In my twenties, so far, I’ve made many, many mistakes. I got into a lot of debt. I messed up really good relationships. I wore bad outfits, smoked too many cigarettes, and exceeded the speed limit on a near-daily basis. But one thing that I’ve managed to keep moving forward with, in the midst of all these screw-ups, is my career.
I read recently – and for the life of me, I can’t remember where – that your twenties is the most important decade when it comes to building your career. The context of the article was the recession, that the recession has essentially ruined the lives of people in their twenties, that we’ll never bounce back from this recession because it has set us back in the most important years of our lives, career-wise. The article was a little too negative, even for my taste, but it definitely got me thinking about what it takes to build a career in the most tumultuous decade of your life.
Let me be clear about one thing, right up-front: I’m 27. I know nothing about what it takes to build a decades-long career, what it’s like to juggle career and family, or what it’s like to successfully switch careers. I’m writing this post from the vantage point of someone who has spent the past five years, since graduating from college, navigating the grown-up work world as I deal with typical twenty-something issues. In other words, I have experience building a career while growing up at the same time. Also, the focus of this post is how to build a career, not land a job, so I’m not going to be addressing the process of getting your first job in your field – just how to handle yourself when you get there.
Anyway, this is what I know about building a career…so far:
1. When you’re new on the job, be friendly and introduce yourself – to everyone
There’s no need to be over-the-top, artificially friendly and smiley, but being basically warm and introducing yourself to all of your new colleagues definitely sets your first big girl job off on the right foot. Like it or not, American society is definitely biased towards the outgoing, extroverted, positive types. If you’re not one of those types, you’ll need to fake it. Sorry, but it’s true :/ Also, I don’t mean just introduce yourself to the people you’ll be working with directly – be sure to also introduce yourself to all the secretaries, custodians, and other support staff in the office. It’s good manners and you’re making it clear that you don’t think you’re “above” anyone else on-staff.
2. Say ‘yes!’
In general, when you’re asked to take on new roles and responsibilities in your workplace, it’s been my experience that saying ‘yes’ is the right answer. If your boss or another “higher up” in your office trusts you to take the lead on something, it’s because you probably can and, if you play your cards right, these types of opportunities to demonstrate your skills could lead to a promotion. In the case that you’re asked to do something that you feel very sure you’re not suited to, turn the assignment down politely and suggest another person in the office who might be willing to take it on. That way, you’re suggesting a solution rather than creating a problem (see #5).
3. Give – and take – credit where its due
No one likes someone who takes credit for an idea that isn’t their own, so be sure to let your boss know who to compliment if he mistakenly attributes someone else’s good idea to you. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to speak up when the tables are turned. If you catch a colleague trying to steal your thunder, find a diplomatic way to speak up. Don’t let others take advantage of you!
4. Don’t get too personal with colleagues
No one wants to hear about how hungover you are, who you slept with recently, who your sister slept with recently, your child’s weird rash, your mom’s health problems, your health problems, your dog’s weird eye puss, that your child still can’t count to 100, your husband’s affair, your brother’s porn addiction….you get the point. If your colleagues are appearing to care about all this stuff, they’re faking it. In general, keep your problems and issues in your shrink’s office. Your colleagues only need to know the bare minimum of your life outside of work. Period.
5. If you need to bring a problem to your boss, also bring a solution
If I had only one piece of advice to offer to a newly-minted worker bee, in terms of impressing her boss, this would be it. I’ve found that the number one thing that all bosses hate is whiners who whine about problems but offer no solutions. It’s perfectly fine to bring office problems to your boss’s attention – usually, she’ll be happy to hear that you’re being perceptive and that you feel comfortable discussing issues with her candidly. But if you don’t also bring a potential solution, you’ll look like you’re complaining instead of trying to dialogue about what’s going on. Even if she shoots your solution down, at least you’ve proved that you thought analytically about the problem and brainstormed a way to fix it, and that will, at the very least, make your boss realize that you’re valuable to the organization.
Ok readers, what did I miss? How did you build your career? What’s the best way to climb professional ladders? I can’t wait to hear your suggestions!