I graduated from college with my business degree ten years ago this May. A decade of professional life behind me, I am taking a moment to reflect – to think about how much I’ve learned about my career, how to navigate opportunities, how to work, and how to act. How to deal with people and work in teams. How to push for change. How to keep moving forward and how to earn respect. How to keep perspective top of mind and how to stay motivated. And of course, how to stay positive and excited about what’s next.
In my ten quick years I have worked for six different companies across four different industries. Some were huge corporations and two were much smaller. My wife and I also started our own business for a while somewhere in the middle, so I guess you could throw that in there, too. So, you could say I’ve seen and experienced some things in the last decade. Some might hear all that and call me a “job jumper.” Totally get it – it’s easy to conclude that when all you have are the numbers. However, every shift I’ve made, each step of the way, has either been a conscious industry or career field change for the better, or a step up from a previous role and to be honest, I’m proud of that.
So, back to myself from ten years ag0- the entry level fresh-out-of-college 21-year-old. Dude, listen up, here’s some advice…
Have an opinion
Don’t speak in meetings simply just to speak or have your voice heard, but when you do speak up – make it meaningful. Your opinion might not always be “correct” or chosen by the majority, but at least you shared it. You’ll be remembered and respected for having one. It’s not always easy to share your opinion with confidence, but it’ll set you apart from others that are silent or afraid to be wrong.
Don’t act young
You’re young. This is your first job. Older co-workers are already making jokes about how you probably can’t even go to happy hour. On that note, don’t go out on a work night and tell people the next day you’re “a little slow today” with a stupid smirk on your face. This is your livelihood and career– that’s just not cool. No one’s impressed. When you’re young, you have to overcome being looked at as just “young.” Don’t give anyone anymore reason to think of you as such – make them take you seriously.
Speak with executives as much as possible
This isn’t just about getting in their good graces to try to get promoted. This is about gaining confidence, earning respect, and building very important relationships. This is about getting comfortable talking to a president like a normal person. Whether they’re formal meetings or in the hallways passing by, make a point to strike up these conversations.
Don’t stay late just for looks
You’ll quickly find out that simply being at your desk an hour after most people leave doesn’t get you promoted. Or, coming in an hour early for that matter. It basically just looks fancy. That one time that a higher-up sees you still there late it might look good in their eyes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually doing anything positive for the company. There’s a difference between working crazy long hours because you’re jamming on something really important and meaningful with a tight deadline, and trying to make it appear like you’re doing that- which is a waste of everyone’s time. Quality over quantity.
Embrace job changes
This could potentially mean getting a new job within the same company, or elsewhere; either way – make changes. And make them whenever you feel ready. Don’t let yourself get bored or to a point where you feel stuck. It’s no longer your parents’ generation when people worked in the same place or job for 30 years. Sometimes, the way you’ll work your way up is by leaving and doing it somewhere else. So on that note, always at least listen to new potential opportunities. Many will not be right for you, but there’s never any harm in listening. As long as you feel good about the changes and progression of your career, keep moving forward.
Appreciate your many different bosses
You will have quite a few different jobs in the course of almost a decade, and with that comes many different bosses. Regardless of if you love all of them, you need to appreciate them. They all have their own unique styles of how they work, manage, communicate, help, understand, and even deal with their own bosses. Take bits and pieces from each one and mold that into your own management style.
Work hard- then work harder
If you want to get ahead, earn respect of peers and bosses and feel good about what you’re doing in your job – work hard. Really hard. Those that half-ass projects and tasks are so obvious. Don’t be that guy. This isn’t college. Get your work done and get it done well, and then go further. This should always be top of mind in everything you do in your career.
Actually care about people
When you become a manager of people, don’t be fake. Don’t be a robot. This goes for your peers as well. Be human and actually care about them. You spend more time with these folks than you do your own family most weeks, so make sure to put forth that effort to make genuine connections. There’s a lot more to life than this job – same goes for your direct reports and co-workers, so never lose sight of that and what’s really important.
Challenge the norm
Don’t do things just because that’s how they’ve always been done. When you got hired you were a new employee with a new brain, new ideas and different ways looking at things. Use that to your advantage and push for positive change when needed. Don’t get comfortable doing something a certain way, whether that’s something you do for your specific role or a larger team initiative. Always be questioning if what you’re doing makes sense and if there’s a better way.
Tell jokes…and laugh frequently
This doesn’t mean be inappropriate or annoying, but it does mean you should have fun at work. If you can’t laugh regularly every day, then you need to think about the bigger picture. Tell jokes, make others laugh and enjoy the office a little bit more. You’ll make your day-to-day so much more enjoyable. Don’t take yourself or your job too seriously.
A job is… just a job
This is more of a philosophical piece of advice, but it’s important. There will be days when you feel like the world is caving in from job stress or a project deadline, but… you will still go home at the end of the day. A job gives you purpose and fulfillment and helps pay the bills, but it shouldn’t define you or feel like it’s all you have in life. Jobs come and go. They’re temporary in some sense of the word in every situation, whether it’s temporary for one year or ten, at some point it will be gone or different, so don’t let it consume you. This sounds kind of ridiculous but it’s something someone will tell you after a few months into your first job: “No one is going to die if that email about that project isn’t sent by 5pm.” It’s a joke, of course, but the meaning here is basically what this one’s all about – it’s just a job! Always keep that perspective.