Can work be too much fun?

I’m a fun-loving guy, and very sociable too. I’m also a hard worker, but my manager has made comments suggesting I need to take my job more seriously. How do I convince him that I do, though I don’t have a serious demeanor?

As far as I’m concerned, my playfulness helps me work better. When I first began working in a corporate environment about 20 years ago, an experienced HR manager repeatedly shared one piece of advice with me: Perception is everything. At first I was reluctant to accept that I had to act a certain way in order to be taken seriously, but this piece of advice has proved extremely accurate throughout my career. This does not mean you should pretend to be someone else in the workplace, but it does mean that if you would like to be successful at your company, you may have to temper your lightheartedness to reflect the overall dynamic of the group. It’s important to understand the culture of your environment and behave according to what is expected of your role or the role that you aspire to be in. Your manager is already telling you that he or she feels you do not take the job seriously enough. Even if you are a stellar performer, how your management perceives your attitude toward the job itself will determine your ability to progress in your career. It is OK to crack a joke to lighten a moment, but perhaps not in a serious meeting, and definitely not all the time. Start by scaling back your playfulness and watch your manager for cues as to when it may be appropriate to lighten the mood. You will find that being social can serve your career interests very well, but it must be done within a certain professional boundary.

As a woman in IT who is interested in taking on more responsibility, I have contemplated approaching someone about being a mentor to me. A well-regarded male manager recently expressed a willingness to do this for me, but I had been thinking about asking a woman. Do you think gender is an important consideration in this decision?

As a female in an executive role in IT, I understand your dilemma. Personally, I have found that anytime someone is willing to provide guidance and share knowledge as a mentor, it is important to accept the offer, regardless of gender. It can be very difficult to find the right personality match with a mentor, so if you are able to find that right fit with a male manager, then go for it. And if your organization would allow it, I suggest having more than one mentor. If you have difficulty finding a female IT mentor in your field, broaden your search; I have found it very valuable to look outside of my field for a strong female leader. Having someone provide guidance and advice on issues that are unique to women in male-dominated industries has helped me operate within my own organization.

I have 15 years of experience in software development, mainly with investment firms and government organizations. My skill set mainly includes Powerbuilder, Sybase, Oracle, Microsoft .Net and C#. I have also earned an MBA specializing in MIS. I am quite motivated and passionate about career and have a whatever-it-takes approach. Please advise how best I could direct my career.

I receive similar questions a lot, and they are probably the most difficult to answer. Your first challenge is to determine where your passion truly is in the IT realm. You can stay with the more traditional IT roles of technology management (such as application development manager, manager of network operations, etc.), or you can venture down a more emerging path of managing the business side of IT applications. With a strong technical background and an MBA, you have the ability to understand your organization’s technical requirements, along with the skills to create a strategic plan for achieving the organization’s goals through the use of technology. Maybe a good start would be to see if there are projects or a team that you could be involved with in your current organization. In my experience, your combination of skills is far too rare, and will allow you to enter a management type position and provide great value.

What groups do you recommend joining for networking purposes but also for sharing knowledge with others. My main interests are SAP and Unix.

There are a few options. You could join the Stack Exchange, an expert knowledge-exchange website where you could share your expertise with others. Experts get recognized for their contributions, and recruiters often use the site to look for qualified talent. The site includes an active Unix community, and you could also help create an SAP community. You could also join a local Unix/Linux user group. Such groups are a great networking opportunity, not only opening channels for you but also giving you the chance to help others out. Finally, you should think about attending some SAP conferences. Stay up to date on SAP’s latest offerings and get to know some of the vendors and resellers of its products.

I recommended a friend for a job in another area of our IT department, and he’s been a bit of a screw-up since he was hired. I take my career seriously, and I hate how this reflects on me. How can I make up for it?

AW: If you are still close friends, it is important for you to have a conversation with him. You need to express that you went out on a limb for him and that your reputation is at stake. It is possible that he doesn’t know that his performance/reputation is poor and that you can be of assistance. I would also recommend that you would follow up with the hiring manager and see if there is anything you could do to turn the situation around while salvaging your relationship with the manager who trusted your recommendation.

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