9 Success Tips For Entry-Level Employees to Thrive in a Post-Pandemic Job Crisis

What a whirl-wind year and a half it has been in more ways than one.  And when it comes to the job market, you better have strapped yourself in because around every corner there has been a new twist or turn.  

As someone who has worked every type of entry-level job you can think of, to employing people myself, I know very well what it takes to make yourself relevant and valuable to a business or company, especially in today’s economic atmosphere.  

As with everything in life, even in times of crisis, there are nuggets of gold to be mined.  And this still stands true even today, during the dizzining times we currently find ourselves in.  There are opportunities galore for those willing to step up their game in the workforce.  Just like mega-millionaires are created during some of the worst real estate downturns in our country, this is the time for many employees to shine and make hay while some others choose to dawdle in the barn.

John Taffer, hospitality entrepreneur and television personality of the hit series, Bar Rescue, did an interview a few weeks ago and commented on the fact that because of the dire need for workers today, he is hiring people that he never would have hired in the past.  Going on to point out that for those willing to put in the work, this is a great time to showcase their value in the job market.

So many individuals ask potential employers “Give me a chance.”  Well, now you have it.  Here are my tips on how to use that opportunity to not only survive, but thrive in your job.  These are part of the lessons I explain in The Polite Advantage. ™ 

Tip #1 – GET A JOB!

I know that may not sound like much of a tip.  In fact, it might sound like something you imagine your parents saying as they gently (or not so gently) nudge you off of the sofa.

But as crazy as it sounds, this is exactly what some people need to hear.

If you haven’t noticed, there are “Help Wanted” signs showing up everywhere, in store windows, staked into the ground in front of businesses and on websites.  It seems no matter where we turn these days, companies in cities and towns all across America are looking to hire.

Now I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, but the bottom line is that this is in part due to stimulus checks. There are a lot of individuals choosing to not work and receive the checks instead, for many they can make more money staying home than working an entry-level job.  I hope that isn’t you, because that is a horrible plan of action in the long run.  But if it is, let me share a story with you that might help you understand my point.

Over 28 years ago, my husband and I newly married, were discharged from the Air Force.  While in the military we worked on B1-Bomber planes, their computer systems, instrument auto-pilot and a few other areas of the aircraft.

Once we were no longer active duty soldiers, it was time for us to enter the civilian job workforce.  My husband had only a high school diploma and no other work experience other than what he did in the military and almost three years of detailing cars for dealerships in Minnesota while he was in high school.

So not knowing what else to do he took a job at a dealership washing and detailing cars for around $6 an hour. We needed every dollar he could make, so at 21 he worked his tail off putting in as much overtime as they would give him.  Forty and fifty hour work weeks became his norm and if he had a fever or cold, oh well, he worked anyway. 

During his time there an outside vendor would come about once a week to take dents out of cars via the paintless dent repair technique.  Over time he got to befriend my husband and came to respect his work ethic as he watched him week after week work an insane amount of hours for very little pay.

It was because of my husband’s work ethic that this gentleman offered him an opportunity in his company that completely changed the trajectory of our lives.  If it had not been for that serendipitous relationship, I honestly can not even imagine how things would have turned out for us.  Consequently, once my husband became established in his new career, I was able to go back to school and finish my doctorate degree.

My point then being, no opportunity is going to come to you, you have to get out there and show the world what you got.  It took a couple of years for my husband but that opportunity did eventually manifest.  As stated earlier, now more than ever people are looking to hire, and proving yourself today, to have a tremendous work ethic, is like purchasing bitcoin ten years ago.  Practically invaluable.

Tip #2 – CLEAN UP BEFORE YOU SHOW UP

Yes, once again a little obvious but apparently the obvious isn’t so obvious any longer.

I see this in ALL jobs, careers and, unfortunately, career levels and I am astonished at the percentage of times I see it: employees look like they just rolled out of bed and showed up to work.

Okay, now this is a deep subject and one that I explore at length in my upcoming book, “The Power of Polite ™ ”, so for now I’m just going to hit the high-lights. 

First, make sure your work clothes are clean, neat, wrinkle-free and stain-free.  If they can’t be repaired, throw them away or donate them.  The way you present yourself at your job tells your employer and co-workers exactly what you think of them and the job.  A sloppy appearance says you don’t care.  I can promise there won’t be much promotion going on with that attitude.

Also, if your clothing is piling (you know, getting the little fuzzy nubs), fading or your whites aren’t so white any longer, get rid of them.  Wardrobe pruning, no matter your job title or whether or not you wear a uniform, should be happening weekly.

