You hear the question asked a lot: “What advice would you give to your past self?” Anytime I hear this question, I end up reflecting on what I have learned, both personally and professionally. Regular self-reflection is one of the best ways to remind yourself what continues to “work” while you also move forward. The start of a new year, and a new decade, is a typical time for many people to pause and reflect on where they’ve been and where they hope to go. So, as we kick off the new decade, I decided to put together the top eight pieces of advice that I wish someone had shared with me when I was starting out professionally.
My first piece of advice? Start getting to know your community and peers early. Connections you make can impact you ten—even 20—years down the road. People are the best resource to navigate career moves and strengthen your knowledge base.
The good news is that it’s never been easier to network. Thanks to social media, you can join a virtual community of your peers at the click of a button. Whether you engage in a LinkedIn group that’s tied to your industry, take part in a live Twitter Chat, or seek out local lunch and learns and meetups, taking the first step is key. Trust me, putting yourself out there is worth it. You’ll thank yourself later.
Be a Problem Solver, Not a Problem Identifier
We all have that one friend or colleague who tends to see the glass as half-full. They have no problem speaking up when they notice something is wrong, but they seldom have a solution to offer. Don’t be that person. You add value when you come to the table with an idea. If you notice something that needs improvement, think about how to fix it instead of just pointing it out. Don’t be afraid to flex those problem-solving skills early. Your peers will notice, your boss will notice, and you’ll be top of mind when new projects and promotions become available.
Always be Prepared
This piece of advice is timeless. No matter the stage of your career, preparation is the key to success. Show up to your meetings prepared. Set aside time to research who you are meeting with and prep any materials of use for the meeting at the minimum. If you are not sure what that means for your new role, ask!
Being prepared is a sign of respect. When you come to meetings, prepare, and show up on time, you communicate that you’re reliable, competent, and courteous. All of these traits will serve you well throughout your career and your personal life, too.
Attitude Goes a Long Way
Skills are essential, yes. But so is attitude. My advice? Having a chip on your shoulder makes you stand out—and not in a good way. While navigating corporate life can be difficult at times, focusing too much on corporate politics will hurt you in the long run. Be pragmatic, not pessimistic. Build others up, don’t tear them down. Look for ways to build consensus, not divide.
Have Measurable Goals, but be Flexible
Having goals for the future is a great way to stay motivated, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get that promotion within a year! It takes time to understand the ins and outs of a new company. My advice is simple: if you’re looking for ways to grow, then take some time to understand your business and how each person and team contributes to success. Once you understand that piece of the puzzle, you can become a more active and intentional contributor. Just be patient and remember that every company is different. What takes three months in one place may take nine months in another, and that’s okay. Just stay focused on your goals and do your best work.
Quality Over Quantity
Remember that bit of advice about having a positive attitude. There is one caveat. Having a “go-getter” attitude is great, but remember that it is not possible to do it all. Don’t take on too much, or the quality of your work will suffer. Time management is critical. Talk to your leadership and find the best to prioritize your projects. It’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly. Quality counts.
Ask Lots of Questions
As you’re just starting out in your career, take every chance you get to learn from others. The best way to do this is to ask questions. Your more seasoned colleagues are an invaluable resource. Tapping into the situational experiences that they have navigated can provide the best starting point. Every time I have asked the question, “What would you do in this situation?”, I have gotten fantastic advice. And asking questions shows you’re curious, eager to learn, and open to feedback. Those are all good things.
Learn to Identify the Difference Between Ego and Confidence
You’ve landed your first full-time role or scored a promotion. Congratulations! You should feel confident and proud of your hard work. But you should also stay humble. Things can change fast in a corporate environment. Celebrate a job well done, but don’t let your ego take over and don’t become complacent. Thank your team for helping you get where you are, and continue to check in with them and find new ways to grow and improve. Every new project or challenge offers the priceless opportunity to learn, help someone else learn, and ultimately become a more well-rounded professional. Never take those opportunities for granted.
Bringing it All Together
As I launch into the new decade, I find myself working with great leadership and teams (many of whom were integral in influencing the pieces of advice this list). Though I’m no longer new to my profession, I continue to learn. How about you? Ask yourself, “What advice would I give myself starting out in my career?” Share that advice with someone who could benefit.
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