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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 7: Good Jobs Go to Good Employees

Look at how a "typical" teenager normally operates when he or she has a "teenager-type" job. The teenager comes into work. The employer gives him or her a task. The teenager often does it poorly. The teenager shows no interest or excitement in the job. He complains about having to do it. When the employer goes to see what he is doing, the teenager is chatting with friends on the phone, goofing off or doing something other than the requested task. "Teenagers donít care" is the message that most adults carry in their heads because of this sort of behavior.

Now imagine that the employer finds you to be completely different. When the employer asks you to do something he gets an "OK, Iíll do it right away!" Then you do it. Perhaps you do more than required. You do it well. You are happy about it. If it is a task that takes four hours and your employer comes up half way through and asks, "How is it going?" you say, "It is going well. I have just finished blah blah blah and am starting on the blah blah blah." It does not matter what you are asked to do; you are always ready to do it.

Now imagine what the employer thinks when he compares you to a "typical" teenager. If you respond to your job in this way for a good employer you will be tagged as someone who actually does things and does them well. You will be successful very fast. It is as simple as that.

"Good jobs" go to "good employees." That is a fact of life. What are employers looking for in "good employees"? Here are some of the qualifications:

  • Good employees take the initiative. There is a huge difference between an employee who does things on his or her own and one who doesnít. Imagine yourself as a boss. You have two employees. One does nothing unless told exactly what to do, then does it poorly. The other one does any assigned task well, but in addition she is always happy to be helping and never sits idle. She always seems to be doing something to make life easier for customers or other employees. Who would your rather work with? Who will you promote? The choice is obvious.
  • Good employees take responsibility. When they are given a task they do a good job and see the task through to completion. Good employees are responsible for their own actions and the work they produce.
  • Good employees understand the financial side of the business. They know what activities make the business money and focus on them. They understand their paychecks depend on the business making money.
  • Good employees keep their commitments, both large and small. Simple commitments are important: returning calls, showing up on time, etc.
  • Good employees know that customers (and other team members) matter. Good employees take the time to ask people how they are doing and show concern and empathy for the needs of others.
  • Good employees do a job cheerfully, even if it is not their favorite. Who wants to work with a person who is complaining all the time?
  • A good employee consistently does what is best for the company.
  • A good employee is disciplined and stays on track.
  • A good employee is a consistent performer. Tasks are done well all the time, so the employer can depend on you.
  • Good employees are self-motivated. If there is a period of time where there is nothing to do, they find something useful to fill the void. Or they spend the time learning something new that will help their performance on the job.
  • Good employees give credit to others on the team.
  • Good employees exceed expectations. They do more than they are asked to do, and they do a better job than expected. If you never do more than you are paid to do, you will never be paid more for what you do.
Obviously no one is perfect in all of these areas. A person works to improve at them all through life. As a teenager you want to be conscious of the different areas and strive for improvement each day. That will take time because there is a lot to learn. Work to distinguish yourself as a good employee, learn new skills that make you better at your job, do more than expected, offer new ideas and do things important to the business. For example, if you work in a store, learn to treat customers in a special way. Perhaps try remembering their names and greeting them personally when they come in the store. You will be a fundamental reason for people to come to the store, and your employer will notice that. You can learn to do new things so that you can perform more tasks. You can make life easier for your employer. By demonstrating these qualities your employer will assign you tasks that have more and more responsibility.

Understanding a Business

Once you are working in a business, take the time to understand how all of the pieces of the business fit together. A large business with hundreds of employees is an intricate machine. Every part in the machine does something important. What role do you play in the business? Why is that role important? What does your department do? What departments does it work with, and why? What is the nature of the organizational hierarchy? Who are the key players in the business? In your division? In your department? How did they get there? If you take the time to answer all of these questions, you will learn a tremendous amount about the company you work for and about business in general.

Letís say you do all of this and you find your employer is totally non-responsive to it or hyper-critical. Or you find that your job involves flipping burgers and only flipping burgers and there is no room for creativity or advancement. Then that is your cue to get a new employer. Simple as that. If an employer is consistently assigning you a toilet scrubbing job, you are probably thinking, "Whatís the point?" Thatís a good question. Get any job in a growing SMALL BUSINESS instead. Make yourself useful. Learn the trade. You will be pushed into higher levels of responsibility by default. Make yourself indispensable.