Lastly, and this is a biggy, get your clothes tailored, it can make inexpensive clothing look more expensive.

Speaking of clothes expenses, for those that want to argue they can not afford to keep replacing their clothes, I will push back.  I go to resale shops, (often GoodWill) regularly, and there is an endless amount of nice, clean, oftentimes brand new, current-trend clothing for sale at, dare I say, “cheap” prices.  You can often buy an entire outfit for under $15.

I regularly find great pieces I love at thrift shops then take them and pay a few extra dollars to have them tailored.  I get compliments all of the time on my GoodWill clothing and people have no clue where I got them from.

Finally, make sure you are clean, nail polish is not chipped or grown out, keep a toothbrush with you in your desk or purse to brush up after snacks or lunch, hair combed and or styled in a clean and neat fashion and overall appearance look like you care.  Remember to use a mirror to not only check the front of you but the back of you as well before you leave home.

Tip #3 – BE THE FIRST TO SHOW UP AND THE LAST TO LEAVE

So I’m kind of, sort of saying this metaphorically, and kind of, sort of not.  Here’s the deal.

Do you come hurringing into the workplace just minutes, or maybe even seconds before you are supposed to be at work, or godforbid, late?  If so, you are letting your employer know that showing up to work is not a priority for you. 

Additionally, the moment the work day has ended, do you rush out the door like Cinderella before the last stroke of the clock?  Or maybe even try to sneak out a few minutes early?

These actions are what the GOOD ENOUGH employee does. And “good enough” employees don’t get raises, promotions are better opportunities.  The manager or boss, if they are a good one, work much longer hours than their job calls for, they work until the job is done.  And they recognize the “good enough” employees and see them for exactly who they are.

Maybe you aren’t that person.  Great!  But are you still just showing up when you need to and leaving when it is time to go, thinking there is nothing wrong with that?  If you want to get ahead and stand out, you come in early and leave when the job is done, not when the clock says it is time to go.

If you are a shift worker, come in early enough that you have time to clock in and put your things away to be ready to start working when your shift begins, not fifteen minutes later.  Your employer paid you for those fifteen minutes you were using for personal time.

Additionally, make sure when your shift is over you don’t just walk out the door but that everything is ready to hand over to the next shift.  When it is time to clock out, do so, AND THEN go get your personal belongings together to leave.

If you have an office job, be the first one in the office, even try to beat your boss or the owner in every morning.  I guarantee that will get you noticed.  Do the same thing when you leave.  Staying long after the masses have left and doing extra work will make you stand out from the crowd.  I used this tactic over and over when I worked for other companies (even when I waited tables for years) and it never failed me.  I always got noticed by management, which brought more opportunity within the company and higher pay.

I know, everyone’s situation is different, especially today, but look for how you can have a stronger presence in your workplace than you do now.

Tip #4 – LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYES, SMILE AND BE POLITE

As I write these tips I feel as though they are too simplistic due to their obvious nature.  But then again, I’m writing these tips because they are simple but yet drastically underutilized.

Looking people in the eyes for most people requires practice.  It can be really uncomfortable at first if you aren’t used to it but within a short amount of time, it becomes pretty easy until it is just second nature to you.

Why is this so important?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  First, when you look someone in the eyes as you are speaking with them, you are letting them know that they have your full attention and you are listening to what they say.  This is HUGE when it comes to building rapport and having others trust you.  No one likes to have someone talking to them and looking around elsewhere.  This is extremely rude and counter-productive to any success you desire to have.

Secondly, when you look someone in the eye it shows confidence on your part.  People who look away, even if only out of shyness, send a body language signal of uncertainty and that can often make someone question your credibility, even if that needn’t be the case.  They may incorrectly assume you don’t know what you are talking about.

Lastly, looking someone in the eye when you speak to them, especially someone in a superior position at work, shows confidence and helps command respect, and that is never a bad thing.

Smile.  Yes, I know, many of us are wearing masks out and about, but I still smile behind my mask.  While it is sadly not the same, the physical act of smiling will actually move your cheekbones and eyes in such a way that it is still obvious you are smiling behind your mask.  Also, smiling will lift your voice and it will sound more upbeat and positive when you speak.

Finally, smiling is just a kind, polite and pleasant thing to do and everyone wants to be around people who exude a pleasant aura. 

Be polite. I feel as though I need to stop there because that two word sentence should be self-explanatory, but then I hesitate because this topic opens a whole other lengthy conversation of the intricacies of what being polite actually means.  Sad but true.

