It’s the start of your career. You’ve made it through getting your first degree, perhaps a professional qualification examination, multiple stages of rigorous interviews and here you are, starting your career and hoping to make it to the top of the ladder. I must say that you’ve done well so far and your journey is no small feat. But, we must also ask for ways to improve.
How do we keep up with succeeding? Specifically, how do you ensure that you kick-off with the right footing and that you remain on the path of success?
There is a lot of information available to young professionals in nearly every subject. That’s a good thing, but it can lead to information overload.
How do you sift through these and decide what you should take wholly, what you should modify to suit your specific experience and what you should throw into the trash without regrets?
Do you, for instance, have to stay at your first job for 3 years as Jack Ma advised?
What if it’s just the wrong fit for your career goals?
Should you be applying to other jobs at competing companies? Should you take every opportunity for change that comes your way?
I don’t have straight answers for all these but this article will try to answer the question nearly every young professional thinks at the start of their career: How do I succeed at this job and in my career?
Having worked in a magic circle commercial law firm in Nigeria, my experience has shown that receiving advice is merely the first and least important step towards achieving anything. What matters more than anything else is what you do with the knowledge gained – your ability to do the work and to show up for yourself and your goals, consistently. If you haven’t heard it before (you have!), consistency is key.
This leads to my first piece of advice.
1) Consistently Put In The Work To Achieve Your Goals
Most of us have ideas on how we want our professional life to play-out; but if you do not, this is a good time to set some (career) goals for yourself. You should also ask yourself; “what image do I want my colleagues- supervisors and peers- to have of me?” “Do I want to be seen as a rising star, a go-getter, or a nonchalant associate?” “What do I want to get out of this role/job/company?” Once you have that image defined, you consistently put in the work required to achieve it.
Defining your goals is important as it helps to ensure that you work strategically and not without purpose. It helps to shape your steps and activities- you learn to live by design, not default.
As a cautionary note, don’t fall into the temptation of setting unrealistic goals for yourself because we have all been told to “dream big.” Let your goals be SMART- specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Don’t create unattainable standards or you will get used to not meeting your goals.
If your goal is to become a high-flyer, you’ll need to keep in mind that you can never afford to put in the barest minimum in anything. Regardless of how onerous a task might be or how unmotivated you feel, do your best to deliver over and above the call of duty. The impressions you form in those first days and months will go a long way in defining your reputation.
In my first year, I had a colleague who was known for his reliability. He may not have been the best at everything he did, but you were assured that he’d come through. Do you need something to be drafted or urgent research? Ask John (not real name).—You need someone to join a team for a meeting? Ask Lukman. He’d show up. Over time, Lukman became so good at these things and people got so used to his consistent showing-up that he was getting called on not just for his reliability but also for his expertise. Consistency is key.
Consistency means showing up, every day without fail. It means showing up for yourself and your goals when you’re not motivated to. It is showing up especially when you just don’t feel like it. Notice that I didn’t say showing up to ‘work’ or for ‘others’. Do everything with your goals in mind; keep the bigger picture in mind and watch yourself grow closer to achieving the life you want.
2) Say Yes to What Scares You
Have you heard the quote, “You win outside your comfort zone”? I think I twisted the original saying, but it’s true, nonetheless. Saying yes to the things that scare you forces you to step out of your comfort zone and build your character (and reputation) even if the technical skills you learn may not immediately appear to be relevant to achieving your ultimate goals.
Doing the things that scare you will help in rapidly advancing your career. Do you think that you can’t make the presentation before the entire of your office? Do it anyway. Do you not want to do it because you’ve never done it before? Do it anyway. Your supervisor needs a presentation prepared for your top-paying client but it’s a topic you’ve never heard before. Offer to prepare the slides anyway; do the research and come up with something meaningful and impressive. Do the things that scare you and watch yourself conquer fears.
In order to develop our character, it is important to acknowledge the fears that you have regarding things outside your comfort zone and do them anyway.
