There were no jobs for us when we graduated in the 1980s.

There are no jobs for us when we are a p*ssing distance away from retirement.

I tell you, I was born on wrong side of a Kondratieff wave.

Still, there is a silver lining. I belong to the generation of people who know a thing or two about getting, keeping and advancing in a job.

As with many things in life, we’ve made everything around jobs – and work – far too complicated. There is much advice, some of it really sound, about day-to-day demands of getting and keeping a job.

I believe, that just like with much else, the secret of success in in remembering – and abiding by – very few, simple and rock solid rules of jobs.

Here are seven such rules that you can start following immediately and just watch your ‘luck’ change and your career take off.

Rule 1: Show them who you are

This is a rule of jobs that you simply cannot know until either you get to a position where you do the hiring or someone who does it sits you down and tells you that.

For my part, I didn’t believe it even after a friend of mine who was very senior in a large pharmaceutical company sat me down and told me 15 years ago. I had to start hiring to be convinced (but then again some people are slow learners).

This rule says:

“When applying/interviewing for a job, it is most important to show who you are; what you can do is taken for granted.”

In other words, all this effort you expand trying to convince a panel that you are technically competent for the duties that the job brings is wasted: they either assume you are or they are confident they can offer opportunities to learn.

What you should be doing instead is demonstrating that you are eager to learn, that you can get on with people and that you can work well in a team.

Yeah, I know. This is counter-intuitive but still works every time.

Rule 2: Any job worth doing is worth doing well

My son has a very convenient arrangement at the moment: he gets access to a high quality gym and personal training and in exchange does cleaning for the owner of the gym.

He’s been doing this for several months now and I’m very proud of him – after all he is only fourteen. But last time I was training I notices something weird: all surfaces were perfectly dusted but the ornaments on them were covered in dust.

Of course, it was my son’s last cleaning duty.

When I got home, I asked him about it.

“But they told me to dust the surfaces.” – he said.

I sent him back to finish the job. And hope to high heaven that he will remember that any job worth doing, is worth doing well.

Of course this raises issues about making the difference between jobs that are worth doing and ones that are not. Now, this is a subject for a whole new conversation.

Rule 3: It always pays to go the extra step

rules of jobs

I took this picture in a hotel in Tunisia. I was there for work and after a day of hard toil it brought a smile to my face.

You see, the cleaning lady didn’t have to do this; and the others didn’t. But this particular one did because she simply needed to leave her personal touch on the room: and the flowers were fresh.

Guess what? This particular cleaning lady got a generous tip from me.

It doesn’t matter what you do; it always pays to go the extra step. Or a mile.

Rule 4: Learn to be helpful

It is natural to think that you will impress your boss by being a star and letting your creativity shine. You will be wrong.

In the workplace you need to learn how to be a planet first; you have to master the art of shining with the reflected light of your boss (and the team).

Learning to be ‘appropriately’ helpful is absolutely necessary if you are to get, keep and progress a job. This doesn’t mean that you have to become a doormat. And here is the big challenge.

Rule 5: Learn to be useful

Many employees fall into the trap of ‘marking time’.

This is to be expected if the emphasis in many jobs is on time: we are paid by time, we are evaluated by how long we do things etc.

Work, except in the very rare cases of extreme bureaucracies, is about what you achieve not so much about how long you take to do it.

Try focusing on ways to be useful and to contribute value to the team, organisation and the customers every day. Soon you’ll notice that you have started ‘going places’ and you are seen as someone who will get far.

Rule 6: Prepare for your next job

I have never met anyone who got promoted at work because they are doing their present job very well.

At the same time, I hear often people being upset that they didn’t get promoted given they do their job so well.

Now, think about it! Being a good administrative assistant makes you (and keeps you) a good administrative assistant. If you want to move into management, you’ll have to show that you’ve been developing an entirely different skill set.

This is what I’m talking about. Focus on the job you want, not the one you have.

Rule 7: Demonstrate that you care

This sounds like a straight forward thing but it really isn’t.

Most of the signals about whether you care or not are non-verbal. Many of these are about how you look and how you look after yourself.

So there. If you look like you’ve needed a haircut for the last year, if your hair is not washed and your clothes not ironed it is a small wonder you can’t get a job; or that you don’t get promoted.

So, look in the mirror and come up with a plan: what are the three things that you’ll change about the way you look to send signals that you care?


These are the seven rock-solid and simple rules of jobs that I wish I knew when I was twenty years old. It took me slightly under three decades to figure them out and boil them down to simple rules.

So, go ahead and try them.

Can you add any more rules of jobs? What do you think got you your last job? Or your last promotion?