For this discussion, let’s just use the simple definition of being polite to mean showing good manners to others. Don’t be rude, defensive, off-putting, dismissive, arrogant or even nonchalant.  Let people you interact with during your work day know that you are happy to be there – even if you really aren’t.

I can not tell you the number of times I took a stand-offish customer who was sceptical and by looking them in the eyes, addressing them with respect, speaking slowly and clearly, smiling and being polite in a sincere fashion, I was able to not only win them over but turn them into a raving fan.

Tip #5 – SAY YES

Learn to say “yes” more and less of “not my job,” or “I can’t.”  When a boss or coworker asks you to do something that maybe is outside of the scope of your job description or something extra that may require you to stay a little longer, as in asking you to work an extra shift, if you are looking to get ahead in your current job, it would be a good idea to say “yes” as often as possible.

This can be a tricky one though, because while you should say “yes” more often when asked if you can help out with something, you don’t want to be taken advantage of either.  Here are the guidelines I would use to decide if I should say “yes” or not.

If your boss is asking you to do something, then “yes.”

If a co-worker is in a bind and they need your assistants, they aren’t hiding a lie or asking you to do their job for them then, “yes.”

If it means the opportunity to learn how to do something new, then definitely “YES.”

Over my years of working for other companies I said “yes” as often as I could and time and time again it paid off ten fold.  If saying “yes” to a request is above board, sincere and genuinely something for the better good of the company, then “yes” because it will be for the better good of you too.  Besides, everyone likes a team player.  Selfish employees rarely find themselves in line when better opportunities within the company come along.  

Want to take this one step further, learn to anticipate when someone needs help and offer before they have to ask.  

Tip #6 – NO GOSSIPING

You know the saying “loose lips sink ships?”  Well they sink careers too.

The thing about water-cooler gossip is that we can easily get sucked in, even with the best of intentions not to gossip in the workplace.  This includes not only gossiping about other coworkers, but about your boss, the company in general or customers.

Oftentimes, because we want to fit in and get along with our co-workers, we will participate in what appears as innocent gossip.  But be warned, remove yourself every time from that situation before you fall prey.

I will be very honest here and tell you that I learned this lesson the hard way.  I’m a social person by nature, so I typically got along fine with most of my coworkers in the past, but before I knew it, what started out as idle conversation would go south quickly and more than once I found myself participating.

I’m not proud of it and I definitely learned my lesson but not without a little heartache.

Do yourself a favor and just don’t do it.  Period.  I have personal experience and have seen it many, many times happen to other individuals.  The person you thought was your friend, throws you under the bus the minute they are having to answer for themselves in the boss’s office and their job is on the line.

Just don’t do it.  Make a hard and fast promise with yourself that you will always politely remove yourself from the conversation as soon as you see it taking this turn.  Of course, you can always first try to change the subject or even outright let the other employees know that what they are doing isn’t cool, but in the end, if that doesn’t work, you must not participate.  Besides being unethical it can backfire on you in ways you hadn’t even thought of.

Tip #7 – PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY 

Again, I feel as though I am saying something that need not be said; thank you Captain Obvious.  Yet, here I am.

I’ll make this very clear.  Unless using your phone is part of your job, your phone should be put away, not used, not looked at, not touched, until you are finished working for the day or on a break.  

You may not like what I am saying, and you can call me a Boomer, even though I’m not, but if you want to thrive in your job, which is after-all what this article is about, then put your phone away.

If, however, there is some requirement that you need your phone for your job, then you use it ONLY for your job.  Not to quickly check social media, your personal emails, send a personal text or take a photo.

I believe many people who practically grew up with phones in their hands think that this is not a  big deal.  Rest assured, it is a big deal.  Your boss or employer may not say something, but they notice.  When you are using your phone for personal use during hours that you are paid to work you are stealing wages.  

This is so important and yet drastically dismissed that I’m going to repeat it again.  You may think it is no big deal because your boss hasn’t said anything but they are taking note.  I guarantee, because I would.

Tip #8 – NO COMPLAINING

Let’s be honest.  We all have parts of our job, things about our boss and coworkers and most definitely about customers that drive us loco.  And complaining, in a way, is a type of stress relief outlet.  But like gossiping, complaining is childlike and nothing a responsible adult should be doing.

Please know, just about everything I teach, whether it is in this article, blog or in my training through my company The Royal American Etiquette Academy, I teach because I made those mistakes myself.

