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10 career hacks for every ambitious man

(EDITORIAL) Succeeding in business takes grit and determination – here are 10 hacks for any fella looking to get ahead in their career.

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Gender equality (for real)

Most career hacks are focused on women these days, but guess what? Men still exist, too! News flash! And another news flash – men of all races and sexual preferences are ambitious in their careers. Wow. What a concept.

Sure, there’s a pay gap. Sure, men have always been allowed to be ambitious without any questions. Sure, sexual harassment is more often inflicted upon women. But there are plenty of men that are underpaid, questioned for their ambitions, and even sexually harassed.

If we truly believe that genders are equal, we must offer career advice to men as well, so in that spirit are 10 career hacks for our male readers that want to be even more ambitious about their careers.

1.) Maintain insanely detailed notes

Early in my career, I got in the habit of keeping a phone log where I documented every single inbound and outbound call, who I talked with, and what the highlights were, no matter how minor or major. I even wrote down (in front of leadership) when the President of the company sat on my desk, inches away from me, and lingered to touch my shoulders. Ick. I wrote down the time, who was at my desk, and what happened. Right in front of him. It never happened again.

Notes, whether digital or hand-written, are an insanely valuable tool. When digitized, all meeting notes and information can can be searchable and easily tracked.

If you meet someone, take real notes, and immediately add a calendar item to follow up with them at a specific time (this is the part everyone always forgets).

Finally, keep an accomplishment journal to be able to suggest and defend a future raise or promotion – it works.

2.) Know your tools

Perhaps you’re recently really into Trello, and during your next job interview, they happen to ask about your organizational skills. Instead of rambling on, you can talk about how streamlined your life is with Trello and follow up by mentioning your three favorite browser extensions that aren’t about sports or beauty but about real work.

Remember your tools when you’re climbing the ladder and always refine them – nothing’s ever good enough, nor is your process. Test them out, be able to defend them, and be ready to recommend them to others.

3.) Be a master of research

Never stop learning, or seeking relevant information. If you’re a new coder, obsess over Stack Overflow during lunch every single friggen’ day. If you’re in the marketing department, stalk Quora topics. Read every industry publication you can get your eyeballs on.

Establish yourself as the go to person in your office, no matter your job title. Be careful not to be the office know-it-all, but definitely act as an information absorber.

4.) Communicate like a boss

This doesn’t mean condescend, it means to over-communicate, which is more rare than you know.. When you meet someone, reach out to them without waiting for them to reach you.

When working on a project with a team, make sure to keep teammates apprised of what you’re doing (without bragging); too often do people assume everyone knows what’s going on.

An example of over-communicating effectively without sounding narcissistic is letting your team know: “I’ve completed X and am moving on to Y – before I do, is there anything I can do for you guys since I’m at a stopping point?”

5.) Always ask if you can help

No matter how busy you are, no matter where you are in the hierarchy, stop to ask others if you can simply help. Just as with the closing of #4, come to a stopping point and ask.

Most people will say no, but a simple, “hey, I know you’re working on the Simon account – I have 30 minutes I could help you reorganize if you’d like!” helps significantly.

Give them a specific reason you can help, too. Not only will this make you the office “go-to” but it makes you so deeply ingrained in the team that people can’t imagine the place without you! Which they shouldn’t!

Just don’t be annoying – know when you’re coming across as fake and knock that off.

6.) Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

Too often in the workplace, people are scared to sound stupid so they’ll guess. This can lead projects down really bad paths, so get used to hearing yourself say “I don’t know.”

And then add the phrase, “but I’ll find out!”

Yeah yeah, you already know this advice, but you haven’t been told is to try this: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out within the hour.” Add a deadline for yourself so you set expectations just like we talked about in number four.

Or suggest that you both work together to find a solution: Teamwork makes the dream work.

7.) Be kind, even when it kills you inside

You may hate the guy in the office next to yours and Lord knows you might literally die if he tells you the same fishing story again, but you spend more time with these people than you do your own family and they’re human.

They want to be heard, they want to belong, so remember that annoying as they can be, they’re people. They’re YOUR people.

Be kind, and remember that something about you is probably annoying, too.

8.) Smile (hear us out on this one)

Smile when you’re on the phone – your positivity conveys even when people can’t see you because you literally transform your facial muscles, thus altering your voice. It feels awkward, but so what? Kindness is memorable! Especially smile when someone is speaking in a meeting and meets your eye contact – not a flirty smile, but the disarming kind that says “I’m listening and you’re interesting.”

9.) Get to know your five minute tasks

If you always know what can be done in less than five minutes, your down time is never used standing around like a moron.

For me, I keep all emails unread that require any sort of action, and if I only have five minutes before my next call, I’ll hop in and deal with one because I already assessed how long it would take. No down time, no twiddling of thumbs. Those five minutes add up over a week!

