The Best Tip You'll Ever Receive in Business (Or Life)

The best advice you’ll ever receive in business

November 13, 2014 - 12 minutes read

There’s one thing that’s incredibly important in business, above so many other ways of conducting yourself. It’s something people forget all the time or learn the hard way. It’s something we need to remind ourselves. It’s something I tell students and new grads all the time when they’re asking that stereotypically hard to answer question about what the most important thing they need to know about the industry is.

I couldn’t hire you

I attend portfolio reviews for students quite often, and like to recollect one session in particular. I was just about brain dead for the day from staring at too much amazing work and was about to leave when a girl whom I had already spoken to walked over to me and asked me if before I left if I could speak with her friend and look at his work. She expressed that she thought I was giving good feedback to people and would be able to tell him what he needed to hear. I wasn’t sure what that meant yet, but it didn’t take me long to realize. Her friend’s work was fantastic for a student: creatively thought out, excellently executed, well presented in a nicely printed book. So, what could have been the problem that she wanted me to talk to him about? Well, it was one of the most important things that people (students and professionals alike) forget all the time. You see, he was coming off as a complete and utter dick. He was arrogant, talking down about his peers, making it sound like he was better than every assignment, that he was the only one who deserved a job afterwards, and that the school was too easy for him. He knew that his work was good and exuded with his entire being that he thought he was above everyone around him.

I continued to look through his work, asking him some questions, and trying to gather what I would say so as not to come off as a jerk myself. When I was ready, I finished the last page of his portfolio and said to this guy “your work is really good, for a student.” He smirked with a yeah, I know look on his face. Then I added as nicely as I could “…but, I’m sorry, I could never hire you” and his eyes bulged out of his head as he exclaimed “what?! Really? Why?” like there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with him that he knew.

I proceeded to explain the following:

[paraphrased]

“A person’s work is actually a small part of hiring someone in the end. Whenever I have been a part of the hiring process, anywhere, or subcontracted freelance work to someone, or otherwise even referred someone for work somewhere, the first and most important thing for me to look at is how it would be for them or my team to work with them. If a person is arrogant and full of themselves, lacking in empathy for colleagues and peers, irritable, unfriendly, or a jerk in some other way, then it doesn’t matter how good their work is. I’m thinking about someone who could spend long amounts of time with the rest of my team, a team in my case whom I already care a lot about.

Your work is great for the level a student should be at, but right now, I’m sorry to tell you, you are presenting yourself in a way that is coming off pretty arrogant, like this entire experience is beneath you, along with all of your peers and the people reviewing you. It’s possible that you are just socially awkward, as many of us creatives can be, and that’s okay, I give you the benefit of the doubt there. Perhaps it’s just how you’re presenting yourself and you don’t actually mean to come off that way. Here’s what I want you to think about in addition to what I just told you though. When I graduated College, many of my peers were immediately hired into awesome companies and roles, became art directors in no time, or otherwise ingrained themselves into teams of great people, not just in our city but across all of North America from Calgary to New York. This could probably happen with your graduating year as well. Now, imagine you get out of school and go to apply for that company you want to work at really badly and one of your old peers is either the one whom interviews you, is also at the company and is asked about you, or is otherwise in a position to influence you being there or getting some type of work. Also think about what might happen if you were to get a job and you continued to present yourself in a way that came off as though you did not care about the people around you, you can see how people may not want you there no matter how good your work may be.

Now, considering that scenario, you can see it’s not all about the quality or amount of work a person can get done. In fact, often times if someone seems like they have an amazing attitude and is incredibly willing to learn then we may hire them over someone who does have good skills and a poor attitude and teach them what they are lacking in skills. It’s their outlook and how they treat others that’s much more important. So, your work is good, but you have a couple of other things to work on in order to get or keep a good job and I think you can do it!”

Summed up… the best advice you’ll ever receive in business

All of that summed up, the most important advice you’ll receive in business: don’t be a dick. In that scenario, thankfully the guy not only got the advice I gave him (and I think I delivered it better/kinder than I have paraphrased quickly here), and his friend that had called me over and listened the entire time thanked me profusely. I felt really awkward having to tell someone that, but I also would have felt worse if I had not been honest with him and contributed to the release of another empathy-less person entering the workforce.

How you present yourself and treat others, in life and in work, matters

It makes me happy to see people across the web learning that social media is not a safe place to vent your darkest or most offensive thoughts, but I also wish people didn’t have to learn the hard way. If you’re looking to improve yourself, here are a few tips I’ve found useful for myself:

  • Be authentic, but also take feedback and admit when you’re wrong
  • Show more interest in the well being of other people than in yourself
  • The difference between confidence and arrogance is empathy
  • Do unto others as you would have done unto you
  • Try not to speak down about your peers
  • Think about which end of the spectrum you’re on for certain qualities, if it’s helping you to be there, and how you can change for the better
  • Before burning bridges remember that it’s a small world and you never know where you may run into someone again
  • If you want to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering.-Dale Carnegie
  • People don’t usually respond well to negative approaches and will end up resenting or hating you
  • Change is possible, and you can do it
  • For creative people specifically: what you see as your creative vision will rarely align exactly with the stakeholder’s, and you must be willing to compromise
  • For stakeholders people specifically: What you may have originally seen as important may not align with the research your UX/UI/Analytics people have done for you and your project’s success, and you need to be willing to compromise
  • For both: irrationally holding onto your own wants over sound research, education, analysis, and collaboration with your peers, can tarnish people’s opinions of working with you

What do you think?

Think this is a bunch of rubbish? Do you not care if you have a bunch of wankers working with you or for you as long as work is getting done? Is there someone near you that you think could use some of this advice? Share your story or some tips of your own in the comments section!

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