May
15

Your Career is Waiting. Are you Prepared?

As graduation is upon us, we wanted to adapt a previous post and freshen it up a bit. The main points are timeless; the context is what needs some updating. If you’re a parent, share this with your kids. It’s probably everything you’ve said for the last ten or fifteen years.

If you’re a student, graduate or someone looking to re-invent themselves, read on.

 

(Originally posted on June 12, 2014)

We did it. Eight years, sixteen semesters and countless stories, dramas and experiences are now all wrapped up. Wow, what an eight years it’s been. For us parents, it’s an accomplishment too.

When I originally wrote this post it was May 2014, my oldest daughter, Sydney, had just graduated from Washington College. I rarely use the word perfect, however, it was as close to a perfect day as I can imagine. The sun, bright and warm, shaded by an occasional white fluffy cloud, served as a backdrop to a ceremony steeped in tradition (even George Washington showed up to speak to the graduates). Everyone was filled with excitement, optimism and gratitude. You couldn’t help but get a bit philosophical and nostalgic.

This week, Liza our youngest daughter also graduates from Washington College. I’m hoping for an equally beautiful day, however, that’s not what’s most important. As Liza interviewed this spring she was filled with excitement and trepidation. I also saw someone work through the interviewing process with common sense, resolve and great intention. Her decision in the end, was her own. That’s what a good education provides; a way to think, process and then make a decision based on reason, information, and heart.

There are few graduates who enter their field of study, especially when graduating from a Liberal Arts College, and that means they know little about what needs to be done to be successful in any given company and job.

Learning on the job is an understatement. And, in today’s rapidly changing world, what you may have learned in an internship or college may be obsolete once you land the job, especially in marketing, communications and technology.

I remember when I was 22 and landing my first job. I knew nothing about what I was hired to do, especially not the sales part. I got hired and went to the library, yes the library, to learn about newspapers, camera-ready art, and sales. I grabbed every book I could find and spent the weekend learning the terminology (camera-ready art, a term so extinct, I haven’t used it in decades). I absorbed as much as I could and went to work. I listened and observed the professionals who surely were my peers and my superiors. I mimicked the best they offered and made the rest up. It worked.

Here are some helpful hints and suggestions to springboard you, your career or even your career reinvention.

While it might not be easy to do, show up and stay later than your “boss” does. By the way, find out early on if the person you report to or owns the company likes that label. I, don’t. Enough said.

Don’t mistake a casual work environment for one with a lack of focus and high expectations. In a small business, lots of &*%$ needs to get done and everyone plays a part in making sure that happens, as needed. In a large company, if you don’t get &*%$ done, you don’t get noticed and others pass you by on the ladder of corporate advancement. Your pace needs to be swift. Employers expect fast results on their terms not yours.

Balance humility with confidence. Remember you probably know little about what it takes to get the job done and be successful in a new company. Be clear about that and yet be confident you can accomplish whatever they lay out for you. Why? Because you’ll learn it on your own time.

Find your voice and your style. It carries you far and speaks to your individualism, your unique fingerprint. Be comfortable in it, wear it well. A voice that is clear, strong, and succinct conveys confidence (even when you aren’t feeling it) and a style that expresses who you are makes you memorable.

Always be curious. Yes, of course, ask questions. More importantly, listen and ask the next question. It’s the start of a conversation not an interview. It tells the other person they have been heard. Everyone wants to be heard.

Own your career, be the master, the CEO of your career. Understand that perhaps the greatest risk is playing it safe. It took me years to get my arms around this. I wish I had started my own business years ago, but I thought it too risky as the primary financial provider with three children. While we may not all own our own businesses, we can manage our own careers. Read “The Start Up of You.” It should be required reading in every high school, college, and university.

Build more than a network. Build a galaxy of extraordinary people who inspire, captivate, encourage, collaborate, and tell you the truth. A galaxy is so much more than a network; its purpose is more noble and intentional. Some people in your galaxy will stay with you for decades, others will fall off and let others join in. It’s all ok. The core — they are the people who mark your life in indelible ways.

Don’t lean in, dive in. Be your most, hone and adapt your skills, passions, interests, and talents. Don’t waste them on frivolous activity or uninspired people. Don’t be a surface swimmer, dive in and see below the surface, it’s where the real beauty lies. Yep, a few sharks will nip and try to grab you, it’s just part of the dive. But your experiences and contributions will be so much richer – the treasure is at the bottom not the top.

Strip away the labels and the titles, and define your sense of self from the work you do. Whether the work is as a parent, colleague, employee, coach, mentor, volunteer, board member or entrepreneur, titles are ambiguous and often don’t fit the role or the accomplishment. Stand out in your role and be that person ― the one who contributes when everyone else has left for the day, is too busy or too easily distracted.

Know when it’s time to leave and move on. You, unlike the generations before you, will probably not stay at one or two companies for long. Be good with that, contribute and know when it’s time to go. Go with grace and style, leaving your work in tact and a bit of yourself in that company’s culture. Leave a bit of you in each place along the way – they will remember you fondly and more importantly, your reputation will begin to precede you.

Your contribution begins when you decide it does―when you dive in, kick in and give the world your best ideas, work, code, service and your heart. Your best you. It can happen at 12 or 22 and every moment thereafter. Dive in quickly though and contribute at a high-level from day one.

Evolve. You never know it all, the more you know the more you may realize how much there is to know. Be an ongoing and passionate learner. Whether it’s a new person, culture, type of food, hobby, cause, topic, book—be open to what it offers.

Model. Encourage others to see work, its value, and contribution as significant to the world. Today, with a touch of technology and the spark of initiative and creativity, individuals can contribute and define a new future for themselves, their families, communities and the world in fresh and exciting ways.

Rebound. Your setbacks will provide windows waiting to be opened. Fling them open and see what lies on the other side. You will lose a job (it’s a rite of passage), you will not be chosen for something you hoped for, though you earned. Don’t speak of fairness, it’s silly. Look for what you are supposed to learn and move forward with resolve. Wallow briefly, the next part of your life is waiting for you.

Craft discipline and routine. It’s freeing when you know exactly what you need to do and don’t have to think about it. I wish I had started this years ago but I am learning how liberating it is to not have to make so many small decisions each day. This is one of my life-long pursuits.This starts with filling your Outlook or Google calendar with your work activities and not just the meetings you’ve been invited to.

And, just in case no one’s mentioned it, speak clearly (throw away those likes and ummms), put out your hand, shake firmly and with intention, look at others directly and find value in every person’s story.

When interviewing learn as much about the day-to-day culture as possible. Culture fit is everything. And, while diversity in a workplace is key, fitting in is necessary so you can do your best work.

Now, go forth and conquer.

Colleen McKenna launched Intero Advisory for businesses focused on increasing their sales and talent initiatives. Since 2011 Intero Advisory, a LinkedIn consulting, coaching and training firm has been engaged by more than 240 companies. Intero shakes up the status quo with a 'personal' approach to business by maximizing an individual's network, personal brand, and expertise.

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