Brand-spanking new to the professional world? While writing a flipping fantastic cover letter and nailing any interview may have gotten you here, the journey doesn’t end there. The reality is, not many people land that pitch perfect job right out of the gate. Most of us have our gaze set higher, looking towards a climb up the ladder. So, for all you hard-working dreamers and clock-punching creatives, whether you’re sitting at a coveted desk or simply paying your rent, here’s my advice to you…
1. Get organized.
Your career path will not trend upwards if you’re a hot mess all the time. This is just a fact. From the jump, commit to trying out as many organizational systems as needed until you find the ones that work for you. Maybe you nailed this down in school or maybe you were too busy perfecting the time-honored traditions of procrastination and cooking outlandish things on a George Foreman. No judgment. Your methods will need to be informed by your current work environment anyhow, so even the most Type A graduate will have to adapt and experiment along with ya. Whether you’re bussing tables or a high powered exec you have to show up on time, keep track of tasks, and execute said tasks in an order that makes as many people happy as possible. For me, these things are accomplished through a combination of this journal method, Google calendar, a meticulously sorted e-mail inbox and lots and lots of spreadsheets. This system (and yes, I call that hodge podge you just read a “system”) took several years and multiple jobs to finally commit to. Take it from me, the sooner you can get yo’ shit together, as it were, the better.
2. Say “Yes!”
Don’t turn down opportunities to do out of the ordinary tasks or assignments. By simply saying “Yes!” and following through, you’re not only seen as going that extra mile by the bossman or bosslady but you’re also gaining experience in something new and different. This positive approach can be rewarding in a couple of ways. First, you’ll have a competitive edge within your own company. Your employer will know you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone and do them a solid. Others probably said no. You said yes. Points! But more importantly, you could stumble your way into something unique to tout in future resumes and interviews. Want to gloat about the successful execution of a well-attended event? You cant…if you said no to working that weekend. Want to brag about a stellar account you lined up? You won’t…if you didn’t agree to go hand out your business card at that super niche trade show. You get the idea. Not to mention, while it’s easy to get cute and comfortable, doing the same thing all the time is a fast track to work place burn out.
3. Become a regular.
You probably already have businesses you’re loyal to and acquaintances you call on in times of need (think: photographer, hairdresser, lawyer, real estate agent, portugese speaker, priest). Now, “become a regular” and RE-acquaint in the context of your new position and place of employment. I’m not talking makin’ it rain with your business cards. You might not even have business cards. Just, organically as possible, make it known. No connection is too small, in my opinion; the barista who makes you your double shot every morning, the guy who cuts the grass at your apartment building, your niece’s sunday school teacher, etc. Being someone who “knows people” is a fantastic asset and a really easy way to get noticed. Bluntly put, the more connections you have the more useful you may be to your employer. They’ll need to keep you around (and hopefully move ya on up!!). And these connections can make YOUR life easier, too. Need something catered? I know a guy! Can we add professional headshots of our interns into this newsletter? Hold on, I’ll make a call. Do you think we can raise $10,000 in corporate sponsorships by the fall? I don’t see why not! The idea of professional networking can seem daunting and intimidating, especially for the introverted. But think of how many people you ALREADY interact with on a regular basis. I promise you, each and every one of those people, if given the right context, could be invaluable to you professionally.
4. Go after experience.
Punching in day after day at a job you’re “qualified for” but not necessarily passionate about shouldn’t limit your pursuit of knowledge. It just means you may have to do a little seeking. You can continue to develop new skill sets and gain valuable insight beyond the confines of your work experience. Take a class, volunteer, ask the person doing what you wanna do if they’ll show you how to do it, pick up a temporary part-time job in another industry, research non-profits that could help you reach your ultimate aspirations. Contrary to popular belief, good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up. Sometimes just the act of being what you wanna be, doing what you wanna do, is enough to scratch the itch and feel awesome. Some fictional examples: She wants to help people so she goes on yearly mission trips to Haiti. He wants to own a bike repair shop so he joined a co-op that is just that. She wants to be a documentary film-maker so she made a documentary. Some personal examples: After years of competitive speech, I wanted to feel like my voice still mattered so I volunteered at a radio reading service. I wanted to be a blogger so, after staring longingly at blogs all over the internet, I finally just started my own. Sometimes these new skill sets are just what a future hiring committee is looking for…even though you had to find them yourself and they didn’t come with your official, pays-the-bills job.
For me, the scariest thing about entering the working world was I didn’t know what I wanted to BE yet. I still don’t. In fact, I want to be lots of things. I don’t want to close any doors of possibility. But because I’ve let myself seek and grow while still pulling those paychecks, I’m starting to get a clearer picture. Have I loved every job I’ve had? Absolutely not. Have I found ways to do what I love? Yes–within those jobs and concurrently.
Whether you want to move up the ladder in your current workplace or you want to put on your tutu and pirouette your way into a complete career 180, there’s a world of opportunity out there for you.
And I believe in you!