While it depresses me they don’t understand my Saved by the Bell references, their ideas and achievements are truly remarkable. And approximately once a week, I get a request from one of them to talk about “careers” — a topic that they know they should care or think about, but don’t know what to actually do with.
Below is a compilation of the advice I’ll usually give them. (And even if you’re not 22, the advice can still apply.)
Early in your working life, you’re defined by the company you keep, so choose wisely. It’s very easy to pick the company with the biggest name or the biggest paycheck, but I recommend following our Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah’s advice: Solve for growth.
How does the company you’re working for (or considering joining) prioritize growth, both personally and professionally? How does the team you’ll be working for plan to grow in the coming year, and what do the prospects look like for growth for the broader company? Far too many people pick companies based on their current reputation rather than their possible growth, but you get far more career credit for being the fifth employee at LinkedIn after its explosive growth than you do for being the 5000th employee at Radio Shack before it stops growing entirely.
In my opinion, people overthink the role of formal mentorship in building their career. Instead of identifying one person to learn from and ask questions of, make that your daily practice. Write down what you see, know, and observe about what works and what doesn’t: You don’t think you’ll forget it as you evolve in your career, but you will, and having it written down somewhere will help you maintain perspective. Identify people you admire and learn from them, but don’t wait for a formal mentorship relationship to do so.
At any part of your career, you need to learn new things — and for that to be relatively painless later in your career, you need to build that habit now.
So instead of running away from things you’re not good at, lean into them. Great writer but not very technical? Learning even a little bit of code or the ins-and-outs of Photoshop will help you significantly. Fantastic at detail but have trouble seeing the big picture? Ask one of your peers who is great at project management how she juggles priorities. It’s very easy to fall back on your natural talents or training, but you’ll be well served if you invest the time and effort to push yourself on your greatest areas of weakness early and often in your career.
Far too many people treat networking as an extracurricular activity like running or playing guitar. In reality, the best form of networking is absolutely crushing results in your job — doing so pays dividends for the rest of your career. That’s not to say networking isn’t important; it absolutely is — just don’t be so fascinated with climbing the corporate ladder that you’re not delivering what it takes to get up there.
The biggest complaint I hear from folks new to the workforce is that another person got credit for their work and “that’s not fair.” It is incredibly frustrating when other people get credit for your blood, sweat, and tears, but guess what: Life isn’t always fair, and neither is work. However, I can tell you that over time, fortune rewards those who rack up results instead of focusing on getting credit. Instead of obsessing over recognition and credit, obsess over results: Your career will thank you for it later.
Your boss is your manager at work, not a mind reader, fortuneteller, or psychologist. He or she can and should support you in your professional goals, but the only person in the driver’s seat of your career is you. Manage it proactively by asking for what you want, making it clear what interests you, and eating up feedback for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–doing so will make you a better employee and a better leader, regardless of whether you stay at a company for ten months or ten years.
Develop a nose early for what’s important in your business — what’s a top priority, why, and what projects can actively support that priority. Raise your hands for those projects: They are high risk, but high reward, and the work you do on them can impact your career for decades to come. Be thoughtful, diligent, and tenacious: Managers notice employees who aren’t afraid of the big stuff, and your teammates will always want to be in a bunker with someone who can tackle a big challenge.
Most 22-year-olds think of social media as a way to connect with friends, but it’s a powerful lever in getting future employers to notice you. First and foremost, delete or make private any photos or comments about how great your years of partying in college were. Second, set a calendar reminder every quarter to update your LinkedIn profile with recent results so your online resume is always current and fresh. Finally, share content from companies and people you admire: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, social sharing is a close second — it can go a long way to getting you noticed.
Jack Welch, who I was lucky enough to have as a professor at MIT Sloan, is famous for having failed early in his career at GE. His quote, which I come back to often is, “Your career isn’t always linear. But what matters is how well you get back on the horse.” If a project didn’t go your way or an internship didn’t turn out as planned, don’t get down on yourself — get on with it. Your success is heavily predicated on your ability to bounce back from challenges, so the earlier you learn to reset your attitude after a setback, the better.
I realize I sound ancient saying this (I’m cool with that), but people remember gratitude in a way that outperforms other emotions or motivators. Take the time to thank people who interviewed you, people who made time to share what they know with you, and people whose influence helped you succeed. Be gracious in your praise of others and your kindness toward people who help you: People notice and remember this for years to come.
It used to be that signing on with a new company meant years (if not decades) of your life, but now that people switch jobs every few years, managing your career has become both more important and more challenging. Options seem infinite, grad school seems necessary, and far too early you start comparing your career trajectory to that of others, worried that you’re being left behind or left out. Instead of overthinking your next job, your next decision, or your next networking event, focus on being remarkable at your job, tackling your weaknesses head-on, and being someone who isn’t afraid to take on tasks that other people find terrifying. The rest of it will work itself out, I promise.
What other advice would you give to someone starting out in their career? Let us know in the comments.