Figuring out the Ropes at Work: 5 Important Behind-the-Scenes Tips

Lucinda Jackson shares her insights on adapting to a new career in a fast-paced environment
Industry Matters Newsletter
ropes tied together

A colleague's text message popped up: "Would love your advice as I finish law school and begin work! How do I figure out the ropes as someone starting in a new, very hectic workplace?"

In a later phone call, we reviewed some realistic—and not often discussed—inside tips I've picked up over decades at multiple large corporations. Obviously, the key is to do a good job, but there are some subtle, behind-the-scenes actions you can pursue on your own that will benefit you in the long term.

Here are my quick, not-as-obvious top 5 that are critical regardless of the type of organization you're entering:

  1. Show interest in a career (not just a job). A vital aspect of a career to understand early on is the performance review process. How are employees evaluated? How often? By whom? What are the metrics? How do promotions happen? You don't want to ask how to get promoted your first month on the job, but it's smart to know how the system works.
  2. Get yourself an organizational chart and study it. Know who reports to whom and how the power structure operates up to the highest levels of the company. In every meeting, do some work ahead of time to understand who the players are and who are the decision makers.
  3. Know what your boss needs to succeed. And "like your boss"—even if you don't, find something you admire in that person and figure out how to work with your boss. Managers need kudos, too, and part of your job is making them look good. You don't have to grovel—but find real contributions and support you can honestly offer while also identifying what's in it for YOU and your core values.
  4. Communicate about your work to others, and don't work alone. Ask questions; people like to help. Be friendly, but know people are busy, so keep chit chat short. Be a team player but not a pushover—sometimes, you must "brag" subtly to ensure your credit is recognized. Speak up, but mostly LISTEN. Be personable but minimize the overly and avoid Too Much Information. Peer relationships can make or break your success.
  5. Accept some grunt work—even if it is not quite what you envisioned, you can take on that work and make it into an opportunity to make you shine. I remember in one new job as a Ph.D. scientist, they assigned me the newsletter! I was initially insulted, but I swallowed my pride and used it to contact everyone in the group, find out what they were doing, and "advertise" their good work in the monthly letter. I built great team relationships from that assignment. Another time, I thought I would work on the big-ticket US crops of corn and soybeans, and they gave me rice instead. Disappointed and a bit annoyed, I researched, realized rice was one of the four major crops in the world, and ran with it!

Congratulations on the new job, and good luck!

Lucinda Jackson, Founder, LJ Ventures
Lucinda Jackson, Founder, LJ Ventures

Lucinda Jackson is the author of Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious about her struggles to succeed in the male-dominated chemical and oil and gas organizations and Project Escape: Lessons for an Unscripted Life coming out in April 2022 about the transition from career to retirement. As a PhD scientist and global corporate executive, Jackson spent almost fifty years in academia and Fortune 500 companies. She has published articles, book chapters, magazine columns, and patents and is featured on podcasts and radio. She is the founder of LJ Ventures, where she speaks and consults on energy and the environment and empowering women and scientists in the workplace and in our Next Act. Connect with Jackson or find her books at:

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Lucinda Jackson, Founder, LJ Ventures

Lucinda Jackson is the founder of LJ Ventures and author of Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious.

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