How To

Career Tips From Don Draper

photo: AMC

The cast and crew of Mad Men do a great job of transporting viewers to another time and place. But what influence has Jon Hamm’s Golden Globe winning character Don Draper had on your working style? Read on for some career tips we’ve gleaned from obsessing over Mad Men episodes (though we prefer to call it studying).

Play your position

No matter your title at work, play the position appropriately. This really boils down to knowing everything your job entails. Don always knows what deliverables his superiors, team and clients expect.

As a leader, you should not consider any work to be “beneath you,” but you also need to be sure your team is doing their work, not just leaving it for you to pick up. Consider a manager whose team consistently leaves the bathroom a mess. If you were in this manager’s shoes, would you talk to each member of your team, having a talk about bathroom standards that was boring and non-confrontational, but still left no doubt as to what you expected of your staff in terms of how to maintain the bathroom? If you’re like most managers the answer is no; you’d simply start cleaning the bathroom yourself so you didn’t have to have that uncomfortable talk with your staff. Keep the image in your mind — some managers would rather clean up the toilets than tell an employee what to do.  

Make it about the work

Do you come to work to make friends or to work? Don Draper certainly cares more about his work than he cares about the people on his team.

Certainly, there is no need to be aggressive or to be a jerk, but this career tip from Don Draper highlights that friendship isn’t the main reason to show up every morning. Go to work to get things accomplished and be effective. If you can be friends with your coworkers (and that’s almost always the case) that’s even better, but never forget that is just a bonus. You might like the people you work with, but you don’t show up at 9 a.m. every day because you like them.

Keep your mouth shut

One of the fundamental rules of knowledge as power is to never give away information when it does not benefit you. If you are in a position that affords you exclusive knowledge, the more people you give this knowledge to, the more diluted your power becomes.

The rule here is simple: Keep your mouth shut and do it as much as you can — the less you say, the better. Your personal life, who in the office is hooking up, your boss’ golf game — all of that is valuable information in one way or another. Don’t hand it out unless you have to. Don embodies all of these qualities. In fact, one of the very few times Don blows his cool is when he overhears the team dragging Freddy Rumsen’s name through the mud.

This applies to everything except the work. If accounting asks for the month’s numbers, send them over (a reply of “knowledge is power” would get you fired). Talk about the work as much as you like; if nothing else, it keeps you from talking about your private life or any juicy office gossip.

Who do you respect more: The person who’s always talking with you about the next big project at work or the person who’s always telling you about their problems at home? Don Draper is a master in keeping his business private — two words: Dick Whitman.

Respect what you do

Do you work with people who act like what they do is a joke? Not their industry, not their division, but their own individual job as a joke? You know, someone who takes twice as many smoke breaks as anyone else or is always prowling the workplace, looking for somebody who’s free to talk? Besides wasting time, this person is sending a clear message that they don’t take their job too seriously.

If you don’t take what you do seriously, why should anybody else in the organization? You need to come to work every day convinced that you play a crucial role. Many men wonder why they don’t command more respect in the workplace, yet they don’t carry themselves with respect. This career tip from Don Draper teaches us the opposite: There’s no need to brag about past success and no need to overstate your role, but never act as if your job is unimportant or your contributions aren’t central to your team’s success.

Dress the part

Don’t overdress or underdress — always dress for the occasion. Show up looking as snappy as you can while still looking like you’re ready to hit the phones, not the clubs (or worse, the greens).

Don’t chase this month’s fashion, stick with timeless looks that suit any situation — some of the clothing on Mad Men is as current today as it was back then.

Don’t show up wrinkled and disheveled. If you work in an office where collared shirts and ties are expected, keep a spare tie that goes with most outfits in your desk drawer. Or simply keep an extra outfit – a crisp white shirt and pencil skirt or trousers — in your office. That way, if you spill coffee on yourself before a big meeting, you’re covered. If you really want to be on your game, keep some Shout wipes and a small bottle of wrinkle releaser on hand as well.

Career Tips From Don Draper was adapted from AskMen.com content.