‘Suck slightly less than everyone else’

Entrepreneur and author Peter Shankman has had an eventful career.

He worked in the burgeoning AOL newsroom in the mid-90s, created a tool connecting journalists to their desired sources called Help a Reporter Out in the early 2000s, and sold HARO in 2010 for less than $5 million. Since then, Shankman has written several books, given a TED Talk on the importance of being nice, and started the popular ADHD podcast Faster Than Normal.

Shankman’s #1 career advice for young professionals: “Be brilliant at the fundamentals,” he says.

For him, that means knowing the parameters of what you’re doing and sticking to those parameters. That’s it.

“I don’t need you to redefine cake,” says Shankman of the level of excellence he recommends. “You need to suck a little less than everyone else.”

“We live in a world where the bar is so incredibly low”

This can be widely applied to customer-facing work. For example, if you offer meal deliveries, deliver the meals on time and make sure everything is still in the containers provided (spilled food doesn’t count). When designing wedding invitations, make sure you print them exactly as agreed with the couple and do it in time to send them out.

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However, it can also be applied to jobs that do not require selling a product or service. If your top priority is making sure your company’s website is running smoothly, stick to those priorities and do them well. If you work in public relations and your job is to get your clients’ stories in front of the media, make sure you’re proposing the right media.

Because of his authorship and podcast, the latter is a scenario Shankman is familiar with. PR people often turn to him to report on their clients unrelated to the topics he usually covers.

“My absolute favorite was about a year ago when I received an email around Mother’s Day that said, ‘Dear Peter, we know working moms like you have it tough,'” he says.

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“We live in a world where the bar is incredibly low,” he says.

Don’t forget grammar and spelling

Another career tip: Perfect your grammar and spelling, says Shankman.

According to a 2015 Dictionary.com survey of 2,052 adults, nearly 6 in 10 Americans (59%) find misspellings in restaurant menus, store signs, and advertisements annoying. And that frustration extends to other professional correspondence as well.

Shankman tells the story of taking his daughter to a socialization class when she was six months old. “At the end of the day, I get an email: ‘Dear Mr. Shankman, Thank you for allowing us to spend time with Jessica today. It was a wonderful experience and we hope to see you and Jessica again soon.’”

“My daughter’s name is Jessa,” he says.

Shankman found this exchange incredibly frustrating. Misspellings can be a sign of general negligence. This erased any confidence Shankman had in the organization. He brought her back but spoke to management several times about the incident.

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Shankman recognizes that spelling and grammar aren’t everyone’s forte — that’s okay, he says. Check if your employer is paying for you to take a course, or see what free online resources are available to do so.

When you deliver the promised service cleanly and professionally, “I keep coming back,” he says.


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