The Unspoken Rules: A book review by Bob Morris

The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right
Gorick Ng
Harvard Business Review Press (2021)

Here is invaluable career advice that would otherwise take years to obtain from your own experience

I prefer “unofficial” to “unspoken” and view those on which Gorick Ng focuses (Pages 1-7) as guidelines or suggestions rather than as “rules.” Also, much (if not most) of the information, insights, and counsel he provides in this book can be of substantial value to those whose careers have stalled as well as to those preparing for a career or have only recently embarked upon one.

Early on in his narrative, Ng offers 20 “unspoken rules of starting your career off right.” They range from “Reject, embrace, or bend the rules” to “Show performance and potential.” These are among the most impirtant WHATs in the book. Ng also suggests a number of HOWs that have worked for him and others. In fact, most of the book is devoted to explaining how each reader can apply relevant counsel to their own career.

There are no head-snapping revelations in the book, nor does NG make any such claim.  New hires as well as those who step into a new role are given an eminently sensible head’s up on the first page: Managers, coworkers, and clients will ask themselves three separated but related questions:

“Can you do the job well?” (Are you competent?)
“Are you excited to be here?” (Are you committed?)
“Do you get along with us?” (Are you compatible, hopefully likeable?)

There are no second chances to make a positive first impression.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Ng’s coverage:

o Showing your potential (Pages 6-7 and 223-239)
o Compatibility in the workplace (9-11 and 13-17)
o Three Cs: Competence, Commitment, Compatibility (9-17)
o Storytelling (53-67)
o Managing your appearance (69-77 and 87-88)

o Email and IM management (81-85)
o Company culture (90-93, 136-137, and 146-147)
o Squash Any Problems (103-111 and 230-231)
o Prioritizing important and urgent assignments and tasks (122-125)
o Staying ahead of patterns (127-131)

o Hidden relationships and invisible boundaries (141-150)
o Identify the chain of command (142-144)
o Building relationships with coworkers (151-167)
o Conversations skills that generate momentum (164-167)
o Meetings(171-187)

o Communicating during meetings (178-18 and 190-196)
o Obtaining/providing helpful feedback (189-203)
o Resolving conflicts (205-222)
o Coming up with new ideas (227-230)
o Best positioning tactics for promotions (227-237)

Who will derive the greatest benefit from this book? I think these are among the most likely beneficiaries: first, as indicated earlier, those now preparing for a career in business; others who have only recently embarked upon one; others whose career has stalled or is in a ditch; finally, those managers who have direct reports entrusted to their care. It remains for each reader — whatever their current circumstances — to determine which of the material is most relevant to the given needs, theirs or someone else’s.

One final point. Supervisors especially should keep in mind that, however well-intentioned the provision of career advice may be, it will be ignored or rejected and even resented if there is little (if any) mutual respect and trust between those who provide it and those who receive it.

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Rob Barnett’s Next Job, Best Job, published by Citadel Press (April 2021).


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