For a Fortune 500 media company, I oversee the summer internship program, including coordinating events featuring senior management speakers. To every speaker on my panel, I always ask: what do you wish you knew in the first year of your career that you know now? Here are three of the most popular responses:
Start networking now. With the labor market becoming more competitive, networking has never been more important. Yet, for many people, networking comes unnaturally. The only way to learn is to practice. Have lunch with different colleagues. Keep in touch with people you already know. Find mentors. Be a mentor.
Focus on learning anything because everything is transferable. If the job is selling insurance, your sales skill transfers to selling in other industries and your insurance knowledge transfers to other functions in financial services. These skills add up and come in handy, sometimes unexpectedly. I put myself through college with various administrative jobs. Years later, when I joined a start-up company in a non-administrative position, my ability to do these “mundane” office tasks was quickly noticed by the founder.
Enter and exit gracefully. Everyone you meet and every assignment you work on has the potential to lead to more opportunities. Always do your best, and do not burn bridges behind you. One candidate I met was unexpectedly laid off just months into his first job. He went back to an employer whose offer he had turned down (albeit gracefully) and was re-offered the position.
The ball pops out of the shortstop’s glove, even though it went straight at him. “Oh, he bobbled it,” the sportscaster calls. It’s not a career-ender, but it may get the runner on, and maybe that runner will score. In the end, the bobble may be costly. Job search bobbles are small and may fall under the radar. But, they can be costly, so try to avoid them:
PRESENTATION COUNTS. A true story: Mickey Mouse dress socks peek from under a candidate’s slacks as he sits down TO GET HIS OFFER. The candidate doesn’t get the offer, as the employer interprets his choice of socks as a lapse in professional judgment.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Get to your interview fifteen minutes early. There may be forms to fill out. There may be security hurdles to clear in the lobby reception. There may be a slow elevator. All three are true for just one employer for whom I recruited.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY. Your word processing program only catches words that are misspelled. It won’t catch words that are out-of-context. If a salesperson does “meat” clients, perhaps she should be a butcher. Even the most vulgar trader probably doesn’t work in “pubic” finance. There may be a “Colombia” University in Bogota, but not in New York.
In short, be conservative. Dress in proper business attire. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview. Proofread all of your correspondence. Bobbles are only funny on the highlight reel.
An actor needs to enter his bedroom in a nonchalant way, see something that the audience cannot see, and completely lose his temper. There are two different ways the actor can achieve this: he can focus on the feelings of nonchalance and anger; or he can focus on visualizing something that would transform him from nonchalant to angry. Different strategies, same result. One of my former acting teachers recommended choosing the easier strategy for you.
So it is with goals, which often can be reached by various strategies. If your goal is to improve your eating, this could mean breakfast daily, one more fruit and veggie than usual, or fewer sweets. If your goal is to save more money, this could mean setting aside a set amount each month, cutting back on a specific item and saving that cost, or taking extra work to earn the additional savings. If you want to focus on your career, you could read more industry material, expand your network, or learn a new skill. Set yourself up for success by choosing the easiest way to reach your goal. Once that change is made, you can introduce additional changes to make additional progress to that same goal, or you can redirect efforts to a different goal. Either way, you’ll have one relatively painless win under your belt.
Disrupting your original routine is hard enough. Choosing the most appealing change is an easier way to stay committed to your goal. Making it easy for yourself, however, is not the same as taking it easy. You are still working towards your goal. You are just making it fun at the same time. Don’t equate drudgery with commitment to your goal. By choosing the right strategy, you can make it easy for yourself and still achieve your goal.
The job search process is highly subjective. Multiple, often conflicting, opinions abound. If you ask ten recruiters the same question, you may hear up to ten different answers. For example, I do not care about getting thank you letters from interviewees. Some of my recruiting colleagues close candidates if they don’t send a thank you letter. I barely read cover letters. Some place more importance on the cover letter than on the resume. With so much dissension among recruiters themselves, how do you know what protocol to follow? Be conservative.
Since you don’t know what recruiter is reviewing your resume or giving your next interview, submit all resumes with a cover letter and follow up all interviews with a thank you letter. The recruiters that don’t care will just discard these things. The recruiters that do care will now not have a reason to discard you.
This follows with all the basic components of a job search. Understand what is required, and err on the side of caution. Have all marketing materials ready (e.g., business card, resume, cover letter, thank you letter, letters of reference, list of references), even though you might not need all of these all the time. Dress should be professional and neat. Wear suits in conservative colors (e.g., blue, brown or black) and cuts (i.e., not too short or tight). Good manners always count. Be on time. Be friendly to everyone, including administrative staff. Have a positive attitude. You will not know the personality preferences of the people you meet, but you want to be remembered in a positive light.
So many candidates want an insider’s view into what recruiters think, perhaps thinking that this knowledge will make them better candidates. However, with conflicting views among many recruiters, tailoring your approach to any one recruiter may conflict with another recruiter. So, aside from sheer curiosity, you really shouldn’t care what recruiters think, and instead focus on honing your unique approach.
