By Alexandra Levit
Hopefully, this isn't news to recent college graduates, but the workplace is more competitive than ever. If you have a job already, congratulations -- you've made it over the first hurdle. Now it's time to make sure you can stay put through this economic crisis and beyond.
Here are five essential tips I've gleaned from working with HR staff, managers and twentysomething employees in hundreds of organizations.
1. Be the One Everyone Wants to Work With
Members of Generation Y, or those born roughly between 1978 and 1993, unfortunately, have a reputation of showing up to work with a sense of entitlement. Combat this perception by showing that you're willing to pay your dues and learn from any assignment, owning your career progression and being a "can-do" person. If you encounter roadblocks, marshal your resources to get around them rather than letting a project languish.
2. Surpass Your Boss's Expectations
Find out what the boss wants from you first, and then brainstorm ways to go above and beyond the call of duty. You can also establish a good rapport by making your new boss feel needed. Show that you are ready and willing to be guided, and bond over the fact that he has some years on you. Understand the value of self-sufficiency, and approach your boss with a problem or complaint only if you've explored all options for resolving it yourself.
3. Carve a Niche for Yourself Through Innovation
Ask yourself what your company or department needs, and think about how you can use your unique set of skills and talents to provide it. So what if you're hardly a Renaissance man or woman? You're still new blood. Can you offer a fresh perspective on a vexing problem that has been plaguing your managers for months? Can you find a way to do something faster and more efficiently?
4. Take the Extra Step to Help Someone
Beach-ball management, or bouncing a request over to a colleague because it's not your responsibility to handle it, is all too common in the professional world. If someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer, make it your business to find it. By doing whatever you can to ensure your department or organization is perceived in a positive light, you will add value and stand out as a team player.
5. Subtly Promote Your Achievements
If you want people to take notice of you, you must make your accomplishments visible. How do you share your contributions without being perceived as arrogant or boastful? The key is enthusiasm. If you emphasize your passion when describing an achievement, people will think you're just excited about it. An excited person appears earnest, and it's hard to be critical of someone who's earnest.
Of course, these suggestions aren't limited to new college grads. If you've been out of school two years or 20, the tips might well be worthwhile in hanging onto your job through the downturn.
[Alexandra Levit, a nationally recognized business and workplace expert, is the author of the They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World.]