Can you really learn career lessons from the infamous Don Draper and crew? You bet!
We know heavy boozing, sexual harassment and indoor lawn mower rides would never fly in today’s workplace. But in AMC’s award-winning show Mad Men, all of those activities are just a normal day at the office.
The show’s characters offer volumes of what not to do in work scenarios, with entertaining results. (It is a TV show, after all.) However, once in a while, the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency employees display admirable on-the-job skills we could all stand to learn:
Go out and get it like Don
While Don Draper fails miserably at home, he rules at work. Consider how he got his start in the ad business.
As a fur coat salesman, Draper slipped his ad portfolio into a gift box containing a coat Roger Sterling bought for his mistress. The coat was delivered to the mistress, and thus the portfolio was delivered to Sterling. A few days later, Draper arranged to bump into Sterling and invited him for drinks. The morning after their afternoon of boozing, Draper bumped into Sterling again. Sterling was confused to see him, until Draper reminded him that Sterling had hired him the day before. Roger didn’t remember hiring Draper, but he also didn’t remember not hiring Draper. The rest, as they say, is history.
Career lesson: Don Draper didn’t get his dream job through normal channels—and you might not, either. In today’s competitive job environment, you’re going to have to be creative to land that job.
Don’t just resort to scanning the Internet every day and sending your resume through cyberspace. Networking and joining career networking sites online are musts, and persistence continues to be key.
Be bold like Peggy
Peggy Olsen started at the firm as a secretary, and she quickly transitioned into the male-dominated role of copywriting when she showed her talent and initiative early on.
Peggy’s career could have been derailed by an early indiscretion with Pete Campbell, but she pulled herself together and quickly regained focus. She is able to hang with the guys, and she doesn’t get rattled or take it personally when Don goes off on one of his tirades.
Career lesson: Don’t feel limited by your current role. If you see a job you want, go after it.
Not qualified? Get qualified by doing what it takes, including taking online classes and obtaining certifications. Your career success is in your control, so start taking charge and making things happen!
Be valuable like Joan
Joan Harris is probably known best for a definite work don’t: using her feminine wiles to get to a top position in the firm. But she also displays some positive talents.
Not only is she good at keeping confidences and nipping gossip in the bud; she’s also an expert at keeping the agency running smoothly. When an executive loses a limb in an in-office lawn mower accident, she’s the one to leap into action and apply a tourniquet. She seldom gets flustered, and when she left the agency for a brief time, it became obvious rather quickly who ran the place.
Career lesson: Joan shows that a disapproving look is sometimes all it takes to stop office gossip in its tracks. If a superior is trusting you with confidential information (as long as it’s not illegal), you can gain value by keeping it to yourself.
In addition, take on more responsibility over time to make yourself indispensable in the workplace while simultaneously sustaining your trustworthy characteristic as a valuable employee.
Follow your passion like Megan (kind of)
Megan Draper moved up the corporate ladder at a breakneck speed from receptionist to copywriter once she caught the eye of Don Draper.
Turns out, she was actually quite good at copywriting and schmoozing clients. But she wanted to be an actress and realized that working as a copywriter wasn’t her gig. She decided to go back to acting—unfortunately, with mediocre results.
Career lesson: Follow your dreams…but have a backup plan. If you’re truly unhappy in your job, you will burn out in no time.
But before you hand in that resignation, consider whether doing something that makes you happy in addition to your job might make your job better. Maybe Megan could have gone to auditions at lunch and outside of work hours, or gotten involved with a theater group on nights and weekends. Happiness is the key to a successful career, and sometimes you can follow your passion and keep your steady paycheck.
And one you should not emulate
Layne Pryce was good at his job as the finance guy. He was shrewd and sensible in that way that only a Brit can be. Unfortunately, a momentary panic over his personal finances caused him to make a snap decision to embezzle money, with tragic results.
Career lesson: Don’t steal money from your employer. And if you find yourself in over your head for any reason on your job, don’t lie or try to cover it up. It will never turn out well.
Part of the reason Mad Men is so popular is because of the work hijinks it portrays. But beyond that outrageous behavior are some lessons we can apply to our careers in today’s modern workplace.
Kristin Marino writes on career and education topics for Schools.com. She has an English degree from the University of Nevada and is most inspired by the Mad Men character Peggy Olsen.