Our marketing agency has been lucky to find some truly talented people to work for us. More times than not, however, we’ve hired many who were unmotivated, incurious, and indifferent about learning their craft.

Is this endemic of something bigger? Not necessarily. For every unmotivated person I believe there are five who are motivated and really, truly want to excel at what they do and get ahead. Nonetheless, many of us have our own pasts to draw from as to how we conducted ourselves when young and in the workforce and – as many colleagues have seconded in our discussions – we don’t see the same drive and motivation in many of these young adults as we saw in earlier times. For many of us, it’s the mystery that affects how quickly we’re able to fill spots – and it’s not exclusive to one or two of us. All our companies are as different in culture, flexibility and variety as ballet is to jazz.

Jobs are available, but many employees and potential employees cancel themselves out of spots over issues that they may or may not be aware of. As a result, we feel it’s productive to offer some guidelines for those entering the workforce (and many who are currently there) as to what some of us feel might help you get ahead, stay ahead, and get recognized for you talent and skills. Most of these should be familiar, but in case they’re not:

  1. Show up for interviews
    Throughout my career I would never, ever have considered not showing up for an interview without letting the company or potential employer in question know I cannot make it. I understand some in the young workforce have cultivated the mindset that whatever is not in your interest is not worth acknowledging or will not affect you – and, sure, maybe you decided that this was not the job for you and would be a complete waste of your time to come in. Nonetheless, we wait for you. We reschedule our day for your interview. If you cannot show up, call or email in a timely manner. It shows respect for other people’s time other than your own.
  2. Show up on time
    There have been maybe a handful of times in my life that I have not been able to get somewhere on time. The reason for that is I always think ahead, account for traffic, trains – any number of things – and am actually as embarrassed at showing up in a meeting late as I was if I had showed up late for class in high school. That’s a motivation. While some workplaces have great flexibility in their hours, it’s not always just about your time. Have respect enough for others to keep them aware of your situation. And never forget that a text takes three seconds to send.
  3. Always keep learning
    There are two types of employees. Those who hunt and those who expect to be fed. By hunting, we mean you, the employee, spend time and energy researching your craft, reading up on new developments, devouring books, asking questions, and, in short, learning on your own. More than any other time in history we have unlimited information at our fingertips. The employees I search for are inevitably those who come back to work in the morning excited about something new they learned in Photoshop, something they read on the future of social marketing or some new app they mastered. Not so coincidentally, many employees we’ve had over the years with that characteristic have gone on to start successful companies of their own or hold high positions in big agencies or marketing firms.
  4. Pay attention
    The number of people I’ve had in my office that I had to say, “Are you writing this down” is legion. The likelihood of mistakes being made because employees feel they’ll “remember everything that was told to them” is 100%. Write down what your boss or co-worker says. He or she expects you to. They’ll be glad you did. Mistakes happens. Making mistakes for not listening shouldn’t.
  5. There is no upside to a sense of entitlement
    We had an employee who decided there were certain programs she didn’t feel the need to learn because “they will be obsolete soon.” First of all, the program in question will hardly be obsolete in the near future, but the bigger issue is this was one of many excuses she had based on her belief of what her job should be and shouldn’t be (despite what it actually was) and what she felt was beneath her (despite being out of school for one year).Feel entitled? Keep it out of the workplace. While we all want people working for us who feel our company is as good a fit for them as they are for us, the bottom line is that many jobs, particularly for the just-out-of-school worker, require some form of paying dues and doing tasks you don’t want to do. If you fancy yourself the next Mark Zuckerberg, more power to you. Go off and create that life-changing app, service, or product. However, if you decide to work for someone else it is not an environment built to cater to you and your particular wants and needs. If you don’t like where you work, do what I’ve done many times – quit.
  6. Become invaluable
    I had a position many years back that I desperately needed. I was making very little money, but I had to pay my bills and was getting no help from anyone for that (no trust funds here). As a result, I committed to my job and spent my free time trying to hone my other skills so I wouldn’t be laid off (I was a freelancer). That attitude took me from lowly administrative assistant to Art Director in less than a year-and-a-half due to making myself invaluable to the company. The upside of paying my dues was that I left that agency with a portfolio and a skillset that guaranteed I could get more work. Whether it’s desperation or enthusiasm, if you make yourself invaluable it can only get your noticed. Even if it doesn’t, you leave better off and more educated than where you started.

The working world is hard. Life is hard. Some people are difficult. Some are easygoing. There are good employers and bad employers (I’ve had my share of both). Nonetheless, your work ethic says more about you than anything else on the job and, whether it’s your employer or your client who’s in consideration, it will decide a lot about how your future unfolds.

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