Once you are in a small business, apply the following strategy: Learn all tasks in the business so you can start a business just like it. Learn the operations, the money, the marketing, the inventory, the payroll and the processes. Learn the entire business. It is amazing how complicated a business is, and it can take several months or years or more to learn it all. The education, however, will be invaluable. Your knowledge will allow you to run any part of the business at any time. That will give you an incredibly wide range of freedom within the business.

Another strategy to apply, especially if you are in a larger company, involves looking up. Look up in the organization and find a position or a person you admire. Then talk to people and find out about the skills, qualifications and personality required to get that job. Talk to the person who holds the position you seek and find out how he or she got there. You will generally find it was a crazy path. Ask his or her advice on what you should do to get there. Then start accumulating what you need. It will take time. Everything does (see Chapter 34). You might as well start now.

What is it Employers are Not Looking For

When you work in business you come across both great and poor employees. You also come across people who could be great employees but are missing some important point that ends up derailing their careers. One of the things a lot of teenage employees do is complain. Constantly. The problem with complaining is that no one likes to work with a complainer, and the complaining drags the whole team down. Here is an example of a letter a complainer might receive from his or her manager.


There was a snippet of conversation from lunch yesterday that I would like to come back to and discuss. It went something like this:

You: I donít want to be assigned to little 3-day projects. I want to work on something long-term.

Me: Well, you should love the XYZ project. We are in there for the long haul and have complete control.

You: [Long pause] Well, I donít wantÖ

Hereís something I have noticed. I am not saying this in a derogatory way but in a way that will help us understand something. Jim, you spend an awful lot of time complaining like this. It gets tiring after awhile. The people who work with you, myself included, have the impression that you complain constantly. Other people are going to be promoted right over you because they use their talents to move the company forward rather than complain.

Let me give you an idea for another approach you could take. This approach is clearly used by Steve, Joanne, George, etc. You have a set of clear and obvious talents. You also have a certain set of things you like to do. Starting point: We ALL have to do some things we donít like so we can move forward as a team. I, for example, certainly had no desire to fly to Seattle this week. However, I want to get paid at the end of the month. There must be enough cash coming in so we can meet payroll each month. That is just a simple fact of life. So given that fact as a starting point, there are certain things that need doing in our department. Ask yourself, "What can I do, among these things, to help? What makes good use of my talents?"

Looking at our current projects, the obvious thing is the XYZ project. I donít know if you have looked at this project but their approach is BEAUTIFUL. It is a long-term project; we will be working out at XYZ for a year, maybe two years. It definitely needs the raw talent and ability you possess, Jim. It is exactly what you seem to say you want.

So why donít you, instead of telling us what you donít want to do, step up to the plate and say, "Hey, I think I could make a tremendous contribution on the XYZ project. I have the right skills and the ability to work creatively and effectively in that space. Would you consider letting me work on this project?" Approach it from the positive side rather than the negative side.

What would happen? Joe Johnson would be overjoyed! I would be overjoyed! George would be overjoyed! Instead of having to drag you into something with you complaining about it, you would have actually taken the initiative to make this company a better place. Since you had made the decision to enjoy it, you would actually enjoy the work with the XYZ company. You would be helping our company to perform in a stellar way for its largest customer.

That would be such a better way to work. You would be much happier. We would be much happier. The entire company would recognize your contribution to our success and really appreciate it because it would be so visible. You would be taking an active leadership role on the XYZ project, so you would gain a tremendous amount of respect there as well.

Think about this. It could, potentially, be a much healthier, happier and more prosperous way for you to work. This, by the way, is exactly how successful people work in this company. Simply TAKE THE INITIATIVE and HELP THE TEAM as best you can.

Your Boss

All of us have our own character flaws. Some of them we know about and are working to fix. Others we donít recognize until we are told. If you are fortunate to be working for a good manager, he or she will take the time to help you work through character flaws that are impeding your progress. Ideally your manager will do that in a constructive way, but sometimes your manager will explode instead. Try not to take it personally. Do not quit or become a recluse. Take it for what it isóconstructive criticism. Use it to make yourself better. Simply accept the criticism and work to fix the problem, because it the long run it will be beneficial to you to do that.

