Remember that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestley’s assistant stealthily walks alongside her at a party and whispers who each guest is into the editor-in-chief’s ear so she’ll seem like she remembers everyone?
That should be you, every day at work. Not quietly uttering names into your boss’ ear—that would be creepy—but making his or her life easier. If you can figure out how to do this well, you’ll actually climb up on a few rungs on the ladder to success. Plus—you’ll always have a great reference in your back pocket.
Below are five steps you can easily take to make that happen:
1. Go Beyond Your Job Description
In this day and age, most companies expect employees to do the job of more than one person. It might not be fair, but it’s a fact. Be prepared to show you’re up for the challenge by volunteering to take on more than you’re expected to do. Odds are high that your boss always has a few tasks you can take off her plate, so go ahead and ask. It might not be the most exciting work, but anything that lessens your manager’s workload will help your career in the long run. Especially if your new responsibilities free her up to work on more long-term projects that help the company grow.
2. Pay Attention to Detail
We live in a world of fast-moving communications where everyone’s used to emailing and texting quickly, often without thinking. While speed’s good, quality is just as important, especially when you’re working on a project, written report, proposal, or presentation for your boss. Sometimes, in an effort to work fast, mistakes happen.
Years ago, I accidentally hit “reply all” on an email in which I called a senior editor at my magazine a jerk—and, of course, he read it. Long story short, I apologized and kept my job. But ever since then, I’ve always taken the time to double-check who I’m responding to.
You can train yourself to slow down by resisting the urge to push the send button immediately on an email that you haven’t re-read. Whenever possible, ask a colleague to proofread your work or put it aside for an hour and then read it aloud to catch any errors (yes, it really works, though your co-workers might think you’re crazy!).
3. Let Her Know About Your Mistakes Before Her Boss Finds Out
If your supervisor gets called out on something that she didn’t know about ahead of time, it makes her seem like she’s not mindful of what’s going on. And when she looks bad, trust me, you do, too. So, the next time you screw up, fess up fast and offer to fix it.
We once entered our company as a contender for a “Best Places to Work” list, and I assigned someone on my team to help put together all the appropriate facts and figures for our submission. We made the list—which should’ve been cause for celebration—however, instead of showing an increase from the previous year, our revenue numbers reflected a decline. I was all ready to yell at the list’s editor for messing up, but as it turned out, my staffer had accidentally reversed the annual revenue numbers.
To her credit, as soon as she realized her error, she admitted it and offered to do whatever it took to remedy the situation. The publication ultimately changed our ranking to a higher standing, a crisis was averted, and I respected my staffer more for dealing with her mistake so directly.
4. Stay Up on the Latest Trends
When I ran PR at Hearst Magazines, I used to hold monthly meetings called “Wish I Had Thought of That,” where the teams that reported to me would present the coolest or newest trends, publicity stunts, stories, or ideas they had read about and share them with the whole group—even suggesting how we might apply them to our own brands. This was a great way to force us all to remain up-to-date on what’s happening.
Think about your own business—are there new technologies, marketing techniques, or real-time data that your boss might not be aware of and would help your department be more cutting-edge or ahead of the curve? Send him a link to a great article or interview with an industry thought leader, or offer to train him on a new social media platform like Periscope. He’ll look like he’s on top of his game, and he’ll recognize you as the reason for that.
5. Bring Solutions Instead of Problems
Everyone—including the boss—has to do more with less these days. When part of your job is managing people, you can end up spending a lot of your time just putting out fires, resolving conflicts, and trying to keep the trains running on time. Unfortunately, as a result, the work you actually need to get done can fall by the wayside (hello, late night emails!). Let’s be honest: Most employees come to their managers with a problem and look to them to present a way to fix it—not unlike parents and children.
Save your boss time and energy by coming with potential solutions to whatever challenge you’re facing. Next time a problem pops up, try to avoid marching into the office and saying, “I have a problem. What should I do?” She’d much prefer to hear, “I have a problem. Here’s how I would propose handling it. What do you think?”
While it seems like a small change, this approach will not only save her the trouble of having to solve the conundrum for you, but will also demonstrate that you have the “figure-it-out” gene.
Let’s be honest: most of us want to have our boss’ job some day. Showing that you can be the kind of employee who makes your own manager shine will help pave the way for you to not only get promoted, but also know how to hire a great team who’ll make you look good once you’re the one calling the shots.