By Elaine pofeldt, entrepreneur.com, 31-05-2014
Hundreds of successful professionals have generously shared their dreams, accomplishments and disappointments with me over the years, thanks to my work writing about careers and entrepreneurship. These aren’t necessarily the folks you’ll see delivering commencement speeches, but they’ve given me a crash course in the unwritten rules of the workplace. Here are some lessons I’ve taken away from their candid stories. If you are a new graduate, I hope these will be helpful to you and you start your career.
1. Stay in control of your own opportunities. Handing over the reins of your career to others inevitably leads to disappointment. Years after placing their fate in the hands of a company or a boss and dutifully waiting for the green light to advance and work at their highest capacity, many people have told me they discovered they were trusting the wrong people. They wasted years being bored and frustrated before finally making a move.
Companies and bosses don’t set out to stifle their teams and lead them astray. The workplace is changing so fast because of technology and globalization that many leaders are grasping for answers–even about what they should be doing. You may well know more about that than they do, even if you don’t have the management experience they’ve racked up. As Jack Welch put it in a recent interview with Success magazine, bosses can’t pretend anymore that they know more than their workers. “Knowledge is no longer power because everyone has it,” he said.
Tap your own knowledge to create opportunities for yourself, instead of looking for a rulebook to follow. The people I’ve interviewed who have been happiest with their careers relied on their own internal compass to guide them in figuring out what they should do next. They observed people they knew who were doing things that looked fun and exciting and learned from them how to get there. If bosses helped them, that made things easier, but none of these folks held out for someone else’s approval before making their next move.
Give whatever work you end up doing your best effort but also pay attention to the results and recognition it’s getting you–and reevaluate that frequently. If 99 miles per hour is how fast you like to go, and your bosses want you to slow down, look around constantly for a place where you’re free to floor the accelerator. It’s out there. It may not be at the type of big corporation where parents like to say their kids work. Perhaps it is in a startup that you launch with your best friend from high school or in a nonprofit where you can do something important.
2. Understand how much your time is worth–and don’t give away control of it too easily. Many talented people have told me they live in fear that an arbitrary corporate decision will end their job in an instant. That has created pressure on employees to work relentlessly. Maybe your parents have experienced this.
You may thrive on working 12 hours a day, but if you’re considering a job offer at a company where that’s an expectation (you’ll have to do your own recon to find out) make sure you’re getting paid well for it. Your future pay will be based on what you earn now, so remember that the salary you accept may affect your earning power for years to come. In the meantime, it’ll also affect your ability to tackle pressing tasks like paying down student loans and your ability to do fun things in when you’re not working.
We’re in a skills economy, where what you can do for your employer is more important in many fields than what degree you have or how many years you logged in the workplace. A new graduate who knows an in-demand skill like search engine optimization can earn $70,000 a year in a major metropolitan market the first year out. Gather as much proof as you can that you can deliver the results employers need–whether that is through internships, volunteering or freelancing–and get advice from the best-paid professionals you know on how to use that in negotiating your salary. Being young shouldn’t be synonymous with being underpaid, if you have valuable skills to offer.
3. Pay close attention to who is running the show. Cool perks like free breakfast can only take you so far. If you’re evaluating an employer, look closely at who holds the highest level positions in the company. Do people like you hold any of those jobs? For instance, if you are a woman, do you see any women doing the kind of work you’d ultimately like to end up doing? Is it one woman or many? If not, that’s not a good sign for your future advancement, no matter what the company says about its efforts to improve diversity. This is 2014. There are multitudes of talented, highly-educated and diverse professionals across the country. Companies that want to find them are doing so.
Also observe whether the big bosses have similar lifestyles to the one you want for yourself now–and in five or 10 years, if you stay that long.>>>