The first few years as a professional are confusing, fast-paced and certainly a time for self-discovery. It’s a chapter in your life when you’re figuring out how your strengths and passions align while questioning if there is an opportunity to monetize them.
Visualizing how it will all play out can be difficult when you aren’t sure where your career path is going to lead. It’s tough to imagine how a single stepping stone has the potential to lead to others over the course of an estimated 35-year working journey.
So, when confronted with decisions about which offers to accept from employers or which possible career avenues to take, seeing the forest through the trees is nearly impossible. The good news is that this feeling is normal, the bad news is, it never really goes away.
In fact, job-seeking shouldn’t be viewed as something that is done only when you’re in need of a first job or when you’re looking to make a change—job-seeking should be part of your career at all stages.
What I wish young professionals in their first jobs knew, is that your career is an ever-changing organism which requires care, positivity and a little dash of confidence to grow and evolve.
As you embark on your career journey, you should be aware that not every position you take is going to strike a chord with you, be the best use of your talents or offer you opportunities for advancement.
It can feel like a smack in the face when you realize what the working world is really like, and you may feel like you’ve been given a big batch of uncertainty alongside your new employee handbook.
What is certain, though, is that your perception can make or break your working experience regardless of the circumstances.
There’s no doubt that your first jobs will be filled with many menial tasks and “grunt work”, and you’ll likely be surprised at just how much of it there is.
It can be frustrating, and at times you’ll feel lost, but if you follow these 3 steps you’ll be able to maneuver your career path in a way where you feel more empowered and in control.
1. Focus on the Bigger Picture
Every master starts as a novice—and during the first few years you’re working, you must think about why you’re being asked to do the tasks you’re doing.
Filling out a spreadsheet or preparing meeting notes or proofreading a proposal may seem “beneath you” but there is likely a reason you’re being paid to perform these tasks.
If you can ask your managers, colleagues and workplace leaders how the work you’re doing helps them to do a better job, you’ll be able to better envision the strategic steps you need to take to move upwards.
If you keep your head down and only take your tasks at face-value you’re missing out on learning how your contribution helps the organization.
When you have an appreciation for how your work fits into the bigger picture, you begin to view yourself as a worthy participant and part of a team. The shift in mindset will help you attack your projects with more gusto and gratitude and others will surely take notice.
2. Find a Mentor
In the workplace, it’s challenging to find a mentor who will have your best interest at heart. A good mentor is someone who knows you well, can appreciate your talents and strengths, and who is also aware of your weaknesses.
As you progress in your field, you will need guidance and feedback as your goals become clearer. If you have someone to help guide you through this stage in your career, you will be better primed to serve others as you become a manager or a leader in your own right.
It’s important to recognize a mentor properly because a mentor isn’t always your manager—it’s someone who you look up to, who you click with and who can recognize the value you bring to the workplace.
It’s critical to point out that not all mentors will be found in your first or even second job, it might take a few positions to find a mentor, so when you do find one, stick with him/her and make a concerted effort to maintain the relationship throughout your career.
3. Don’t Settle
The job search can be long and arduous with little results, so it’s tempting to accept the first offer you’ve been given or to take a role that slightly resembles the field you’d like to go into.
After all, there are bills to pay and the search can be exhausting, so it’s natural to want to sign an offer letter as soon as you get one—but don’t do it because you are afraid there is nothing else available.
While the work in an entry-level role can be monotonous, you must make sure you’re not pigeon hole-ing yourself and must look at the whole picture and evaluate how you’re using your skills (see tip #1).
For example, if you want to get a career in journalism, but you’ve been offered a marketing position and you think “close enough” you should realize that you’re taking the first step away from the journalism path and the first step on to the marketing highway.
That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but the work will be different than you envision, and you will likely get offered more jobs in marketing as opposed to journalism as time goes on.
Sometimes, where you land in the first five years of your career shapes your journey more largely than you anticipated. Therefore, it’s important not to settle—make sure you make moves that you think will help you and make you an attractive candidate to future employers in your desired field.
As you begin to envision a professional future for yourself, know that your reputation and skill-set is always changing.
If you’re open to learning something new while recognizing your unique strengths and weaknesses, you should be able to find the silver lining in opportunities that present themselves to you.
And remember: you don’t have to have it all figured out today, but you should be confident, ask for help when you need it and toot your own horn once in a while to make sure people are aware of the unique value you provide. Good luck job seekers!