Your first years at work are like boot camp, and to succeed - not just survive - you have to learn the ropes, and learn them quickly, says Robert Dilenschneider, founder of a public-relations firm in New York and former president and chief executive of public-relations giant Hill and Knowlton.
"Why some young people will succeed and some won't has very little to do with their family backgrounds, the colleges they attended, their majors, the honors they received there, their IQs, their graduate degrees, their athletic skills, or even their ambition and drive," Dilenschneider said.
More important, it is not just about what you know that gets you ahead, it's how well you learn and play the career game. You have to be astute about how the working world works, Dilenschneider said.
Having watched people struggle in their careers, I agree with Dilenschneider. So to help young adults become work literate sooner rather than later, I've selected for this month's Color of Money Book Club The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life (Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing, $15) by Dilenschneider and Mary Jane Genova.
Think of the book as your paper mentor, Dilenschneider said. And here's some of what you'll learn:
* How to figure out if your company's culture is the right fit for you. "Bad fits are career killers," Dilenschneider writes. In this still-recovering economy, you might have to take the first job that comes along. But it is important to eventually find an organization that is the best fit for you.
* How to manage your relationship with your boss. There are people who should never be put in charge of anyone. Nonetheless, organizations promote such people to supervise others. You may have a boss who seems determined to make your life miserable no matter how hard you try to please.
However, Dilenschneider believes there aren't as many bad bosses as people think.
* How to survive the office grapevine - otherwise known as gossip, the rumor mill, office politics or networking. It's there and you need to know when to use it and when to avoid it. "Remember, everyone has an agenda," writes Dilenschneider, who points out the people to avoid or watch carefully.
* How to consciously create your image. "Whether you like it or not, agree with it or not, think it's unfair or not, people judge you by your image," Dilenschneider writes.
I was fortunate when I began my career. I had a lot of help. Still, I stumbled and spent time in the ladies' room crying over things that happened to me.
"If you don't take full advantage of the opportunity to learn the ropes during those years, you're going to be in trouble," he writes. "There will be big gaps in your knowledge base, and you won't have developed sound instincts about what to do when and under what circumstances."