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Penelope Trunk The Brazen Careerist

Penelope Trunk, The Brazen Careerist

The Five Biggest Workplace Myths

by Penelope Trunk

Posted on Wednesday, June 6, 2007, 12:00AM

As I've written before, the workplace is experiencing massive cultural shifts due to changes in both demographics and technology. Consequently, there are new rules for getting what you want out of work.

But some people still continue to give advice that only applies in the old, outdated office. Here are the five biggest myths about the workplace today, and new ways to think about the issues they raise:

Myth 1: Getting a promotion is good

Promotions aren't created with you in mind -- they're created with the company in mind. But you need to pick the steps that are right for you. You deserve a customized career, so be wary of all promotions.

Most people who are good at their non-management jobs won't excel as leaders. It takes a very specific personality type to do better as a leader than as someone who's actually doing the work. The irony is that people who are conscientious about getting their work done are promoted into leadership positions that don't value conscientiousness so much as being open to new ideas.

Also, the average salary increase is 4 percent. Is that going to change your life in any meaningful way? Getting a promotion is so last century. Instead, negotiate for training, mentoring, or flex time. These are all things that will really improve your life and your career.

Myth 2: Hide gaps in your work history

The most productive, organized, and excited people are those who respect ideas enough to take a break and have some. In the best cases, a gap in your résumé is evidence that you're both thoughtful and productive.

So it's not whether you have gaps that matters, but whether you talk about them well. Tell a good story about your accomplishments.

A gap is only bad if you go back into the workforce with nothing to show for it. As long as your résumé shows progress, curiosity, and increasing responsibility, you'll be fine. And it's very hard to show these things without switching things up on a regular basis.

Myth 3: Sexual harassment laws protect you

News flash: If you report sexual harassment it'll probably hurt your career. The law protects companies from getting sued for sexual harassment, and human resources professionals are trained to circle the company and protect it as soon as someone reports a problem. This isn't to blame people in HR -- there's nothing else they can do because the law dictates this behavior.

When you do report harassment, the most likely thing to happen is that you'll lose your job because of retaliation. Yes, that's illegal, but it's pretty much impossible to prove in court. But let's say you can sue and win: You'll get a settlement that's too small to allow you to retire, you'll be virtually unemployable in your field and career, and your harasser will probably do the same thing to your replacement.

Before you accuse me of being indifferent to social justice, please know that I'm not saying this is OK. I'm saying that unless you're independently wealthy, you can't afford to single-handedly face down the injustice of sexual harassment laws. So unless you're in physical danger, figure out how to make the best of a bad situation and move away from the harasser if possible.

Myth 4: Your first job out of college matters a lot

Don't place too much importance on your first job -- you'll have many more. Most people have 8 jobs before they turn 30, and that's fine. It's nearly impossible to know what career will be a good fit for you until you start trying things.

So give yourself the latitude to try a lot. And don't get hung up on a big soul search -- you don't need to know the meaning of life to land a great job, just the meaning of hard work.

Entry-level jobs typically can't cover the cost of rent, college loan payments, and insurance premiums, all of which are rising faster than wages, so moving back into your parent's house is a smart step toward finding a career that's right for you.

If you don't have to worry about paying rent, you have more flexibility to take a job that feels right but pays very poorly. The rise of the prestigious but unpaid internship intersects perfectly with trend to move back home.

Myth 5: You'll be rewarded if you do a good job

You'll actually be rewarded only if you're likable. So spend your days trying to figure out what people need and what people want, and how you can help them. Empathy makes you likable.

The people who don't want to have to deal with kindness will complain. But for most of us, it's big relief to know that the workplace of the new millennium demands more kindness and respect than ever before.

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