Getting ahead at 'The Office'
Actor Rainn Wilson, in character as middle manager Dwight Schrute, gives advice on how to climb the corporate ladder. And have a laugh on the way up.
By Kate Bonamici, Fortune Magazine

(Fortune Magazine) -- It's possible that Rainn Wilson has the dimmest prospects in corporate America. As Dwight Schrute, the middle manager on NBC's hit show "The Office," he's at once power-hungry and completely upwardly immobile. He agreed to answer a few burning questions - in character - for Fortune's readers.

Dealing with headquarters can be a real balancing act. What's the secret?

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I think that one needs to follow the directives of HQ, even if it leads to death, dismemberment or worse.

And does that tie in with how to fast track your career? Do you have any advice for our readers?

The most important job in any office is being a great number two. Being a great yes-man. I would much rather work at Avis then at Hertz.

And why is that?

They're number two and they try harder. Just as I do.

Another fight with Michael?

I would do anything to hold on to my title of Assistant Regional Manager. So if it requires another fight, I'm game. And my skills have improved greatly.

How many hours a week are you practicing these days?

At least two.

Wow. And that doesn't take too much time away from the beet farm?

It's a juggling act. You know, sometimes I actually work on my karate katas in the beet fields.

Ready for anything. So do you have a management guru of choice, someone you really like to follow the advice of?

Yes, Tony Robbins, Donald Trump, and Mussolini.

And what is it that those men have in common that really attracts you to them?

Virility, first and foremost. And personal intensity.

So how do you channel that intensity and get your boss to like you? You've done that pretty well...

I think you just need to...You don't worry about whether your boss likes you or not, you serve them as if your life depends on it, and sacrifice everything of your own needs for their needs. And they may not ever like you but that's not important because then you become indispensable.

And moving in the other direction, do you have any tips on managing from below?

Keep the subordinates in line, use the carrot and the stick, but use the carrot like, the same way you would the stick.

So beat them with it.

Exactly.

What are the best and worst things about office life? What's the best part about being in the office at Dunder-Mifflin?

A sense of purpose, a team united toward a common goal, in our case paper sales. I like having a desk. I wish I had a cubicle.

Oh. What would you like about a cubicle? What would be your favorite thing?

I could put pictures on the wall of Michael Scott and my cousin Mose and my laser tag team.

I'm sure as a young person climbing the corporate ladder you're a big Fortune reader...

Absolutely. I love their articles in Fortune that have to do with pirate ships that have sunk off of Barbados. Abandoned gold mines that still have a great deal of treasure in them in the Congo. And ruins in Peru...Oh wait a minute, that's Fortune Hunter Magazine.

We're going to skip back to a previous topic here. How do you assert yourself as a middle manager - get respect? You're not the top dog, but you have more authority than, say, Jim. So how do you make sure you're getting the respect you deserve?

I follow the advice of Cesar Millan on The Dog Whisperer, and I use a Calm Assertive voice.

So. You're something of an expert on the very tricky subject of office romance...Can you talk to me about that a little bit?

Yes. Office romances are something that should be both kept secret and reported to human resources. It is very important if you have an office romance, that it is with the hottest man or woman in the office. And never engage in anything, uh, oral in any kind of supply closet. Because you never know when people are going to need paper clips.

You also never know where those boxes have been...

That's right.

So is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers of Fortune?

Um, I think Dunder Mifflin is a stock to watch. It's on the rise, it's bullish, and Kramer Mad Money Kramer, has it picked as one of his stocks to watch. Is that what his name is, that guy?

Rainn Wilson speaks for himself

...So how are you today?

I'm ok...It's been press day, I'm on this press junket for My Super Ex-Girlfriend, so lots of interviews and stuff like that but I'm great.

Is your character in that movie similar, or is it a different type...?

Totally different. The character in My Super Ex Girlfriend is actually kind of witty, articulate, urban, snappily dressed, and a little bit closer to myself in some ways.

And I'm sure you miss the parted-in-the-middle approach to life...

Yes, I miss the polyester suits and the parted-in-the-middle...ness. And the bad haircut, yeah.

I'm sure there's something you can do with it in the off hours to make that not quite so dreadful, but...

...No. Pretty much you've got to suffer through a really terrible haircut for about 60 hours every week. But it's ok. It's own for my art, as you say.

Do you draw on any personal office experience - did you work any bad office jobs?

I've worked at and been fired from some of the finest offices in Manhattan. I worked at the Multiple Sclerosis society of New York as an assistant fundraiser, and I was actually fired because my boss said "I want someone working for me who when I say jump, says How Long."

First of all he got the quote wrong...and I was just not that type so I was not long for that world. I also worked at Kirshenbaum Bond and Partners advertising firm, answering phones.

It's pretty interesting, temping.

So you've seen some of the more miserable places to work...

I've been inside some of the most miserable offices in the world, yes.

And which is more miserable on set? Is it more depressing to work in a fake office park or a fake funeral home?

I've gotta go with the office because of the fluorescent lighting. I don't know if they've ever found another solution for fluorescent lights, but man, they really suck, they just suck the soul right outta ya. And we use real fluorescents just like in offices because ours is a pseudo documentary. I'd rather be surrounded by dead bodies than fluorescent lights.

A generation of workers can't get ahead - because aging boomers above them won't budge. Fortune's Anne Fisher has tips for breaking through the Grey Ceiling. Top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.