If you find yourself cleaning out your desk and starting a new job every nine months to a year, the problem is you — not your boss or colleagues.
It's important to understand your company's corporate culture and to match it in words and actions. For starters, if you work in a prim-and-proper button-down office, don't show up in jeans and a T-shirt boasting about wild times in Tijuana.
"Size up the culture and show a strong work ethic," says Andrew J. DuBrin, a professor of management at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. "Don't walk around saying, 'It's Wednesday — hump day — and Friday will be here soon.' "
Here's betting that Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Intel, Exxon Mobil and McClatchy Newspapers have distinct corporate cultures. The smart employee scopes out the territory ahead.
You got hired because the boss thought you could do the job. But competence alone isn't enough to succeed. Be passionate about your work and take pride in it. Tossing things together at the last minute won't cut it.
If you're smart and a little lucky, you'll find your work challenging and your co-workers engaging.
Many young employees talk about having "fun" at work. It's a mistake. There's always an element of levity in a good office — clever quips and groaner puns from the office wag, for example — but remember that you work to make money for the company, not to have fun on the days between weekends.
"When in doubt, behave traditionally," DuBrin says. "Be on time, be a good corporate citizen and go out of your way to help people. Traditional values are still held in high esteem by most employers."
Catch the rhythm of the staff meetings. Are they formal or informal? Is it acceptable to do other work on a laptop and occasionally check your cell phone for text messages, or would that drive the boss nuts? When in doubt, leave the laptop and phone behind.
No one's perfect, and if you make a mistake, immediately take full responsibility for it. Don't blame others, and certainly don't try to slough it off on your immediate boss. Saying, "I'm sorry, my mistake. It won't happen again" will help you put all but hanging offenses behind you.
Much like there's a division between church and state, draw a line between your personal life and work. Don't talk incessantly about your life outside work. If you're having trouble in your personal life, keep it to one or two confidants. No one else at work needs to know — or more to the point, wants to know — about your travails at home. Remember: There is no way that broadcasting your personal difficulties will improve your standing with the boss.
Little things can become a big deal at work. Here's how: Your dentist will love you for flossing, but your co-workers won't if you do it at your desk. Perform personal hygiene duties at home.
Here are ten things you must get right to avoid killing your career. In most cases, no single faux pas is serious enough to get you a pink slip on the spot, but the steady drip-drip-drip of inattention to one or more of these basic points will seriously erode your position, and before you know it, you'll be cleaning out your desk ... again.
Know what's expected. No one wants a drone or a yes-man, but if you don't understand the corporate culture and if you don't know what's expected of you, you're gone. It's possible to fit in without squashing your creativity. Remember whom you work for and why.
Money isn't everything. Don't create the impression that you're working just for a paycheck. That's the hallmark of a clock-puncher and will kill all chances for advancement. If you're so unhappy with your job that you live for the 15th and 30th of each month, it's time to start sending out résumés.
Leave the gossip to the supermarket tabloids. Idle chit-chat at the water cooler is a fact of life and acceptable, and is even expected in small doses. But don't chatter endlessly about who's in and who's out. To do so reflects badly on you and takes time away from turning the wheels. Your boss will notice if you spend more time yapping than working.
Flubbing deadlines. Deadlines are real and must be met because, believe it or not, the world doesn't move to your beat. Missing deadlines will back up the whole show and make your boss look bad. A bad hair day is no excuse for missing a deadline. Work late to get the job done if you have to.
Cubicle etiquette counts. Leave it to future historians to determine how cubicle culture changed America. All you have to do is live with it. Remember: Privacy's nonexistent in a cubicle, so don't have phone conversations that you don't want others to hear. Personal decorative touches should be tasteful.
Personal e-mails are death. Here's a basic truth many employees miss: The company e-mail system is for company business. Don't use it to gossip, and don't write anything that you don't want read by the boss, because many systems save deleted messages to a master file. Horror tales of someone hitting "Reply to All" and mistakenly sending a juicy note about the boss to everyone, including the chief, are common. Call up your personal e-mail account to send personal notes, and keep it short; you're at work.
Isolation leaves you vulnerable. You don't have to constantly hang out with co-workers after hours, but don't isolate yourself with standoffish behavior. You don't want to be seen as someone who thinks you're too good for the proletariat. Extend the simple courtesies to your co-workers: good morning, good night, please, thanks. Your mother was right: Manners count.
Don't climb ego mountain. No one likes an egomaniac, and for good reason: They're boring, obnoxious, trivial people. Listen to what your co-workers tell you. Ask questions. Learn from the experienced hands. Improve your skills and boost your productivity.
Don't take credit for others' work. It's a familiar tale: The office go-getter takes credit for other people's work. Such people overlook a basic point: It's dishonest. If you do this, word will eventually reach the boss, and your standing will crumble instantly. Along the way, the long knives will be out, and your co-workers will root for, and cheer, your demise. Some may even knife your aspirations.
Office romance invites catastrophe. We all work long hours, and sometimes work becomes our social life, leading to romantic entanglements. This is fine if you get married and live happily ever after. What are the chances of that? Think: What will you do if the relationship ends badly? Never become involved with your boss. Your accomplishments and promotions will become suspect, and one of you will have to move to another department, and perhaps another job, when the romance becomes known. Helpful hint: Look outside the office for the sweetie of your dreams.
© 2012 Forbes.com