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10 Not-So-Obvious Ways to Keep Your Career On-Track

By:  John Searles Jan 22, 2013
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Kate White


Kate White, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, serves up frank advice for pleasing tough bosses, dealing with competitive coworkers, and much more in her fourth career book, “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know.”  Here, White sits down with Coca-Cola Journey to share insights into getting ahead.

Q. With the explosion of social media and people "friending" and "following" their bosses, do you think the professional lines have blurred? If so, is there a danger in that?

Definitely! Unless you’re in a field that has more of a casual vibe, like sports or show business, its smart to keep your Facebook and Twitter pages professionally focused. Post and tweet about a great article you read or a talk you heard that’s related to your profession. Trust me. Even if your boss doesn’t seem like the type who would be bothered by updates on your partying or dating life, on some level, she will find it unprofessional and that alters her view of you.

Q. Negotiating a salary is one of the toughest things to do. What do you recommend?

I suggest people use a technique called “ZOPA,” which stands for “zone of possible agreement.” That’s the salary range you need to determine before negotiating a job offer or raise. So rather than just come up with an amount you hope your employer will pay you, do some research. Check out professional sites or talk with others in your industry to give you a sense of what the going rate is for the position. Once you have an idea of the highest and lowest you may be offered, you’ll be less likely to settle. And no matter what the first offer is, be aware that most employers low-ball initially. So nicely say: “I’d love to work here. It sounds like a great opportunity, but I was hoping for more.” Then throw out a figure that’s closer to the high end of the ZOPA range.

Q. You also write about "sudden promotion syndrome." Why does it happen and how do you avoid it?

When you get a promotion, you’re role officially changes. Yet, you’re usually in the same exact work setting. That can make it challenging to shift your identity from your previous role. Also, since chances are good you were exposed to the person who had the job before you, your boss may not totally articulate everything she is expecting. Instead, she will assume you already know. So to avoid flubbing your new gig, it’s important to buy some promotion clothes that help put begin shifting into a new mindset. Also, talk to your boss about her expectations. Find out if there is anything she wants you to do differently from the previous person in the job. Chances are, she will have some changes in mind.

Q. What's the best way to impress a new boss?

The best thing you can do with all bosses is to find out their hot spots and sweets spots. For example, I once had a boss who acted very casual. For that reason, when he made requests people didn’t jump on them. It turned out he got annoyed by their sluggishness — that was his hot spot! So whether it’s getting in a little late each day or taking long lunches, figure out what bugs your boss and avoid the behavior at all costs. As for sweet spots, I had another boss who loved hand-written notes, so I made sure to send them to her quite often. Now most bosses aren’t going to come out and tell you their pet peeves or little things they love, but pay attention to what they say and you’re bound to figure it out.

Q. How do you nail a job interview?

I tell people three things:

  • Understand that the decision not to hire is made within the first five to fifteen minutes. That means, your body language, your outfit, and your sense of enthusiasm must all work to your advantage the second you walk in the door.
  • You need to “show the love.” That means, coming across as passionate and engaged. Ask questions that show you’ve done your homework and that reflect your desire to do a good job. Rather than badger the interviewer with queries about flex time or the 401K plan, instead ask where she sees the big growth in the field or things that show how much you want to be part of the company.
  • Finally, you have to “ask for the business.” That means, when the interview is coming to a close, be direct and say, “This job sounds interesting and I’d love to work here.”

Q. You mention that bosses like it when people kiss up. But can that backfire?

Kissing up can definitely backfire if it seems inauthentic or over the top. The best way to do it, though, is to let your boss know you are aligned with her goals. If she’s excited about social media, for example, say something like, “I love these objectives you set. It is terrific you had the foresight.” That shows you respect her thinking and actions in an authentic way.

Q. You talk about "the importance of slaying the alligators while draining the swamp." What does that mean?

The slaying of the alligators is the day-to-day stuff we all do at work: reviewing reports, attending meetings. The draining of the swamp is the big picture stuff that works toward long-term goals. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day that we neglect the other. That’s why it’s critical to set aside time each week to think about the big picture. During this time, ask yourself if your business is shifting, if the competition is sneaking up on you, and if you’re going to have to make adjustments. Then figure out your game plan. And this advice also applies to your career too. Regularly set aside time to ask yourself if you are working toward your larger goals.

Q. You talk about the importance of “leaning in" during meetings. How does this work? 

Maybe it’s because they’re nervous, but one thing I've noticed in my years working with women is that many have a tendency to sit back from the table rather than lean in. On top of that, they are tentative about expressing their ideas. As a result, no one pays attention to what they say. Five minutes later, when someone else says the same thing, everyone thinks it is great. So here’s what I suggest: sit on the first third of your chair and belly up to the table. Rather than just spit out your idea, preface your comment with something that draws attention to you first, like, “Here’s a way we might do that.” That way you’re sure you’ve got everyone’s attention and they hear you.

Q. How do you handle a competitive coworker?

For the most part, it’s best to ignore the person and focus on your work and the ways you can excel. Let him sink into a hole by allowing him to act in ways that may seem desperate. However, if that person steals an idea or backstabs you, then it’s time to take action! Confront him in a very unemotional and professional way without being too accusatory. Try something like, “I am sure you probably didn’t remember this, but the idea you brought up in the meeting is the one I mentioned to you at lunch. Going forward, when we talk about ideas let’s keep track of who suggests what.” By doing it this way, you give him the chance to save face but you also make it clear you will not tolerate his behavior.

Q.  Because you were the editor of Cosmopolitan you have particular insight into young women. What do you think is the biggest mistake young women make in the workplace today?

Women are so gutsy and incredibly impressive nowadays — they’re not the same “good girls” who were out in the workforce 20 years ago. For that reason, I don’t think women make different mistakes than men. But the biggest blunder both sexes make is that they do only what they’re told and nothing more. Say, for example, your boss asks you to pull together sales data from the last quarter, don’t just give her the numbers! It’s much more impressive to take things a step further by actually reviewing the info and pointing out any patterns. Imagine how thrilled your boss will be if you give her what she asks plus a memo that points out something like, “I noticed exciting growth in the south that we’ve not seen before.”