Years ago I was working for a computer software company and my job was sales.  All day I would sit on the phone making literally hundreds of cold calls to companies to get them to come and take a free computer software class in the hopes that I could go on to sell them additional classes for the employees in their company.

Yes, I was that person you love to hate.  I told you I have done just about every entry-level job there is.

Anyway, one day, I made a phone call and the woman on the other end of the line was very kind and polite but told me “No, they weren’t interested.”

Well, I was feeling quite full of myself that day, and after she hung I I turned to my co-worker next to me and said some snarky comments about her that quite  honestly I really don’t remember the exact words to this day.  I just remember it not being very nice. I think I blocked them from my memory because of what happened next. 

My phone rang, I answered and to my surprise, it was the woman I was just talking with.  Again, as polite as she could be, she introduced herself and said, “I would like to play you something.”  With that she played a recording of me going off smack talking about her, this woman who had been nothing but pleasant to me.  How it was recorded I don’t know, just that it was.  

After she played the recording, I’m sure I was every shade of red and thankful as could be that no one around me could hear our conversation.  She then, again with the utmost politeness said, “I just wanted you to know that I heard what you said about me.  Now, I”m not going to report this to your boss, but I thought you should know.  I wish you all the success in your future endeavors.”

I wanted to crawl under my desk and curl up in the fetal position.  I was so ashamed and embarrassed of what I had said and how I spoke about her that I physically was shaking and felt sick.  That wasn’t the kind of person I was or wanted to be.  But I got caught up in the moment of gossip and complaining with coworkers, and  before I knew it, my gatekeeper had fallen asleep and I let the insults and complaints fly.

Over almost 25 years later I still flush with red and cringe when I think about that call.

Even if you don’t have as humiliating an experience as I did, it is important to remember that no one likes to be around people that complain.  They are downers and it is emotionally draining.  People want to be around happy, positive individuals.  And if you are having a bad day and you can’t be very positive at that moment, then just keep it to yourself.

The bottom line is that your mother was right.  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Tip #9 – NO EXCUSES

I saved the best for last.  This is my pet-peeve, just ask my son.

It seems like there is an epidemic of blame in our world today.  It is rampant and it permeates everywhere in society.

Even the smallest of excuses are not okay.

“I’m sorry I’m late, my gas tank was empty and I needed to get gas first.” 

No.  Instead say, “I’m sorry I’m late, it was my mistake and I won’t do it again.”  After all, it was your responsibility to make sure you had enough gas to get to work that day and plan accordingly.

Like complaining and gossiping, making excuses and blaming others is so very, very juvenile, and yet, leaders in the highest positions utilize it every day.

Okay, let’s lay this out once and for all; take responsibility for your own mistakes – PERIOD!

When an employer sees you passing the buck and blaming someone else or making an excuse for why it happened, in other words, not taking responsibility, you have lost ALL credibility with that person and they no longer see you as a person with integrity.

When I was an adjunct professor at a college, I had a hard and fast rule that if you were more than ten minutes late to my class I counted you as absent, even if you showed up at eleven minutes after and stayed for the class.  Why?

One, I was trying to prepare these students for the real world of employment and two, like I told them, if I can get up early enough to take my then infant son, 30 minutes in the opposite direction of my job to his sitter, than turn around and drive another 45 minutes the other way, and still arrive on time to have my classroom ready to go before class started, then my students could arrive on time as well.

When you own a company, in the eyes of the law and the government, you are directly responsible for the actions of your employees. In other words, if your employee messed up, you as the owner are responsible.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t have anything to do with it or even knew about it.  You are incharge and therefore you are responsible.

In the military, you as the commanding officer are in charge of your troops.  If a mistake takes place and something tragic happens, even though you may not have even been near the area of the incident, you as the commanding officer were in charge and therefore own some of the blame.

The best leaders in the world take responsibility for the actions of those under them.  Obviously, this does not include things that that employee may do out of work hours, so please, let’s not take this to some extreme hypothetical scenario.  I think you get what I’m saying.

As I said in the beginning of this tip.  This is my pet-peeve and you can just ask my twenty year old son.  Though he has tried many times, I never let him shuffle the blame off onto someone else.  He needs to own any mistakes he makes.  It will make him a more honorable man, it will make him someone people trust, it will cause him to be more careful in the future so as not to repeat his mistake and he will improve in all areas of his life because of taking responsibility and creating better standards for himself.

If we never take responsibility for our actions then we will never get better.

In your career and on the job, own your actions and the actions of those you are responsible for, then figure out a solution to fix the problem and/or make amends.  You will be regarded by your boss as someone with integrity and that is no small thing.