All right, young folks, it’s time for your annual five quick mentoring tips from someone who cares about your career: me!
This year’s advice is very practical. While I still believe it’s important to try to find that elusive work-life balance and to be willing to move and take chances on a new city or field of work, here are a few things you can easily do to improve your chances for good performance reviews, promotions and raises in any job:
1. MORE THINKING, LESS FEELING. In email communications with supervisors and managers, do not use emoticons or multiple exclamation points. Stop being so emotional in emails. Your boss will be pleased to know you finished an assigned project before the deadline, so you don’t need to encourage her appraisal of you by using a smiley face or pictures of party hats.
In the same vein, do not use any exclamation points in the subject line unless there is a true emergency. Exclamation points show a lack of control and they can give busy people a near heart attack when they see red exclamation points in their In Box.
Managers want people to be passionate yet calm and collected — unnecessary exclamation points say the opposite about you. They say you’re over-excitable and have little judgment as to what’s really important. So just keep it straight. Then, when you have a real emergency, they’ll take you seriously.
2. NEW EMAIL THREAD, NEW SUBJECT LINE. While we’re talking about email, please learn to use new subject lines when introducing new topics.
It is very confusing for the recipient to get an email about an event in July 2014 that is part of an email thread from days before about a client visit in March.
As a staffer, you’re expecting your manager to be able to read your mind. And it appears lazy to use an old email thread to write about a new subject.
You want your boss to focus on the content of the message, not the poorly thought out format.
But with today’s distractedness, and all the different ways we’re communicating with one another, it’s easy for the recipient to get irritated with the confusion and focus on that instead of the needed response.
You should learn to write perfect subject lines that are descriptive. For example, supervisors like to know if an email needs a response and how much time it will take — so a good subject line would be, “Two quick things, one FYI.” That way the recipient knows how to prioritize the reading and response of that email.
3. DON’T IRRITATE POTENTIAL MENTORS. Part of climbing the career ladder is finding good mentors. Good mentors are usually very busy people and it can be difficult to get on their schedule. It’s not that they don’t want to lend you a hand, it’s that they really need an extra hour in their workday to be able to give you the time and attention you deserve.
When you’re trying to schedule time with them, keep in mind how swamped they feel. And when they write back with a note that says they are not able to meet until 8:30 a.m. three weeks from today, never write “My, my aren’t you a busy bee!” It is insulting and careless and really makes people mad. And there go the benefits of your meeting.
Before you ask for someone’s attention, think of the ways you might be able to get their thoughts without infringing on their time. For example, if you know your boss is going to be traveling and has a long car ride from the airport to the client’s office, you might see if you can get on his call list while he waits at the airport before boarding or in the vehicle on the way to the client’s.
Another way is to think of how you might be able to get the information through email. So if you have three questions, ask for the time to meet or talk by phone but offer the option of response through email. Emails can be written from anywhere — just make sure you write good questions that will get you answers you’re seeking.
4. START A WEEKEND READING FOLDER. Every mentor will tell a younger person to read more and watch less TV. There’s a reason they all have the same advice — they know it works for them.
There are different categories for what benefits your brain; for example, I love to read fiction at night. It takes me away from the news of the day and the fake outrages on Twitter, and I get caught up in characters that I live with for a week or two while I work my way through a book.
In the morning I read news and analysis relevant to what we will be talking about on “The Five” or other Fox News shows that day. But that leaves a whole bunch of stories in magazines or feature stories written for online publications that I know I would learn from but don’t have the time to devote to reading at that time.
So I started a “weekend reading” folder. Anything I see that I would like to read but can’t afford to spend time on then, I put in the weekend reading folder. Some of those articles I read online, but I also print some of them in an actual real life paper folder that I read through the weekend. I end up getting to read all sorts of different things without feeling stressed because I couldn’t get to it immediately when I saw it.
5. DO YOUR OWN NETWORK AUDIT. In all of the mentoring research, there’s a common thread — your network — who you know, your contacts — is the most important thing to being able to grow your career.
Do you have a clear picture or list of your network? I suggest doing a network audit – write down who do you know, what industries they work in, where they live, what jobs they’ve had or have that you’d like to have one day, etc.
Just as important, make a list of who you don’t you know and identify the holes in your network. Then assign a value to the contacts. How strong is your network? Have you kept in touch with people, sent a handwritten note lately, followed them on Twitter?
Your network develops over time, but if you really want to make use of your network, you have to take care of it like you would a new houseplant.
Once you have your audit and see the weak points, then you can make a plan to improve those areas. Make sure your plan has deadlines — this is too important to keep pressing the snooze button.
Bonus Tip: Start accepting that there is no defined path to success. When you ask a mentor, “How can I have a career JUST like yours?” it’s no wonder they hesitate to answer.
Most people have had multiple jobs and started in one career and ended up, often by chance, in a field that they never expected to be in and found fulfilling work. They started by worked in minimum wage jobs and in food service or retail. They got yelled at by angry customers and wore uniforms that they wouldn’t be caught dead in outside of work.
Your success story isn’t written yet — so try just to do what you’re doing now, with some goals on the horizon, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I have a feeling that good things are in store for you in 2014.
By the way, in case you wanted to check back in on last year’s advice, here’s a link. Let me know how you did!
Dana Perino currently serves as co-host of FOX News Channel’s “The Five” (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). She previously served as Press Secretary for President George W. Bush. Ms. Perino joined the network in 2009 as a contributor.