8 Career Secrets to Steal from Mad Men
Work Lessons That Still Apply Today
As the ad men and women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce return April 13 for the final season of AMC's hit show Mad Men, there's no question that the juicy workplace dramas are about to hit their tipping point. In advance of the season premiere, take look back at the best—and worst—career advice viewers have gleaned from the achievements, improvements, and mistakes of the past seven seasons.
Triple-Check Your Resume
In the first season, Don Draper's dirty secret is exposed: He stole the identity of a fellow deceased soldier in order to escape his rough roots and start new. When the devious Pete Campbell catches him in the lie and threatens to expose him, Don realizes his entire career is at stake.
moral: Always be forthcoming about your past when applying to jobs, says management psychologist Paul Powers, Ph.D., author of Winning Job Interviews. "Even innocent errors—you listed the wrong dates for a position or you put B.S. when it was really a B.A. degree—could end your chances of getting the job." Go over your resume with a fine-tooth comb to ensure there are no mistakes—because your potential employers will do the same.
Turn on the Charm
He may have questionable ethics, but Don's captivating charisma is undeniable. He seems to dazzle the room and effortlessly win accounts with his wit and quick thinking in client meetings, even if his preparation is next to none.
moral: While you can't always rely on a wink and handshake alone, people want to do business with those who make them feel wanted and important. Throwing out dry data and numbers on their own isn't going to work, says Anita Bruzzese, workplace expert and author of
Brush up on communication skills by joining a public speaking group like Toastmasters, or find a career coach who can help you up your schmoozing skills, suggests Ford R. Myers, executive career coach at CareerPotential.com.
Think Before Dating a Coworker
From Roger and Joan to Pete and Peggy to Don and Megan, interoffice relationships run rampant throughout the show. Most of these relationships ended in disaster, though, including Peggy's unwanted pregnancy.
moral: Handle office hanky-panky by deciding what line you would or wouldn't cross with a co-worker before the situation presents itself, Bruzzese says. While some office relationships lead to a wedding, keep in mind that others end in a breakup.
If you decide to take flirtation to the next level, don't rely on word of mouth, she adds: Always check your employee handbook or consult HR about company policy on relationships in the workplace. And think twice before asking out the guy who can't keep his mouth shut in meetings—it may be a sign of how he'd behave in the aftermath of a breakup. But if he seems to genuinely understand your desire to keep things private, it may be worth pursuing, Bruzzese says. [Tweet this tip!]
Don't Let a Side Gig Cost You a Job
Account executive Ken Cosgrove had a burgeoning side career writing sci-fi stories under the alias Ben Hargrove. But when his freelance work is revealed, his boss threatens to fire Ken unless he swears to give up his literary ambitions.
moral: Having a passion project or side job in your off hours isn't uncommon. However you need to give 100 percent of your attention to the job that's paying you to be there, Bruzzese says. That means no filing invoices or sending emails for your freelance writing at your 9-to-5. And if you aren't sure of your company's policies, ask on a low-stress day—maybe after you've impressed your boss with a project, Bruzzese suggests.
Dress the Part
The trajectory of Peggy's style evolution became a storyline of its own: After being told to stop dressing like a child by Joan, she moves from Peter Pan collars and dowdy sweaters into a powerful and professional look: slim suits, elegant scarves, and fitted shift dresses.
moral: Dress accordingly from day one: "People form an impression of you immediately, within the first five seconds of meeting you," Bruzzese says. Also practice sitting down in clothes, she advises. A conservative skirt could rise up several inches when you're seated.
Know When It's Time to Leave
As one of the most ambitious employees at the agency, Peggy quickly moves up the ranks from Don's secretary to copy chief. But as her workload increases and her accomplishments become overshadowed by a new colleague, Peggy becomes frustrated. When she's offered a job (and major pay raise!) by a rival firm, she leaves.
moral: "If you've asked your boss repeatedly for more responsibilities or a promotion and you keep hearing ‘no' and hitting a brick wall, it's time to move on," Myers says. And of course, being mistreated or disrespected are other sure signs to get out of dodge. Before making the leap, ask yourself, "If I could design the perfect job for me, what would it be?" Powers says. [Tweet this tip!] Know what you want in terms of responsibilities, hours, and salary, and you'll be able to better negotiate a new opportunity.
Prepare for Your Passion
Megan, the future Mrs. Draper, enters SCDP as a receptionist but later decides to quit and pursue her true calling, acting, only to learn through several disappointments that jumping into a new biz is easier said than done.
moral: It's important to find work you're passionate about—there's nothing worse than wasting away in a cubicle while your true talent lies elsewhere. But before giving your two weeks, try moonlighting in the field you're interested in. "You're not going to become a soap opera star the day after you leave your job," Powers says. Enrolling in yoga teacher training or taking painting classes one night a week can give you an idea of the lifestyle. You can build contacts and skills to leave prepared, or discover that dabbling at night can quench your thirst.
Stick to a 2-Drink Limit
The alcohol-soaked scenes and three-martini lunches play as integral a role in Mad Men. Characters often drink at work, sipping on scotch all day long, and client dinners usually turn into debaucheries.
moral: Alcohol can be a double-edged sword at work-related social events, Powers says. "It's a social lubricant, but it can also cause people to reveal too much." It's fine to have one or two drinks at a cocktail function, but decide your limit ahead of time. To watch your intake, keep the straw or little sword that comes in your drink in your pocket, he suggests. Once you hit your limit, switch to water.
"Also remember that work rules still apply, even at happy hour," Bruzzese adds. "When you're out with people from work—no matter how much you feel like they're buddies—you should never say anything you wouldn't say in front of the boss." If they start to badmouth a colleague, simply say you'd rather relax and not talk shop—and steer the conversation to safer subjects.