Get To Work: With Suzy Welch

From Jeff Bezos's advice to discussing salary in an interview: Suzy Welch's top 6 career tips of 2017

CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch
CNBC | Mary Stevens
CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch

Climbing the career ladder is no easy feat. After all, even the most experienced professionals face confusion about how to get ahead in the workplace.

However, according to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, there are a few key steps you can take to ease your journey and ensure that your career stays on track.

From offering year-round tips about how to negotiate, interview and excel at work, below are the best pieces of career advice Welch recommended in 2017.

1. Be honest when discussing your current salary in an interview

Discussing your salary with a hiring manager can be an uncomfortable topic. While some cities and states have banned the question from the interviewing process, other places are still placing emphasis on how much a potential employee makes.

If you're faced with the, "What's your current salary" question in an interview, then Welch says the best way to respond is to simply tell the truth.

"People are going to tell you that you should game this conversation," she tells CNBC Make It, or that "you should dodge this question by talking about ranges."

"That is no way to start a relationship," she adds.

Instead, Welch says you should go into an interview having already done research about the job's likely salary and how much your skills are worth in the open market. Once you know how your salary compares to people with similar jobs, she says you should be truthful with the interviewer about how much you make.

She suggests saying a simple answer like, "My salary is X, my bonus is typically Y, for a total package of just about Z."

After disclosing your salary, she says you should then advocate for how much you're willing to make.

"You can make a compelling case about why you'd be willing to take less for something like opportunity or growth, or why you should make more," she says.

2. Understand the power of the 'favor economy'

One piece of advice Welch says she wishes she had known in her 20s is the impact helping others can have on your career.

"If there's one thing I wish I had known about business in my 20s," Welch says, "it's that there is this huge, important, powerful, invisible economy that I refer to as the favor economy."

It's about "putting yourself out on a limb for somebody else with no expectation of immediate payback," she adds. "For instance, offering yourself as a reference, placing a call to help someone land a job or working a weekend or holiday so others can be with their families. Essentially, its currency is performing small acts of kindness and generosity as a way of life."

While many people understand "what goes around comes around," Welch says the power of doing good can easily get blurred by the advice people often receive early in their career.

"The problem is, during college, you also hear a lot of messages from peers and from the popular culture telling you success is a zero-sum game — that for you to win, others have to lose," she says. "And that can sort of have a numbing effect. You hit the work world not sure how much you should be helping others."

For some people, it takes a few years of working experience to realize that likeability and teamwork play a major role in achieving success.

"But why wait to have that realization?" she asks. "Start your career knowing the favor economy is there, and understand you're a player in it. Either you participate, which is good, or you don't, which is definitely going to hold you back."

3. Don't be a 'boss hater'

If you're someone who is never satisfied with your work environment and have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye with almost every boss you have, then chances are you're a "boss hater," according to Welch.

"In all my years working in the corporate world and advising people about their careers," she says, "boss hating is the number one behavior that kills a career."

While a motivated employee gets excited about new projects and tasks, a "boss hater" will almost always work against the group's best interests. Even if a boss hating employee is smart and produces great results in the short-term — which actually, Welch says, is often the case — their inability to develop or maintain positive relationships will hinder their career.

If the characteristics of a "boss hater" sound like you, then Welch says you are likely meant to be an entrepreneur.

"Some of the best company founders in the world are probably boss haters," she says, while adding that Steve Jobs may have been one himself.

4. Don't underestimate the power of saying 'thank you'

According to Welch, saying "thank you" is a two-word phrase that can easily transform your career.

While hectic schedules and deadlines can make you forget about the importance of expressing gratitude, Welch says showing how much you appreciate something really matters.

"Because here's the truth about careers, at least as I've seen it: Your technical performance can be great, but if you don't connect with people — basically, if you're sort of a jerk — it's going to catch up with you," she writes for CNBC Make It. "Maybe not right away. Maybe, if you're talented enough, not for a couple of years. And maybe, if you're a Steve Jobs-like genius, not for decades."

However, Welch writes, "a deficit of simple human goodness is a killer, and I would put money on the fact that it takes down more careers than any other factor."

5. Don't negotiate your salary up front

Negotiating your salary can be difficult, and while many people advise job seekers to negotiate their pay the minute they land a new job, Welch advises the opposite.

"I know not everyone's going to agree on my advice on this," she says, "but here's the advice I give my own kids: If the salary is within 10 to 15 percent of what you had in your head, say, 'Yes, thank you. I'm excited. I can't wait.'"

According to Welch, asking for more money up front can be perceived as greedy, but waiting "positions you perfectly for asking and getting a significant raise after you've done great work."

She says the proper way to approach a salary negotiation is to wait until you're six months into the job to set up a meeting with your boss. In this meeting, she says you should emphasize your shared goals, explain how you've contributed to the team's success and how you've over-delivered on your tasks. Then, Welch says you should say, "I hope that will be recognized in my compensation."

6. Place more emphasis on being right, rather than being smart

Yes, being smart and having a fancy degree attached to your name will make you stand out on paper, but it's not necessarily the trait that will get you ahead at work.

According to Welch, this surprising piece of advice was given to her by billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos when asked about what he looks for in successful employees.

"'I don't care how smart they are,'" she recalls the Amazon founder saying. "'I want to see a track record of hard decisions that ended up being right.'"

"'It's always better in business to be right than smart,'" Bezos continued. "'Smart people can be wrong a lot.'"

While being smart is a great quality to have, Bezos makes it clear that producing the right results will always outweigh any other characteristic brought to the table.

"Think about it," Welch says. "Are you striving at work to look and sound smart... or are you striving to be right?"

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