In a perfect world, we would be judged on our work product alone. We would sit in our offices or cubicles, sampling, testing and typing away. Our reports would be taken at face value, and our raises and promotions would be purely merit-based.
Well, this is a post about the real world! Truthfully, you are being judged, all the time, based on how you look, act and present yourself in addition to your work.
If you want to succeed in an audit role, you need to be liked. If people don’t like you, it is easier for them to disregard you when you are saying something difficult to hear. You don’t need to be a “yes man,” you need to be charming. This is not a post about etiquette, which is boring and not what charm refers to at all. Charm is an art; it puts others at ease and endears you to them. And this is not a post about how you can be perfect if you act like me. I have broken most of the rules on this list at one time or another, and want better for you!
This is a post with real advice you can implement immediately, to help you thrive in today’s business environment.
Don’t be an Ass
I had to open with this one! Don’t yell at people. Don’t swear or call people insulting names. Don’t bully people lower on the org chart than you, or pick fights with people higher on it. Anytime we humans are around someone acting like a jerk, we do whatever is necessary to get out of the situation and never interact with that person again! That means people won’t have the kind of relationship with you that you need to be effective.
If you are in management and your go-to response to stress is to abuse your staff, they are working for you out of fear. They are not giving their best, because they know nothing makes you happy. They are not asking you questions to learn or develop, because they are afraid of being yelled at. The only people willing to work for you either decide to take abuse in exchange for not giving 100% or have no other job options. Furthermore, the more enemies you cultivate at your company, the shorter your tenure will be… Although it’s amazing how long some people manage to stick it out!
Don’t be that person. Just don’t.
Engage with Popular Culture
Part of your job as an auditor is to be social, and in order to be social you need to be fun. If people like talking to you at the water cooler, they are more likely to relate to you and seek you out when they need to have a difficult conversation. If your bosses see that you are fun to be around at work functions, they might be inclined to give you a promotion which will involve more social events and schmoozing. Fun doesn’t mean shirking your work responsibilities, becoming the class clown or getting drunk in public. Think of the type of person who is fun to be around, not the type of person who has fun at the expense of others.
One really easy way to be fun and interesting is to keep up with popular culture. Movies, music, books, podcasts, TV shows, or whatever else interests you. There is so much available content on streaming services, podcast apps, online magazines and blogs, there is really no excuse not to have a few popular interests these days. One of my weekly routines is to listen to the Slate Culture Gabfest, a podcast where three witty hosts discuss the week in culture. I then know what movie I want to go see that weekend, what music artist to download or what TV show I should start binging. I have more fun, and more things to talk about and share with others.
Engage with High Culture
As an auditor, you will come into contact with people belonging in the upper echelons of society. I don’t think I’m being classist to say that auditors need to be able to interact with people from all walks of life in an authentic way. If a group of Board members and their spouses discuss their recent experience at a museum or cultural institution, and you can comfortably engage with them and share anecdotes of your own, you’ll present as a sophisticated person worthy of your position.
I think my ability to relate to people who are part of “high society” has really helped my career. And keep an open mind, because high culture is a lot more accessible than you might think!
A weekend trip to New York to see Hamilton will set you back several thousand dollars, if you can get a ticket at all, and that’s not what I’m recommending! I was in Manhattan recently, and came across a free theatre performance in a park and a string quartet playing in a transit station. Most of the museums asked for a suggested donation rather than a set ticket price.
Most of us aren’t lucky enough to be New Yorkers, but wherever you live, I’m willing to bet there are many free cultural events happening near you. Medium to large towns will have a local theatre troupe performing Shakespeare or a community orchestra playing free outdoor concerts in the summer. Many church choruses perform free concerts in addition to singing at services. Most art galleries are open to the public and free to walk through. The ballet, opera, musicals, etc. typically have matinee performances, which are cheaper and logistically easier to attend with children, than a night out on the town. Engage with art in your community; you will have a great time!
Invest in Some Quality Clothes
When I was going through the recruiting process in business school, the TV show What Not To Wear was really popular. If you’ve never seen it, two stylists treat a participant to a surprise fashion intervention and shopping spree. With a couple of really memorable exceptions, people came out of this process glowing and happy, looking much more appropriate and carrying themselves with a new confidence.
I ate this show up. Prior to recruiting season, I spent what was then a fortune to me on two suits, underpinnings and a nice pair of shoes. These garments fit me like a glove, and gave me a confidence boost every time I put them on. The clothes were an investment, and it paid off because I accepted an offer from a great firm!
I’m absolutely not saying you need to spend a certain dollar amount on your wardrobe. You should have the pieces to put together about ten professional outfits that make you feel good, and you should spend as much as you can afford to make this happen. Personally, I prefer wearing dresses and separates now, which are much more affordable than suits. It’s worth noting that the business environment is becoming more casual; I wore jeans to work at my last office job.
