7 Things I Learned About Work Ethic in NYC

Five years of working in New York City taught me a lot about getting a job, keeping it and learning the difference between a good employee and a stellar one. Here’s what I learned.

  1. Never address a cover letter “To Whom It May Concern.”
    Instead, put your social media stalking to good use by looking up who the hiring manager or HR contact might be. LinkedIn and Google are helpful for this. For example, if you’re applying for a Social Media Manager position it stands to reason you’ll report to the VP of Content. If all else fails, call the company and ask the person who answers. It might feel a little embarrassing or take a couple people saying, “Umm, let me check…” but it’s worth it.

  2. Never go to your manager with a problem without a proposed solution.

    This does not apply to HR issues or questions, of course. It means analyzing a problem and using your experience and smarts to come to a solution - even if it isn’t the right or perfect one. It shows that you care about your job and can think at a higher level than the position you’re currently in. (Read: “Hi, I’m ready for a promotion and I’m going to show you by seeing the bigger picture..")

  3. Respond to emails and phone calls ASAP.

    This shouldn’t happen to the detriment of your mental health or the separation of work and home. However, if you receive an email with a question from a client, for example, and it may take a day or two to get an answer, or you have higher priority needs at the moment, let them know you’ve read their message and you’re working on answer. Nothing bothers clients more than feeling like their words are getting lost in the ether of your inbox.

  4. Say no without saying no. (And don’t make it a big deal.)

    If the request is small, just say something like, “I don’t think that works for me right now.” If the request is bigger, ask for time to think. That buys you some space. Write some thoughts down before you’ll have to decline. Practice how your voice will sound. Personally, my voice gets higher and stuck in my throat when I’m nervous about saying no and it sets off an alarm for the listener that says, “This is a big deal! Why is she saying no?!” If I’ve practiced a little, I can talk normally and the only thought I have is, “this is a reasonable business decision by me and I’m confident my client or partner will understand.”

  5. If you’re not going to hit a deadline, say something ASAP.

    I once offered to take a little project off my mentor’s hands with the promise I’d complete it by the end of the week. Turns out, I got swamped with other agency projects and didn’t get to the assignment. Instead of telling my mentor and friend immediately, I waited until 2:30 p.m. on Friday to tell her. It was the only time she was ever stern with me, but she taught me a valuable lesson. When you feel something slipping, say something stat.

  6. Ask questions and ask for time.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re the young one at the table or if you’re working with a client you really admire. In this business, your work is your reputation so you have to protect your ability to do it well. If you’re going to see a brief, ask for time to look at it before you meet with your team or client. If something feels off in your gut - the strategy, the campaign idea, whatever it is - bring it up. If you start working and see a snag in the plan, don’t double work to fix it all. Bring it up to your client or team and create a plan on how to manage it.

  7. Be relatable. You’re an interesting person, you know!

    Great work ethic gets you really far in life when it’s coupled with talent and a willingness to learn. What puts all of it over the top, and helps you create lasting relationships, is your willingness to reveal a little about yourself. If a client slips up and misspells their own name in an email and then follows up with one of those “Oops. My day is falling apart” funny emails, then give ‘em a little more than just a “I understand.” “Been there, living that” is better if it’s true.

    I try to inject some reality about my life into my long-distance client relationships. I’ll start a work email with a line about my vacation or a show I’ve become addicted to, or whatever I think might resonate with that person, knowing their background.

    This is not a means of manipulation. It’s the best way I’ve found to find common ground outside of a project. Telling a little about yourself can help others open up or give you a way to ask them about their interests. Projects are always better when you like the person on the other end of it. That goes for you, your client and your colleagues.