Five lessons I wish I had learnt earlier in my career
Knowing what you know now, do you ever reflect on the early days of your professional career and wish you could rewind the clocks? I certainly do. I’ve got to admit, when I look back at some of my earlier career decisions and the hard lessons that followed soon after, I can’t help but ask myself why I did what I did, the way I did it. Needless to say, I didn’t always take the easiest route.
The early days in our careers often feel like a never ending learning curve. We put ourselves under relentless pressure to get our foot onto the next rung of the ladder, but it can be confusing to know where to even start.
Throughout our career journeys all of us have tripped up along the way – that is inevitable and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over every set back. In this blog, however, I want to save you some of the bruises by sharing some of the blunders of my early career, and the invaluable lessons I learnt from them.
Lesson #1: “He /She who shouts the loudest doesn’t necessarily get heard
During the early days of my career and in a bid to constantly try to prove myself, I thought I had to be tough, poker-faced and at times almost confrontational. I believed that this ruthless attitude was necessary in order to be noticed in a competitive environment and ultimately get that promotion I wanted.
What I now know, however, is that this approach lacks any actual substance or value. I have realised that people who shout the loudest or act unnecessarily aggressive are usually trying to mask a weakness or lack of confidence. More so, this behaviour gives the impression that you have a negative attitude, are difficult to work with and can often isolate you from potential key stakeholders.
My advice would be this; you don’t need to change your personality in order to get ahead, in fact, being authentic to your true self can often propel you even further along in your career because people feel they can trust and relate to you. Being yourself will come more naturally if you are more confident in your ability to progress your career on merit as opposed to a forged persona.
Think back to when you first got that call saying you got the job. What positive feedback did you get from the recruiter / employer? Clearly you had some great qualities and showed huge potential or else you wouldn’t have been hired. What were these characteristics and how can you be sure that you are bringing them to the table every day?
What about the things you could improve upon? Are there certain areas you feel less confident in? Whether it is knowledge gaps or relationships with key people, your manager should be able to provide some constructive feedback, so perhaps book some time in with them and ask for their guidance and support.
What I’m saying here, is that maintaining your authenticity, self-belief and self-awareness will get you a lot further along in your career than the “tough guy” act.
Lesson #2: Asking questions doesn’t make you look stupid
We can all relate to this one – not wanting to look or sound the fool but really wanting to ask a basic question that you now know would have made the early days so much easier.
What I have actually come to notice, is that the most effective and diligent employees ask questions. These people are not scared of asking basic questions or how they may be perceived for doing so.
They care more about getting their facts right and doing a good job in the long run. Even as you progress further in your career, stay humble and aware of your knowledge gaps. Just because you have been promoted, doesn’t mean you are too senior to learn something new.
Next time you are in a meeting or presentation, and you aren’t sure about something, either put your hand up and ask, or make a note of it and ask at the end. I can guarantee there will be at least one other person in the room who will be glad you did.
Lesson #3: Sharing your knowledge creates a win-win situation
By sharing more information and ideas you will help create a culture of knowledge sharing. Yet there is a point in every ambitious person’s career where information is seen as power, therefore keeping it to yourself sounds like a good idea, after all, you don’t want to let all of your secrets out of the bag. But if everyone is doing the same thing, how can anyone learn and progress?
There are plenty of opportunities for you to share your knowledge, whether it’s by putting forward an idea during a meeting, adding more input when working on team projects, or running a training session with your team. Talented individuals sharing their ideas, information and experiences can only lead to team success which will reflect well on you in the future.
Lesson #4: Leadership is not just the domain of senior people
Never assume those in senior roles are the only leaders in your business. Leadership is a quality rather than a skill. It is a trait exhibited early in your career and prepares you for eventually becoming a leader, as opposed to waiting until you are a leader through longevity of service.
During the early days of my career, I met a few senior people who didn’t necessarily have leadership skills but held positions of power – these people mostly sat in their offices giving orders rather than understanding their workforce and how to get the best from them.
Thankfully I learnt what not to do by observing these people. I am also grateful that I met leaders who were not in senior positions yet exhibited behaviour which inspired my leadership career. One of these people was an inbound customer services agent who started in the same business as I did but a year later. I never forgot this man. He was always positive, always looking for solutions, always sharing and celebrating others achievements and he continuously kept a cool head when those around him were losing theirs. He motivated me, unconsciously mentored me and has played a huge part in who I am in the work place today.
The moral of this brief story is to remember that if you want to progress further, you will need to demonstrate leadership qualities, including the aforementioned knowledge sharing, leading by example in terms of performance, staying curious and open-minded, and giving praise.
Lesson #5: Work smarter not longer. That’s what really impresses the boss.
When I first started out in my career, I was so hell bent on the opposite of a work/life balance because I figured the more hours I put in, the more I would get done and the more I would impress the boss because I was demonstrating more commitment than anyone else. The problem was, I would always hit a brick wall after twelve or so hours at work and not actually get much done.
What I have learnt over the years is that you are more productive with a fresh, clear and rested mind- and productivity impresses the boss. Get some exercise, engage with people outside of your work, take some time out and go back to the office with your batteries recharged.
When you think about it, all of these lessons boil down to being honest and true to yourself. Don’t use insubstantial swagger and bravado to get ahead. Actually look at the areas in which you need to develop and the questions you need to ask in order to be ready for that promotion. Don’t be scared to show vulnerability by sharing your ideas for the business or even just taking a step back to recharge the batteries.
Lastly, understand that your seniors aren’t the only ones who can possess leadership traits, and see which ones you can encompass in order to progress your career. Learn these lessons earlier than I did, and get a head start in your meteoric rise to career success.
If you feel you deserve a pay rise and need some further advice on how to get one, you may also find these blogs useful:
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- January is over, so how can you stick to those career resolutions?
- Six signs your boss cares about your career progression
- Under thirty and think you’re underpaid? It’s time to take action