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Tips for Walking the Line Between Cocky and Confident at Work

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businesswoman on tightrope

You probably thought the popularity contest was over the night of high school prom. After the king and queen received their crowns, you could look forward to a life free of comparisons and charisma competitions—just you, your qualifications and a big, open road.

But those comparisons and competitions continue throughout life, especially in the workforce. As you navigate your way up the corporate ladder, the adage that you get more with sugar than spice might as well be tattooed on your brain.

From the moment they enter the building, Gen Yers have a bad rap following them: lazy, arrogant, entitled. Unfortunately, the stereotypes are proven all too often—and that is not the way to get to the top.

Even if you graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, know seven languages and completed 10 stellar internships, being a know-it-all 20-something won’t get you very far. Your career will end up looking more like a Greek tragedy than a sparkly fairy tale.

Yet your employer doesn’t want a doormat, either. He wants an ambitious—but humble—worker who is willing to take chances and use their voice. So, how do you find yours (without stepping on any toes)?

Here are some dos and don’ts for finding your voice—the right way—at the workplace:

DOs:

Speak up and share your knowledge on topics your generation knows about

Businesses with social media are a good example. Social media is an area your boss may still be trying to learn, so he will look to you to be the pro.

Volunteer for tasks and projects

This is one of the best ways to get noticed in the office environment without being loud and obnoxious. If your boss is asking around for additional hands, speak up! It shows that you’re confident in your skills and aren’t afraid to take responsibility.

Ask your superiors questions

A little brown-nosing never hurt anyone. People love giving advice, and it will show that you’re eager to learn. If you notice that your boss is really good at client relations or sales, ask him for a few tricks of the trade.

Collaborate

Modern workplaces are all about collaboration. Get rid of the recession mentality that your job will always be in jeopardy and that everyone is out to get you. Batting around ideas with coworkers shows you’re a team player—and it’s more fun.

DON’Ts:

Become a martyr

Nothing is more annoying. If you volunteer to walk your boss’s dog or lend a hand on a company sales presentation, the whole office doesn’t need to know about your sacrifices. Your extra hard work won’t go unnoticed.

Argue

Remember when your mama told you to respect your elders? Don’t forget it.

There is no denying that with experience comes wisdom. If your boss says it’s going to be one way, then just go along with it, even if you don’t agree. There’s probably a reason for it, and arguing only leads to whining, which leads to confirmation of the negative Gen Y stereotype.

Become a leader (unless you’re asked to)

This is one of the most fatal flaws Gen Yers make. You can’t go around correcting coworkers and telling them how to do their jobs. It won’t inspire change; it will only result in animosity. Look for leadership roles outside of the company, but don’t overstep your boundaries at work. Leadership is earned, then granted.

Be overzealous about getting credit for your work

If your boss doesn’t praise you for a job well done, just let it go. If you’re putting in all your effort, it won’t go unnoticed.

All of these boil down to one simple thing: be nice. In the long run, making friends and being a team player beat any skills that look good on paper. They will help you jet up the corporate ladder at lightning speed.

Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to streamline media relations in a digital era. Rebekah also blogs about the ups and downs of Gen Y entrepreneurship at fifteenminutesblog.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.