When you’re unique, you leave a lasting impression
You cannot control what the recruiter thinks, so use your job search to learn more about yourself and develop your own style. Sometimes candidates do not have the background I need, so I don’t hire them. But the ones with confidence and a sense of self are the ones I remember (and call in the future) when a suitable opportunity does arise.
When you stick to your game plan, you control your destiny
If you put your real self forward, whatever may happen, you know you gave it your all. If your real self doesn’t get hired, the opportunity was probably not the best fit, and you have left the door open for an opportunity that better matches what you really want.
When it’s two out with runners in scoring position, you go down with your best pitch
During critical moments in baseball games, where the fastball pitcher is facing a fastball hitter, does the pitcher attempt some other pitch to throw the hitter off? More often than not, good pitchers challenge with their best pitch. You cannot tailor your search strategy to the desires of every recruiter out there, so pick the one that suits you, and go for it.
Investing is not just an activity for your finances. A successful career requires investments of time, money and energy in several key areas:
TRAINING. A company pours revenues back into research and development. So should you invest in your training and development. Weak or unknown skills in your current profession are obvious candidates for training. However, building on strengths and honing areas of natural interest even if unrelated to your current job are also important. Studying something that sparks your curiosity or inspires you benefits your career by increasing your creativity, broadening your imagination, and improving your overall attitude.
NETWORKING. A company dedicates resources to marketing. Networking is your marketing function. Relationships with colleagues and other industry professionals enhance your reputation and help market you. Increasing your industry knowledge also makes you more marketable. However, networking outside of your immediate job and industry is also critical. Knowing different people broadens your perspective. It also helps you avoid being the equivalent of a company dependent on one large customer.
BRANDING. A company has an advertising budget, a logo, letterhead, and other well-thought ways of branding to its public. You are branded by how you present yourself – your attitude, work ethic, personality, and appearance. If you live a healthy lifestyle, commit to small luxuries (e.g., regular massages, subscription to your favorite theater or sports team), and take care of yourself, you make a statement that you’re worth all that care and attention. You will project that in your brand.
As with a financial portfolio, a rich career requires consistent attention over the long-term. Prioritizing regular amounts of your time, money and energy to career-building activities yields dividends in career security, challenge, and fun.
Monetary compensation is the most obvious intersection of money and career. However, there are other equally important, though often overlooked issues where money and career intersects:
Money impacts your employer and therefore money should matter to you. Profit-making companies care about their bottom line, so you need to focus on how your job adds to that bottom line. How much are you generating in revenues? How much are you saving in costs? If you don’t know how your job adds or saves money, then you better find out because the ability to add measurable value will make you a valuable (i.e., retained) employee. Non-profit and government employees also can make money contributions (e.g., fundraising, grants, cost savings).
Your personal bottom line impacts your job prospects. Confidence attracts, and desperation repels. If you live paycheck-to-paycheck, then you’re desperate for that job. You probably are not in a position to take on high risk (but high reward) projects. If you have no savings and suffer a career setback (e.g., layoff), you will be tempted (or even forced) to take whatever comes along, rather than what’s best for your career. On the other hand, if you are financially stable, you can work for the joy of it and bring more joy to your work. This attracts even more opportunity.
How you handle money matters even in non-financial jobs. More employers are running background checks on prospective employees and sometimes that includes a credit check. Employers reason that how a prospect manages his/her personal money reflects judgment, discipline, and general knowledge. Whether or not you agree, know that this is happening. Therefore, if you run up on debt, are consistently late with payments, default on loans, or otherwise endanger your credit score, then you are hurting your career prospects.
Money matters to your career in ways unconnected to compensation. Therefore, take time and energy to get your money in order. A solid understanding of business, stable personal finances, and good credit will help your career, not just your money.
In addition to knowing your product, you also need to price it. The salary of your current job is one indication of your market price. It is always good to know the going rate for your function, level/ title, and industry. However, salary reflects what your skills and experience are worth in the specific context of your industry. You also need to consider your worth if you switch industries (e.g., the teacher who moves into corporate training), switch functions (e.g., the English teacher who becomes a writer) or strike out on your own (e.g., the teacher who starts a tutoring company).
It is critical to understand how your product would be priced if you did strike out on your own. For the teacher, a move into training is only one example of another potential product offering. Online education, community/ adult education classes, tutoring, writing training manuals, even coaching are other possibilities. Think even broader. A teacher is comfortable leading groups. Giving tours and public speaking training are also possibilities.
Now that you have a sense of the range of products you could offer, you can check the market price for all of these. How much do corporate trainers earn? What’s the rate for online class teachers, community workshop leaders, tutors? Pick a product offering that really appeals to you and build it out even further. If you were to build a touring company, what kind of tours would you offer? What would be your business costs? How would you market it? Do you need staff? What resources do you need? How much would you charge?
Thinking like an entrepreneur does not mean being an entrepreneur. You may decide to stay in your same job, company and industry. In that case, pricing your product (i.e., a salary check) ensures you are equitably paid. However, the exercise of pricing your product is an effective way to understand exactly what your products are. It is a reminder that you can survive outside of your current role. It gives you ideas outside of the specific function and industry you are in. It opens up new possibilities.