TheLadders.com is collecting advice from career experts to help people entering the workforce. I have a soft spot for anyone beginning their careers. It often takes bravery and resilience.
When starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know and you feel like no one’s really telling you how it is. So you’re left to figure it out while miserably wasting your potential away under a fluorescent light. (Can you tell I’ve been there?)
Truth is, our 20’s are messy, and that’s true for everyone. It’s a time for trial and error. It’s about figuring things out on your own and finding yourself. That can’t be rushed!
Don’t discount the value of your errors. (tweet this!)
Here are 6 pieces of must-know advice:
1. Forget the Brand
So I may get kicked out of the career advice fraternity for this one: You’re not a brand, you’re a person. A multi-dimensional, layered, changing person. Don’t box yourself in (or feel like you have to) by title-ing yourself as one thing only, by being seen as “seamless” across all platforms. That’s not true to life. And when we begin to feel boxed in, we cheat ourselves.
Often we feel like we need to brand ourselves, claiming to the world THIS IS WHO I AM AND WHAT I WANT TO DO! But it’s not that easy. Your interests and skills are likely varied and your goals evolve.
Be who you are. If you get a job, or stay at a job long enough, it’s going to come out anyway!
2. Say Yes
When I first started out as a recruiter, I knew I wasn’t destined to interview people all day. I didn’t have a burning lifelong desire to sift through resumes and write job descriptions for 60 hours a week. But I did it.
Now, you’ll hear advice that says, “if it’s not your dream job or on the track toward your dream job, skip it. Don’t settle!” But I disagree. While I don’t think you should settle, don’t discount what can come from saying yes.
For me, I said yes to a recruiter position. A few years later, I’d risen through the ranks and became the youngest VP for a Fortune 500 recruiting company and found what I really love to do- help people understand their own greatness and how to fashion their jobs around that so they can make an impact.
Had I said no to that first tedious job, I might still be looking for what it is I’m meant to do.
3. Take Off the Blinders
That leads me to this next point. Being focused is great and totally valuable. However, had I gone into that recruiting job gunning for the VP role, I’d likely not have gotten the 3 other promotions that led me to it.
You see, being single-focused is something we learn in school: study for this test, prepare for this presentation, practice for this game. In the “real world” there will be projects that demand your attention but they’ll also be opportunities that come from unknown places that’ll take you by surprise.
I often work with successful people in the middle of their careers- the ambitious type, out for the executive or partner position. But once they get there, they’re left unfulfilled.
Have a focus but don’t be so singularly focused that you don’t notice what comes your way and how you and your priorities are changing. A position in a different department could open a new door. Or maybe you’ll get the chance to work for a senior person on a project and that relationship will lead to a great opportunity you hadn’t imagined.
Satisfaction doesn’t come at a certain point, once you’ve ticked a box or make a specific amount or have a certain title.
There’s happiness to be found in life’s in-between stages, if only you’re open to it. (tweet this!)
4. Don’t Leave Experience Behind
Ok, so let’s say you get a job and you realize it’s not for you and you’re ready for a change. No problem, it’s totally common.
But here’s my advice: don’t rush it.
I often see those early in their careers saying “All I do is robot-work, I know I’m not going to be a ___ for the rest of my life. I want to make a difference and get out of this grind ASAP.”
I hear you! And I’m not going to try to convince you that’s not valid. However, before you decide to quit, there’s information and value to be absorbed even in a job you hate.
Before you check out, take on all the experience you can in your own job and across departments. Ask to be included in a project that sounds interesting. Get to know people. Ask questions and get involved. Adding one more project to your resume may be a game changer when you’re looking for a new job.
5. Work on Your Network
Don’t discount the value of who you know.
Your network will be your safety net often in your life. When new to your career you may think you don’t know anyone with decision-making power yet. But that’ll change with time. The relationships you start early on are usually your best contacts down the road.
So even with one foot out the door, nurture the relationships you have with those at your current job.
People remember people and you never know when that guy in the next cubicle could be your “in” at a future job.
6. The Secret to Your Success is You
As you know by now, I have experience hiring and promoting people. I want to let you in on a secret that even tenured, successful people don’t always get:
The key to finding success AND happiness is you.
It’s your unique set of skills and experiences. It’s your perspective. It’s the way in which YOU solve a problem, communicate to your co-workers, reach a goal.
Understanding your HOW is your secret weapon. The sooner you get to know you- what comes easily to you, when time flies, what you have both a desire and ability to do, the sooner you’ll find success. The kind of success that feels good.
It takes awhile to gather this intel so start now! Begin taking note of when you feel energized at work, what people come to you for, what you could do for hours both at work and in your personal life. It doesn’t have to make sense or seem relevant right now. Just gather it and you’re already a step ahead.
Our 20’s are a time of experimentation and exploration. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t know exactly what you want to do or how you want to do it. You don’t have to know it all now- in fact, no one does, even those that think they do!
Remember that everything you do is like a breadcrumb leading you on. Each interaction, company culture, boss and job will offer an opportunity to get to know yourself better.
Soon you’ll know exactly what you have to offer and where you’ll fit in best. That’s a part of the adventure of our careers.
Be open and pay attention to the breadcrumbs. And if you need help, check out TheLadders.com. They can help match your resume with potential jobs. And if you still need help, email me here. I’m happy to help you sift through it all so you can find your HOW. Click here to get started with a FREE call!
What’s your best advice for those starting out their careers? Or what questions do you have about starting off on the right foot? Let’s dish in the comments below!