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ON THE JOB

Career Advice for Men

In today's workplace, people skills and teamwork rule. Guys, learn how to show your softer side to get ahead.

When I googled the phrase "career advice for women," there were 11,700 references. When I googled, "career advice for men," there were a handful, and not one actually provided career advice for men!

So in this column, I place the first grain of sand on the other side of the heavily weighted scale. Here are my best pieces of career advice for men:

1. Don't automatically assume the role of primary breadwinner. Too often, men feel obligated to forgo a career they'd prefer in favor of a more lucrative but less rewarding, more exhausting and, perhaps, less ethical job. Many men even feel forced to take a second job. It's important for every couple to have a full and open discussion about how the income responsibility can be balanced to meet your needs, as well as the needs of your family.

2. Consider non-traditional careers. Many female-dominated careers such as book editor, counselor, librarian, personal coach, teacher, nurse, and hairstylist are, for many men, rewarding careers. You shouldn't let stereotypes drive your career choice. But just because you're "underrepresented," don't count on affirmative action helping you.

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3. Show your softer side. From career-coaching 2,800 people, I've come to believe that values typically thought of as women's predominate in today's workplace. That means it's safest to assume that:

  • Collaboration trumps competition. It's important to be a team player.

  • Processing feelings trumps the male tendency to power through a problem.

  • Generally, a woman's perception of an "unwanted advance" or "hostile environment" is given more weight than a man's. Conduct yourself accordingly.

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4. Use the power of deep connection. To get the support you need to get ahead at work you must build relationships with co-workers and higher-ups. Guys, that means you have to recognize the power of something that many women use all the time: deep connection.

Ask about things more central to a person than their new car or the local sports team. I'm not saying you have to "process deep feelings," but both men and women care plenty about their careers, health, relationships and finances. Find out what the person is most concerned about and discuss that. Then share a concern of yours.

Be careful, however, not to give unwanted advice, particularly to women. In general, I think the stereotype is true: women mainly want to be heard rather than to have their problem solved. When you're talking with a man, you usually can be freer to tactfully offer a suggestion. Indeed, mutually helping someone may be another way to build a potentially career-boosting relationship of trust. (See Charm School for Your Career for more people-skill pointers.)

5. But don't forget who you are. While, of course, there are many exceptions, males are thought of as bold, goal-oriented, aggressive, logical, and independent. Those can be invaluable traits, but revealing them too strongly could be hazardous to your career. Use them wisely, especially if your workplace culture is female-centric. For example:

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  • Couch your bold recommendations in tentative terms: "I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to do X?"

  • In your private thoughts, be as aggressively goal-oriented and independent as you like, for example, "I'm going to break those damn sales records." But at a sales meeting, it may be wiser to say things like, "I'm going to give it my best, and with the support of our team, I'm confident we'll do all right."

  • When you out-logic someone, allow them to save face by adding such comments as, "It's just a thought. What do you think?"

6. Consider pointing out injustices. Remember that women did not gain rights in the workplace by shutting up. I think the gender pendulum has swung enough that, in a surprising number of workplaces, there are injustices against men. Examples:

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  • You feel your company practices reverse discrimination in hiring and promotion, or that a new girl's network is as exclusionary as the reviled ol' boy's network.

  • A man who is aggressive, competitive and individualistic rather than team-oriented is marginalized as "not fitting in," despite excellent performance.

  • You believe that too many decisions in your organization are made by consensus, which you think results in lowest-common-denominator decisions that are made too slowly.

Pick your battles. Raise a concern only when the issue is truly important, such as to your productivity, career progression or simply your sense of fairness. And, if possible, bring it up with a person likely to be sympathetic.

7. Remember, men are not superior or inferior. These days, in my opinion, colleges and media tend to portray men as boorish, lazy, evil, and/or inept, shown up by wise, efficacious women. We would not tolerate such unfair generalizations about women or minorities. Why about men?

Truth is, men are hard-working, productive and essential members of any society, and that goes for the workplace too. Remember, the workplace needs both men and women.

Marty Nemko (bio) is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.