A good manager who can deliver good constructive criticism to you, especially as a teenager, can accelerate your career tremendously. A good manager will also groom you for more important tasks in the company.

Another thing employers are not looking for is people who cannot get a job done on their own. When someone asks you to do something, what they hope you will do is complete the task without assistance. You may have heard the saying, "There is no such thing as a stupid question." That saying is untrue. A stupid question is one which you could answer yourself if you took the initiative to find the answer. When you are given a task, try to do it on your own. If you are missing a key element important to completion, then obviously you should ask for it. That is common sense. But try to discover missing elements yourself when possible. You will often surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

Finally, employers will have absolutely nothing to do with you if you cannot work with other people. A business is made up of a team of people and this team functions as a unit. Someone who comes in acting like a prima donna or who is belligerent to or disrespectful of other team members will be asked to leave. Such a person is simply too disruptive to have around and clearly does not understand how the world works.

Résumés, Interviews and So On

To get a job you have to do two standard things: you have to create a good résumé and you have to give a good interview. There are a million books available on both topics, and your guidance counselor at school can give you an armload of information as well (see also the BYG Publishing web site at and Chapter 45). I want to show you something to help put résumés and interviews into perspective.

Letís say that one day the project leader of a software development company is sitting in her office and a person walks in. He is neatly dressed. He sits down and they have the following conversation:

Him: I am wondering if there is anything I could do here to help you and your company.

Her: Well, what do you know how to do?

Him: My primary skills lie in the area of object oriented development using the C++ programming language. I have experience with both the Booch and Rumbagh methodologies but prefer Rational Rose as my tool for object oriented design.

Her: Do you know MFC?

Him: Yes, I am familiar with Visual C++ and MFC and have two years of GUI experience using MFC.

Her: How do you like MFC?

Him: I think it is a compromise, but overall I like it. I especially like the way Microsoft has created integrated tools that work with it. I have found I do not like the CRecordset class, however, and prefer to use a customized, three-tier architecture of my own design instead.

Her: Really? So you have database experience as well?

Him: Yes, I am familiar with the Sybase and Oracle database engines and have worked with both in application development environments.

What I want you to notice is the following: This is a normal person. He has no résumé. He walked into her office unannounced and sat down and simply told her what he knows. The thing is, this person is worth something like $50,000 to $80,000 a year (1997). Thousands of companies in America would hire him in an instant if he could sit down at a computer for 15 minutes and prove that he knows what he says he knows. The skill set he is displaying is extremely valuable and in high demand in 1997. Therefore, he can go anywhere he wants and get a good job very quickly.

My point is this: Your résumé and interviewing skills are secondary to your job skills. If you have a good skill set (a skill set that is in demand in the job market), if you can work comfortably with other people and if you simply show up to work on time every day and do a good job, then you are set.

How do you find out what the good skill sets are? There are at least three ways:

    Networking for Jobs

    I have never seen a specific statistic, but Iíd say that at least half of the jobs filled in this country are filled through networking. Networking means, in this case, discovering jobs through a group of people who know each other. If I am a businessperson and I am trying to hire someone, the first thing I am going to do is ask my employees and friends, "Hey, do you know of anyone looking for a job who is good atÖ" Chances are that half of my job vacancies are filled because somebody I know knows somebody who needs a job and has the proper credentials. Why is that? First, it is easy. It is a lot easier than placing an ad in the paper and sorting though hundreds of rťsumťs (or placing an ad in the paper and getting no responses). Second, there is a level of human trust involved. If I know you and trust you, then I know you will bring good people to my attention. That saves me a lot of time.

    As a teenager you should pay attention to networking for two reasons:

    1. If you are looking for a job, you can use networking in reverse. You can ask your friends, "Do you know anyone who is hiring?"
    2. Since you now know that networking is a good way to find jobs, it encourages you to form relationships with adults in good jobs. That way you have more connections into the network.
  • Look in the classified ad section of the Sunday paper. Find the "help wanted" section. Look for the job categories that have lots of openings and good salaries. If you are truly adventurous, send a letter to some of the ads that sound interesting to you and say, "Iím a teenager. Can you tell me what I need to learn to apply for a job like this some day?" You will be ignored by many companies, but a few will write back a nice letter and you can learn a lot. Because you are a teenager, you are allowed to write innocent, earnest letters like that. There are many people who will take the time to help you (see Chapters 4 and 16).
  • Get any menial job in any growing small business and find out, through experience and by asking questions, what skills are important to that business. Learn everything you can about every part of the business.
  • Start asking your parents and other adults for skill sets that would make it easy to land a good job in their companies. Ask them what types of people are making the most money. Ask them which jobs are the most enjoyable. Then shoot for those jobs.
An Example

