Learn Your Job Then Do It

Albert Mitchell is the VP of Marketing at SEO.com.  He graciously offered to do a guest post for my blog.  Check it out.  It’s full of common sense that you can put to use in your career success journey.

Learn Your Job Then Do It — Albert Mitchell

For the past three years, I have worked in management at SEO.com, an online marketing company. People tend to come and go in an agency like this, so over the years I have been able to associate with people from all walks of life with lots of different experiences. Some individuals come with secondary education and others have multiple degrees. Some grow into excellence while others stagnate in mediocrity. Regardless of the individual’s background, I’ve learned that there are two items that separate those who reach for greater things and those who are happy with the ordinary.

First: Learn Your Job

This does not simply refer to learning your job responsibilities but rather everything there is to know about the industry or trade. For example, if you are an accountant and were hired to work on accounts receivable, you shouldn’t be satisfied just knowing everything about accounts receivable. Instead, you should start learning how the entire cash flow of the company works. Learn what the controller – probably your boss – does and how his job influences the company.

Sadly many people feel they are done learning once they graduate or receive this or that certification. That is not how education goes.  John Dewey says: “…education, therefore, is a process of living not a preparation for future living.”

Or from Albert Einstein: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

Let’s walk through a scenario that I have seen many times as a supervisor. Two individuals are hired around the same time. One comes to the job with previous experience in the field and feels confident in what he or she knows so does not see a need to continue learning about the industry. The second person comes with no knowledge but is starved to learn everything there is about this new industry. Which of these two people will end up growing within the company?

The two people come into the same environment, work similar jobs, and one comes out shinning while the other ends up with a paycheck and nothing more to show. The individual who is passionate about the industry and willing to learn soon pass up the more experienced worker and is soon promoted.

What makes the difference? The one that grows takes what we teach them and researches the ideas more, tests it in their own work, and adapts it to what best suits their personal job or clients. Those passionate about learning are promoted to jobs where they have to learn even more. This new position requires more knowledge, further widening the gap between the individuals.

So the lesson is simple: learn more to prepare yourself to be able to do more.

Second: Do Your Job

Once you learn your job, you have to do your job. Just knowing your stuff is not enough to succeed. To be considered for promotions you have to act, and you have to use your knowledge well.

When college graduates are just starting out in the work force they usually don’t get the jobs at the top of a company. It’s just a fact of life that the new guy starts “at the bottom.” These jobs on the lower rungs are often simple, unexciting, repetitive, and not what you stayed awake dreaming about when you were a little kid.

What you do now with this job is up to you. I have seen new employees look at an entry level job and attack it with the ferocity of a lion. The job is not glamorous or prestigious but needs to be done, so they do it. Others view the job as beneath them and put forth just enough effort to stay off management’s radar and hope to put in their time before getting promoted to a better position.

On the subject of doing your job, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

I worked with one individual who was smarter than me. We both worked in similar positions. We both were trying to learn as much as we could about the industry. There was one big difference between us, though. I worked hard at my job and he was skating by. He did enough to just skate by, as his co-worker, I did not even realize he was coasting. At least, I did not know this until after I got the promotion we both applied for.

What made the difference? He learned things quicker and knew a more than I did, but he didn’t do his job. It doesn’t matter how much you know about your job or your boss’s job, if you aren’t living up to your existing responsibilities you won’t be considered for promotions.

Without learning and proactively doing your job, you are destined to slip into mediocrity. These two items are simple but powerful. I have seen employees try to succeed by focusing on only one side of this coin over and over again. And every time it leads to failure. Look at every truly successful person out there. Each one had to start at the bottom and learn their job as they worked their way up. So in the words of Dr. Seuss:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.



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