Don’t spend money for the sake of spending money, or look for fancy labels. Invest in really good pieces that work on your body. Nordstrom is a fantastic place to start. They hire and train competent salespeople and have many different price points covered. Lately, I’m loving an online company called Everlane, which sells well-made modern pieces at reasonable prices. Lo & Sons, another online company, sells quality professional and travel bags.
Don’t Drink Too Much
Many evenings, I enjoy a hoppy IPA or a glass of Cabernet from Northern California. Good alcohol is one of life’s pleasures, and when you are at a work function you should definitely partake and imbibe. Just don’t get drunk.
Let us be 100% clear. The people at your event are watching, and waiting, for someone to drink too much and improve the entertainment value of the evening. If you get drunk, the best scenario is that people will laugh it off and have compassion. Believe me, we have all been there! But, they might not be so understanding. You might say something you don’t mean, be obnoxious and boorish, or just make a really bad impression.
My rule for drinking at work: Have one less drink than you would at a cocktail party with friends. For me, that’s two. Two glasses of wine is half a bottle if you’re sharing with someone. Completely appropriate to finish it. A cocktail hour followed by dinner is the perfect opportunity to go off the rails, so ask the bartender for a club soda on ice with a lime in it. If you need a little something to get you in the mood to be social, have them throw in half a shot of gin or vodka. A wine spritzer is another good option; white wine, seltzer and a twist of lime. Far fewer calories and alcohol, but you have something festive to sip on while you socialize.
If the waiter comes around constantly filling up wine glasses at dinner, don’t announce to the table that you are done drinking and publicly decline wine a dozen times. That is not charm because you are implying a judgment on those who are still drinking. Just allow the server to fill your glass and let it sit there. I guarantee you $200 wine is not being poured freely; you haven’t wasted anything valuable. Then sit back, congratulate yourself on your restraint, and watch someone else be the main act.
Learn About Wine
Okay, you are probably confused now! Don’t get drunk, but learn about wine? Yes!
Good wine is not something you get drunk on. If you know about wine and appreciate it, you are more likely to savor it and drink it slowly. But more importantly, knowing about wine gives you a way to relate to others. Once I immediately bonded with a new work acquaintance when we realized we had both visited Napa Valley the previous summer. We had a great time sharing our experiences with the rest of the dinner table, who were eager to learn some travel tips. At group dinners, having some wine education is an opportunity for you to help out by ordering for the table. Instant ice breaker!
A wine trick I learned during my server days is to order Pinot Noir, a light red wine which goes well with lots of different foods, when ordering for a table. If you’re overwhelmed or unsure, never be afraid to ask your server for a recommendation. Taking care to order the right wine is a subtle signifier that you are professional and sophisticated.
If you are in any major city on the West Coast, you are within an hour’s drive of a world class winery. Make a day of it, visit a beautiful vineyard, bring a picnic, and sample a few wines to see what you like. The sampling part is usually under $50, and my husband and I share so we can try different varieties without feeling tipsy. If you aren’t near any wine growing regions, many wine shops, restaurants and specialty bars have tasting events where you can try different wines and learn about your palate.
This tip is my biggest fail. Most of the men in my life are obsessed with golf, and I just don’t get it. I come from a long line of golfers, and even invested in some lessons. No help with my skill set, but I did learn the basics of golf etiquette.
I really wish I was better at golf, and enjoyed it more, because a lot of business happens on the golf course. The best golf scenario for me is to participate in “best ball” where my poor skills don’t affect the group and I can just have fun. Try your best, laugh off your fails, and encourage your team. If I can do it, you can!
Participate in golf as much as you can without sacrificing your personal relationships. Half the population can’t just duck into the bushes when nature calls, so male readers, please make an effort to include the gals and allow us time to use the facilities!
So you probably have not mastered all these rules. Most of us just aren’t able to be everything all the time. So, my last piece of advice is fake it!
Fake it does not mean you should be fake. It means, if you are sub-par at doing one of these things, or insecure about something, just keep it to yourself. If your fellow diners are discussing wine, and you don’t know about wine, don’t interject into the conversation that you don’t know about wine. This makes others uncomfortable! If you’re at a fancy dinner and don’t know what something is on the menu, don’t blurt out that you don’t know what this or that is. Just order something else. Steer the conversation in directions where you can engage by asking thoughtful questions and showing you value others by listening intently.
We all have insecurities, but you should try to keep yours in check. No one wants to spend their time reassuring you. It doesn’t work anyway; value and self-worth only come from within. Act like you belong, wherever you are and whatever situation you are in. No one will know the difference!
Now I want to hear from you! Do you agree with my advice? Any easy rules and tips you can share with readers? Leave a comment and tell us about it!