I would like to give you an example of what a person can do for himself or herself as a teenager. Here is a piece of Email I received from a teenager named Paul:

I would be interested in working for a large company writing in C or C++; however, I'm still a senior in high school. Even though I am young, I know more than most college grads. I have spent at least 8 years programming and 5 of them in C/C++. I also program in Assembly language and am familiar with Pascal. I have spent the last few months teaching myself how to work with the Windows API.

I don't really expect to get the job, but some kind of response telling me what you look for in a new employee would be helpful.



This is the response I sent back:


Your letter has been forwarded up to me by Ken. Let me take a minute here and give you some ideas for you to pursue.

Even in the short letter you have written, you have conveyed several important facts about yourself:

-You are smart

-You are motivated

-You are confident

You will find a lot of companies are interested in people who display those qualities. One option, once you get to college, would be to find a co-op or intern position with a company (most larger ones interview on campus) and proceed from there.

I am going to hazard two guesses though: 1) you don't want to wait that long, and 2) you might not get enough freedom in a big companyóit all depends on the company.

I would encourage you to look for a small company in your area that understands what you are trying to accomplish. That may be hard. You may have to knock on a LOT of doors before you find someone who understands what you are saying. However, I think it would be worth the effort.

Good luck! You may not realize it now (or maybe you do...), but you will accomplish great things. The writing is already on the wall.


His response closed with this:

Thanks, you don't know how long I have been wanting to hear something like this from a real business and not from my parents :)

The point is, you have to search until you find someone who understands what you are trying to accomplish. A lot of people will blow you off. Ignore them. Just keep looking until you find someone who can benefit from your talents and goals.

Getting a Promotion

Once you get a job, you may not want to stay in that same job forever. You would like to advance so that you can learn new skills, make more money and take on more responsibility. Here are the most common things that people do to get a promotion:

  • Learn more in your current skill area. Become more of an expert in the area you currently understand.
  • Learn a new skill that has better earning potential than the skill you currently have. Normally, once you get a job you can learn about other skill areas that are available in the same or different industries.
  • Learn what it takes to get the next job up. In every business there is normally a natural promotion path. In larger companies there are formal promotion ladders. Ask your manager for the requirements of the next job up and fulfill them.
  • Learn management skills. The ability to organize projects, manage people and get the job done profitably is highly valued in all companies. Learn about management opportunities, take management courses and read books so that you can move into management roles.
  • Do a good job. In all companies, the people who do a good job are the ones who get promoted. See the list of attributes at the beginning of this chapter for more information.

Management Positions

Management positions, especially at higher levels in a large company, are some of the best paying jobs in this country. They are also some of the most demanding. If you are interested in getting one of these positions, it is important to understand what a "manager" is and what makes a good one.

Think about a minimum wage worker working in any company: a factory, fast food restaurant, grocery store or whatever. A "line" worker like this does one job without thinking. The worker is told what to do and then does it. Thatís it. The line worker mentality is, "Iíve got to flip these burgers," "Iíve got to solder these wires" and so on. The line worker understands nothing about the bigger picture.

A manager is treated differently. A manager is given a group of people plus a budget and told, "Please accomplish this task." A manager, therefore, needs at least four skills:

  • Interpersonal skills to help in leading a group of people and making sure they are all happy, productive and interacting well with one another.
  • Organizational skills to make sure that all of the people do the right things at the right time so that the project is completed on time and on budget.
  • Corporate skills to make sure that the project fits in well with the rest of the company (A department is not a free-floating entityóit has to work with other departments, request corporate resources, deliver output and accept input and so on).
  • Money management skills to keep track of the budget.
You do not gain all of these skills by accident. You work at all of them throughout your career, gaining experience with them as you tackle each new project or assignment. The important thing to know is that you can work at them. By improving these specific skills you can accelerate your rise in any company.

This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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