but you can't shake off a feeling of annoyance. It's probably something small that's causing you pain without you even realizing it. It could be your shoes crushing your little toe, or you've had your hair up in a bun since morning and now it's hurting your scalp. Be more self-aware and get rid of what's nagging you. Put a band-aid on that little toe and release your hair from the bun and tie it in a low ponytail instead.
8. Maintain a profile of work you've done.
Whether it's just a few bullet points in a Word document, or a full-blown presentation, record all the great stuff you've done, as you do it. It'll come in handy when you want to go to your boss for a raise or when you're being interviewed for a better position.
9. Don't be shy to ask for what you want.
I've always noticed that women are too shy to ask for what they want. Remember this: you're being paid for what you do. So obviously, you're valuable. Whether it's a performance appraisal, a raise, or simply some face time with your boss, ask for it. At first you'll be hesitant but with practice you'll become more confident and you'll be able to politely, but firmly, ask for what you need and get it.
10. Learn from everyone.
Don't turn down work just because it doesn't fit your job description. When you're starting out, doing all kinds of work and learning everything is the best thing you can do to move up the career ladder faster. If your boss asks you to sub for his secretary because she's off sick, do it. If there's a new project that your boss wants someone to take on, volunteer. Doing different kinds of work will add on new and more skills to your résumé and make you more valuable as an employee.
Compartmentalize your life. Put work in one compartment and your personal life in another. When you're at work, roll up your sleeves and work! Don't day dream about your vacation, don't cry because the guy you love broke your heart and don't yell at your coworkers because you had an argument with your mom. Be professional at all times.
12. Have a busy and satisfying non-work life.
Work is just a slice of life, it's not the entire pizza. Don't burn yourself out working all day all night and all weekend. It's not worth it, and secondly, spending time with family, friends or on hobbies helps you recharge your batteries and be fresh and productive at work.
After having put down all my accumulated wisdom, I saved the best one for last: If you hate your job, quit!
You don't have to torture yourself in a job where you daydream about murdering your boss, hate your employees, feel contempt for the company and feel lousy about the work you do. No job is worth so many hours of your happiness. Be in a job that you at least like doing, that makes you feel good about the work you do, and about yourself.