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Niko Pfund’s Ten Tips for Success in Your Future Career

You’ve worked hard during your undergrad, and you’ve got exciting prospects coming your way. But this is your first time entering the career field, and you don’t know what to expect. Here are ten things that Oxford University Press Publisher Niko Pfund says will make a huge difference:

Keep Learning 

Pfund shared that in his own experience, his “mental health suffers the most when he doesn’t feel like he’s moving forward in some way.” Taking breaks from worries and work to read and become more knowledgeable is key to surviving stress and finding success.

Be Candid and Consistent  

Honesty and consistency are essential to good communication. Sometimes, people change the details of their story or message when they tell one person versus another. In different contexts and with new or varied audiences, it is easy to want to emphasize different details in your message, or even leave certain points out. Pfund said, “I definitely went through a period when I would tailor my message to the person I was talking to.” Changing a message and then having to remember what you said to whom is tricky business, and at times it’s even dishonest. The inconsistency can negatively affect your relationships and undermine your credibility.

It Is Okay to Be Wrong

 “It doesn’t matter if you’re a high achieving person, or if you set high goals for yourself; you’re going to make mistakes. . . . You make these decisions all the time, and the sooner you let yourself make mistakes, the happier you will be.” Avoiding mistakes is difficult—some might say it’s impossible—but choosing to hide mistakes when they inevitably happen creates barriers and degrades integrity. Pfund emphasized the importance of never “fronting,” or putting up a façade, to cover mistakes. “There’s a real upside in acknowledging your limitations, . . . and it builds trust.”

Be Brave about Challenging Your Bosses 

Pfund encouraged students to be brave, take risks, and respectfully speak up to superiors. “The most risk-free thing you can do is remain completely motionless.” However, blind obedience and dutifulness are not productive in industries that require innovation. Pfund explained that the people who have improved things “don’t default to always following the rules.”

Compete with the Right People 

Pfund shared about his supportive relationship with competitors at the Princeton University Press, expressing the importance of competing in the appropriate context: “We have much larger fish to fry than losing a couple of books to each other once in a while. . . . All of us are competitive to a point, but [competing] with the right people is crucial.”

Run Into the Arms of Conversations You’re Dreading 

“The easiest thing in a world of digital communications is to avoid [confrontation],” Pfund said. He shared a story where he saved a work relationship by addressing the conflict head-on. After saying something offhand about a coworker while with other colleagues outside of work, his comments were related back to the subject. The next week at work, he recognized that he had offended his coworker. Pfund admitted, “My heart stopped in my chest; I began to perspire.” Despite his nervousness, he walked straight to the coworker’s office and apologized. Even though it was uncomfortable and he dreaded the potential conflict, Pfund managed to preserve the relationship by communicating directly and in person with his coworker.

Treat Everyone Equally 

“Be kind,” Pfund said simply. “Treating people hierarchically is a disaster.” Especially in an office setting, Pfund advised, “Respond to and treat everyone equally, regardless of who they are; just be kind.”

Never Email in Anger

 Addressing conflict through digital devices and mediums doesn’t work the same way as addressing conflict directly and in person. "Don’t fight through a screen. It’s not a medium for conflict resolution; it’s a means for escalating conflict,” Pfund warned.

Never Turn Down an Interview

 Accepting an unexpected interview was the reason for Pfund’s successful career path. “I thought I was going to work at NYU Press as a director for the rest of my working life,” he explained. When offered an interview for a position at a different press, he had little interest, but Pfund said that during the interview, “the more we talked about it, the more interesting [the position] sounded.” There is value in accepting and attending interviews, even if you don’t feel interested in or qualified for the position: “You learn a ton of things from talking to people in different contexts.”

Be a Consistent Communicator

 Communication between colleagues needs to be consistent so teammates can rely on each other as they work together. This means that if a teammate agrees to take on an assignment, they’ll actually complete it, so their colleagues can depend on them. “Establish yourself very early in your working life as one kind of person,” Pfund advised. Be dependable, or don’t; just be consistent. That way, your coworkers know what to expect and how to properly coordinate with you every time you are working together.

Niko Pfund is the academic publisher and president of Oxford University Press USA. He gave a guest lecture at BYU on Friday, October 15th, 2021, titled “21 Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was 21.”

Niko Pfund
Niko Pfund, president and global academic publisher at Oxford University Press