How you do your work is as important as the actual work you do — if not more so.

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Here we are, graduation season again, and a fresh crop of job seekers is about to be let loose on society. Welcome, new grads!

You get a lot of advice this time of year, and this column is going to go there, too … but I’m going to tell you something that no one else will tell you. Why? Because they think you already know.

Maybe you do, but — just in case — here goes. Qualifications, degrees, certifications, what kind of work you do, etc. is important, but even more important is how you do your work.

You can be brilliant at coding or marketing or whatever your job is, but if you are a pain to be around, and unreliable and disorganized and emotional, then you will be hard-pressed to hold on to that job you’re about to work so hard to land.

(Note: This applies to us all, not just new grads.)

How you work can be boiled down to 12 basic skills that apply to any job in any industry at any level:

1. Make the effort and take the time to be consistently accurate.
2. Anticipate that things will go wrong (and have a Plan B).
3. Learn to predict how long it will take you to do things.
4. Do even the non-fun parts of your job with class and brio.
5. When others are freaking out, do not join them.
6. Treat everyone equally well.
7. Everything you do/say/email should make you look smart.
8. Listen and act as if you care — about the work and about the people.
9. Don’t tell your boss anything you wouldn’t tell a total stranger.
10. Be slow to take offense.
11. Only make commitments you know you can meet.
12. Carry projects through to their logical conclusions (which may mean doing more work than you’re asked to).

You may be saying to yourself, “This stuff is obvious.” And it is. But talk to any employer and you will learn that, like common sense, good how-to-work skills aren’t so common. In fact, consistently observing all 12 of the above “commandments” will make you unusual indeed.

Bottom line: How you do your work is as important as the actual work you do — if not more so.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at