I have been reflecting on my 20+ year career on the things that I wish I better understood when I was first starting out:
1. Don’t wait for permission to get the experience you want
In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to proactively develop your experience—without waiting for a specific job opportunity to open up. Do you want experience planning a highly visible event even though your company doesn’t have that need? Volunteer for a non-profit that puts on a fun run or festival. Do you want to put your journalism degree to work even though your current job doesn’t require writing?
Start a blog. Are you not getting what you need from your manager to help you take your career to the next level? Join a professional development organization or seek out a mentor. Never wait to get the experience you want.
2. Know how the score is kept and lead with it
Any business, whether it’s a services firm, technology manufacturer or even a retailer, uses a common scorecard for measuring success. And while other factors are important, it typically comes down to financial results. It is critical that you understand how the score is kept. If you want to obtain more responsibility in the organization, lead with the financials when making a proposal, explaining an initiative or presenting alternatives.
3. Whom you know isn’t as important as who knows you
Knowing a lot of people is key, but it is also critical to allow people to get to know you. Telling people about your experience and interests puts other people in a position to help you. One way to get people to know you is by developing a special area of expertise. As an appreciator of artistic talent, I am often struck by how many famous artists get known for a particular style of art even though they often can paint in a variety of styles. In the same way, you should work to develop a specific area of expertise and then let people know about it.
4. What you know isn’t as important as who you know
Everyone has heard this maxim before and it is generally true. Yet second-degree connections are of critical importance as well. Early career individuals often focus exclusively on hiring managers and executives, and as a result, they might miss the networking opportunities that exist within their peer group. As you develop your network, pay special attention to those whom you will be working alongside with and attach yourself to the talented, smart, high-potential people in that group.
5. Nothing is a life sentence
It’s common for college students to feel like their selection of a major is setting them on a career path that’s more defined than it actually is. And many new college grads bemoan getting a job “outside of their major.” But this is not a tragedy. Instead, it illustrates how fungible one’s career path and choices actually are. In your lifetime, you may have several distinct careers. The path will only be clear in hindsight. Don’t be afraid to take a leap and do something new, pursue your interests and let them take you in a different direction.
About the Author
Jennifer Davis is a senior executive, industry presenter, business leader, mentor and volunteer. She is the vice president of marketing and product strategy for Planar Systems, a global leader in display and digital signage technology.
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