• Wed, Jul 13 2011

Working It: Fortune Cookie Career Advice

A long time ago, in a Chinese restaurant far, far away, I ate the complimentary fortune cookie that came with my meal.

Most of the time these slips of paper are hardly grammatical, trite observations more than fortunes. That’s why we add “in bed” at the end and then forget all about them. After writing about grunt work in last week’s post, I remembered one of the best pieces of career advice I ever got. It was in a stale fortune cookie that was technically a stale career advice cookie.

The sage words: “There’s no traffic jam on the extra mile.” (…in bed.)

Seriously, though, this needs to be typed in Helvetica and put on a Tumblr. It needs to be printed on a poster with a tortoise climbing uphill and hung up in a fifth-grade classroom. Let’s tattoo it on the inside of somebody’s arm.

It needs to sink in right now. “There’s no traffic jam on the extra mile.” If you think your workplace or chosen career is competitive, figure out how you can go above and beyond. Don’t even venture too far down the talent route. Sometimes it only makes you second-guess yourself. Accept that there’s always at least one person better than you at anything, but there are thousands who are lazier. In interviews, employers always say they only hire people who are intrinsically motivated self-starters, but they know that most people just aren’t. It’s not because they’re not capable — they just don’t want to be.

Going the extra mile may not directly pay off in the form of a raise, office with a view, or annual bonus, but there are always rewards. Focus your efforts on honing a skill you can add to your resume and use in your next job. And trust me, if you work hard enough, someone important will find out.

One of the best ways to go the extra mile — and make sure other people notice it — is to take advantage of whatever educational resources your job offers. If you get helpful professional development opportunities or your workplace will pay for continuing education, then carpe diem and carpe free tuition. If not, make it happen on your own.

That’s what Eileen, a 25-year-old marketing account manager did. She knew her company was slowly expanding overseas and would eventually hire for a position in Germany. She needed an edge to be considered for the assignment. Then there was the whole hypothetical issue of actually being able to take the job if it was offered.

Eileen found a three-month adult education class at a local high school and started learning German. There was a slow learning curve, but Eileen was eventually saying “Auf Wiedersehen” like Heidi Klum. Her diligence paid off. Eileen got the assignment, moved to Deutschland, and found out that everyone she worked with spoke English! Still, her clients appreciated that she made the effort to immerse herself in the German language and culture. And really, who isn’t impressed with foreign language proficiency? How do you say “working it” in German?

How have you gone the extra mile?

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