9 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Career
I remember the early days of my career. Or lack thereof, for that matter. When I first graduated from college, I struggled to shake the feeling that my career had stalled before it began — even though deep down I knew that I was taking all of the necessary steps and laying the appropriate groundwork for success. Hindsight is 20/20 though, and I know now that a lot of these feelings could be attributed to my reality not coinciding with what I had inadvertently envisioned for myself in the years leading up.
Here are nine things I wish I’d known when I was just starting out:
- Don’t sell yourself short.
The first thing to remember is that you’re more in control than you think you are. Too often I would hear friends and acquaintances joke about having a “generic” degree and asking aloud, “What am I going to do with a degree in that?” The answer is: so much more than you think.
A degree can be just as dynamic as a job description. You should rarely count yourself out for a role you’re otherwise qualified for simply because you don’t have a specific degree. In fact, there are plenty of statistics out there that confirm people often end up in jobs that aren’t exactly in line with what they studied in school. The makeup of an ideal candidate is considerate of many factors, and your degree is just a fraction of it.
- Familiarize yourself with different markets and economies.
What you want to do career-wise may not be prominent where you currently are, so open yourself up to new possibilities … and locations. Sometimes business demographics can surprise you. It may be your impulse to assume certain jobs only exist in certain cities, or that you have to move to a big city to land a job you love. That’s not necessarily true. It’s actually pretty common for companies to plant themselves in smaller, less expensive cities as it can be cheaper for them and more accessible for everyone. Plus, less cost-per-square-foot can mean more open seats to fill — perhaps yours! So before you jump to any conclusions about where your career is even possible, do some research.
- Round yourself out.
Education is key, but it’s also expensive here in the United States. If a higher degree is something you want for yourself, by all means, pursue it! But, remember it’s not the only way to make yourself more marketable. There are plenty of free resources out there for there for communicating your character to prospective employers without absorbing more debt.
When job searching, you’re often only as good as how you’re reflected on one piece of paper: your résumé. Volunteering, internships, special projects, commitments outside of work all tell a more robust story about you as a professional. It can give employers an idea of how comfortable you are in leadership roles and/or working with teams, among other suitable qualities. It also communicates your level of energy and enthusiasm for certain responsibilities, giving employers a better idea of how you would fit in specific roles.
- Leave your comfort zone.
If you were a shy kid, like myself, you’re probably more accustomed to turning down offers that make you uncomfortable. Now’s the time to change that. Try saying yes to invites/offers when you know professional growth is a potential outcome. Branching out helps you try things you never thought you’d experience. Even if nothing major comes of the opportunity, you will have gained courage points for pushing your personal limits.
- Take chances.
You can do everything in your power to ensure all of the right boxes are checked for a career kickoff, but if you don’t have the courage to back it all up, prepare yourself for complacency — the darkest source of workplace resentment.
An entrepreneurial mindset is what drives the greatest innovators today; change’s disruption to normal flow keeps things interesting and competitive. Don’t let fear hold you back from pitching a new idea, doing things on a whim or making a case for reconsideration. I learned early on that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and I can tell you from personal experience that speaking up is worth it.
- Get to know your network.
Your network will play a foundational role in the progression of your career. The idea of hundreds of applicants responding to one job opening can be a very scary thought but it’s today’s reality. That’s why expanding your network is critical to your professional growth. With every new introduction, your network grows, getting you one step closer to the ideal role.
It’s time to put the awkwardness out of your mind because you will learn early on that introductions are considered incredibly valuable to professionals at all levels (especially in corporate America). Shadowing an individual who works in a field you’re considering pursuing a career in can give you a better idea of what the job is like behind the scenes. It could also get you a foot in the door with a future employer, lead or partner, or on a more personal level, you could be meeting your future mentor — all of whom have equal interest in your success.
- Set personal goals for your professional life.
It’s ok to get a little carried away with this one as long as there’s a happy balance between ambitious and achievable. Goals are driven by motivation, and you can’t have too much of that. Mind your inner self as you pursue these goals though. There will be plenty of people sharing their own personal success stories and tips. Listen with intent but remember you’re on a personal journey; comparing yourself to those individuals will only lead to unrealistic expectations. Forget the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” because there are no benchmarks in life.
- Make friends.
You know the saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”? Well, you will. Look, you’re not going to jive with everyone — that’s just not how the real world works — but you can certainly be the bigger person when times are tense. And in those moments, you’ll be glad you have a buddy to grab a coffee or take a walk with. Reach beyond the friends within proximity though; connect with individuals at all levels: people in different departments, the cleaning crew, security personnel, etc. There will come a day you’ll be glad you took the time to get to know them.
- Ask for feedback.
Someone probably did your job before you. Whatever their reason for leaving, one of your personal goals should be to do the job even better. Regular check-ins with your manager create an open dialogue that is crucial to employee development and ultimately has the potential to affect the company’s bottom line. Feedback, reviews, casual conversations, these are all acceptable expectations for employees to have.
It won’t always be easy. You’ll be faced with tough decisions, rejection, silly and mundane tasks, but it will always be worth it. There’s nothing like receiving your first paycheck, knowing you worked hard to earn it and that it represents an employers’ “Job well done!”
More than anything, know that things always have a way of working themselves out. The shift from the college years to the workforce is absolutely an adjustment, but with time, patience and perseverance, you will prove to both yourself and the world what you’re capable of — and it will be awesome.
Written by: Taylar Ramsey
Taylar Ramsey is a marketing independent contractor with specialty in strategic campaign design and execution, event planning and creative copywriting. A long-time friend of Human Capital Media, she regularly contributes content surrounding external promotions, internal development and outstanding achievements – all reflective of Human Capital Media’s vision, “Better workplaces, better lives.”