Decoding what your boss actually wants from you is its own workload. All employers want different things from you as an employee, and it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out what those things are. We spoke to Emily Miethner, founder and president of FindSpark and MCG Social, and Rick Gillis, job search expert and author of PROMOTE!: It's Who Knows What You Know That Makes a Career. Both are career experts who are especially knowledgeable about millennials in the workplace. We asked the experts about what they wish young employees knew, so you don’t have to ask your boss.
1. Communication is key
Better communication is one of the skills Miethner was emphatic about. “The biggest thing is that we want [our employees] to talk to us, often,” Miethner says. She even mentioned that one of the qualities she looks for in potential employees is that they are strong communicators. Communication is hard to be good at, though. U.S. News says the number one way to be a better communicator is to listen. Another important aspect of communication is to try to keep your interactions positive. Like the old saying goes, “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In other words, people are rarely inclined to work with you if you come off as nasty or negative.
2. Understand the business you’re in
It may sound pretty obvious, but truly having an understanding for the business you want to be in will make a world of difference. Miethner works with companies like BuzzFeed and HBO, and has found that “a big differentiator is finding people who really understand the business.” Her advice is to truly know what the brand is about and what you can bring to the company. Understanding the business means you have to be willing to study it. Lexi Hill, a junior at the University at South Carolina, says, “Read up on what you’re working with. Study how to act professionally, how to write emails, how to act in an office environment. It’s different than school!” All that attention to detail will show that you’re driven and willing to put in the work.
3. They don’t want to fire you
It’s true. Typically, employers don’t like firing people. This is some intel that Miethner finds big companies wished their employees knew. “Everybody wants to keep their employees…for a long time,” she says. Of course, don’t stay at a company you can’t stand working for. But as it turns out, your employers aren’t out to get you; they’re just trying to get the best out of you.
4. You should be proactive
Take action. Tell your employer or manager what you’re aiming for. According to Miethner, employers want to know how to help you expand on your strengths and interests. But it’s important to remember you might not be tasked with the most exciting work first. A lot of times you have to do the hard, monotonous work before you can do the cool, thrilling work. Actually telling your boss what you want can be scary, though. According to Gillis, there is no reason that you shouldn’t ask to take on a certain project “if you’re knowledgeable and capable.”
5. The work isn’t about you
Your work reflects back on your boss. So it's important to develop a solid relationship with your employer. Gillis recommends taking any opportunity to make them look good. He says to stay tuned in to the projects they're working on, what stresses them and how you can make yourself available to help. Ultimately, it will make you memorable, and professionally valuable, to your boss. At the end of the day, though, “It’s not about [the employee]. It’s about the boss. It’s about the [company’s] mission,” Gillis says.
6. Networking is actually really important
Networking can come off as a cold term, but it actually means making work-related relationships. And relationships don’t just flourish overnight; they need to be properly built and invested in, which is why it’s important to think about these work-related relationships for the long run. “I wish that young professionals were not so short-sighted when it comes to networking,” Miethner says. Take the opportunities provided to you to go meet people, even if it doesn’t seem like it will immediately benefit you, Miethner adds. Oftentimes, the greatest relationships in life are the ones you didn’t expect.
Related: A Shy Girl's Guide to Networking
7. You need to be confident
Being confident in your work will get you noticed. Lexi learned this from her first internship. “I was a senior out of high school at a law firm with 100+ partners working with one of the partner’s paralegals. I was scared shitless and I didn’t feel like I belonged there. However, after that summer I was invited to come back and intern with the development team,” she says. “Ultimately, being confident in your work and acting like you belong makes you stand out to the bosses.” But the tricky part about confidence is that sometimes it comes off as cockiness. Gillis says some ways to come off as confident, not arrogant, are to exude a positive attitude, stand up for yourself and know your value to the company, while also being able to prove that in your work.
At the end of the day, your employer wants to see you do your best work. And even better, they want you to talk to them. They want you to show them that you’re passionate about bringing something unique and exciting to the company. Then, of course, they actually want you to deliver on that. So when the work gets tough, just remember that your boss actually wants the best for you, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.