10.) Exercise a little

Without exercise of some form, be it running, yoga, or even just walking, research proves the brain is less focused, less sharp.

We won’t recommend a type of exercise, a time of day, or anything specific, but almost every single successful executive, regardless of gender, is pretty serious about fitness.

Eat well, make yourself get up from your desk and move around every hour, and mostly – extend your lifetime so you can actually enjoy retirement instead of enjoying heaven (or whatever afterlife you subscribe to).

It’s a trick!

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking, “Lani, I just read this exact same list, verbatim but it was called 10 career hacks for every ambitious woman, what the hell?”

You’re right. Because guess what? I don’t believe general career advice is different for men and women. Stories about negotiating salary are slightly different, suggestions for how to request a breastfeeding room are different, notes on gender identity are different, but to succeed in a career takes the same grit and dedication, no matter what’s in your pants.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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Opinion Editorials

How a simple period in your text message might be misinterpreted: Tips to improve your virtual communication

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) Text, email, and IM messages may be received differently depending on your communication style and who you’re communicating with. Here’s some ways to be more mindful.

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Black woman smiling in communication talking on phone and laptop in front of her.

Life is full of decisions, learning, hopefully some adventure, and “growth opportunities” through our careers and work. One that some of us may have never considered is how our text, email or IM communication comes across to the receiver – thus providing us a growth opportunity to take a look at our own personal communication styles.

It may have never occurred to us that others would take it a different way. After all, we know ourselves, we can hear our voices in our heads. We know when we are joking, being sarcastic, or simply making a statement. The way we communicate is built upon how we were raised, what our English teachers stressed, and even what we’ve been taught through our generational lens.

NPR put out an article recently, “Are Your Texts Passive-Aggressive? The Answer May Lie in Your Punctuation”. This article discussed what to consider in regards to your punctuation in text.

“But in text messaging — at least for younger adults — periods do more than just end a sentence: They also can set a tone.” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging,”the period has lost its original purpose. Rather than needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.”

While it may seem silly that the receiver would think you are mad at them because you used a period, here are some things to consider in our virtual communication now that we are all much more digital:

  • There are no facial expressions in a text except for emojis (which, even then, could be left up to misinterpretation)
  • There’s no sound of voice or inflection to indicate tone
  • We are emailing, texting, and sending instant messages at an alarming rate now that we are not having as many in-person interactions with our colleagues

Gen Z (b. 1995 – 2015), who are the most recent generation to enter the workplace, grew up with much quicker forms of communication with their earlier access to tech. They’ve had a different speed of stimulation via YouTube videos, games, and apps. They may have never experienced the internet speed via a dial-up modem so they are used to instantaneous results.

They also have quickly adapted and evolved through their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok. The last two platforms are designed for pretty brief attention spans, which indicates our adaptation to fast communication.

Generational shaming is out and uncomfortable but necessary conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are in (which includes ageism). You can’t just chalk it up as “those kids” don’t understand you, or that they need to learn and “pay their dues”.

So if you are of an older generation and even a manager, here are some considerations that you can take regarding your virtual communications:

1. Consider having yourself and your team take a DiSC assessment.

“The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others — within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.

DiSC profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase your self-knowledge: How you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress, and how you solve problems
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
  • Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict
  • Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members

This quiz is designed to help you identify your main communication style. It helps you to be more conscious of how your style may come across to others. Does it builds relationships, or create silent conflicts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change, but you can adapt your style to best fit your team.

2. Always ask your direct reports about their preferred method of communication (call, text, email, IM, meeting).

Retain this information and do your best to meet them where they are. It would also be helpful to share your preferred method with them and ask them to do their best to meet you where you are.

3. Consider putting composed emails in your drafts if you are fired up, frustrated, or down right angry with your team.

You may feel like you are being direct. But since tone will be lost virtually, your message may not come across the way you mean it, and it may be de-motivating to the receiver. Let it sit in drafts and come back to it a little bit later. Does your draft say all you need to say, or could it be edited to be a little less harsh? Would this be better as a meeting (whether video or phone) over a written communication? Now the receiver has a chance to see you and have a conversation rather than feeling put on blast.

And finally, be curious.

Check out Lindsey Pollak’s books or podcast on the best ways to work with a variety of generations in your organization. Lindsey is a Multigenerational Work Expert and she does a great job explaining her research to drive multigenerational workplace success. She gives ideas on what all employees, managers, and even corporations should consider as we experience so many generations and communication styles in the workplace at the same time.

You may laugh that your children or employees think you are mad at them when you use a period in a text. But there’s a lot more behind it to consider. It may take adaptation on all sides as communication styles and the “future of work” continue to evolve.

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