What you gain when you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone is versatility. First, you can’t get worse at any skill when you practice it – the only way is up. Second, because the employment landscapes in different industries are changing rapidly as a result of AI and other technological innovations, the more skills you have, the easier it’ll be to weather the storm and stay relevant in your career.
You can also read: 10 Tips for the First Day at the Office
3) Learn Something New Every Day
A supervisor mentioned that at the start of his career as a commercial lawyer, he would ensure that he learned at least 5 new things every day. 5 new things every, single day. Without fail.
You could decide to set a different goal for yourself. Your goal may be to learn 1 new thing or 3 new things every day. Whatever the number, make sure you keep up with the goal and learn something new every day. It does not have to be something too complicated or even directly related to your role at work. What matters is that you learn something relevant to building up your character or achieving your personal and or career goals.
The way to achieve this is to be intentional about learning. It is not enough to want to learn. You also have to set out the “how” and “when” factors.
Will you read an article every day during your break period? Or will you set out time after closing hours to do some personal reading? Or will it be among the first things you do before you start work for the day?
Remember to do what works for you.
Remember also to note your most productive hours and use them wisely for both your personal and work-related tasks.
The import of this rule- to learn something new every day- is that beyond the things you’re learning (which will likely be immensely helpful in the course of your life), the effort you’ll exert in sticking to your plans will train you in forming good habits. You’ve heard that habit makes the person, right? Well, the better you are at choosing and forming good habits, the better a person you’ll be in life and your career specifically.
4) Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask even when it’s the hardest thing to do – drink water, clear your throat and ask. If your fear holds you back from asking at that moment, you may miss an important opportunity to learn something in a way that’ll make it stick. You may even miss an opportunity to connect with the person you want to learn from.
Have you ever thought to yourself in a meeting, “I’ll make a note and do personal research later”? Does that ever work? Even if you remember to research on what you could have asked and received an answer for the benefit of your whole group, did your research satisfy you? Was it long and arduous? Was it a waste of time?
Even if it seems like a stupid question, it’s better to ask. If it turns out stupid, you now know better, and if it turns out not stupid, you now know better (as a plus, you won’t be known as the stupid person, but the one who isn’t afraid of learning).
When you are intentional about asking questions, it’ll become a good habit. Your mind will query things and not just accept them at face value, and your colleagues should respect you for it.
5) Do What You Enjoy And Find Time To Rest
It’s so easy to work until you’re burnt out – and to keep working even after then – at the start of your career. You’re likely at the bottom of the pyramid at this time and you want to make it big, so, understandably, you want – no, need – to put in the hours to make yourself stand out. Sometimes, depending on your field, putting in long hours is even required.
But guess what? Burning yourself out is not the way to success. I’ve heard older colleagues express regret at working very long hours without resting at the start of their careers. Rest is necessary, even to do good work. Remember that we are designed to take rests and your health is important.
So here’s my advice: be intentional about resting, it will pay off in the end.
However, do differentiate between resting and procrastinating/neglecting to work on achieving your goals. Don’t do the latter.
Choosing a career that you enjoy is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received so I love to share it. It may determine whether you succeed or not because all careers need a lot of work for success. If you’re going to work hard and smart, why not do it with something you enjoy? At the start of your career though, you may not enjoy all aspects of your role, but you should learn to work hard and smart at them. I also think that it would do a world of good for you to note the aspects of your role that you’re good at and those you aren’t and then work to develop yourself accordingly.
In addition to these five nuggets, it is also important to use your voice. You may be young, with lesser experience than your colleagues, but your voice matters and is equally important. Sell yourself and your skills while being humble. Be a good team member. Let your teammates see you as a good person to work with. Remember that the impressions you make on your team will remain with them even as you all progress in your careers.
Carry out parallel networking — It’s easier to envisage getting the contact details of a CEO or MD when people tell you to network but at the start of your career, the more important people are your peers in other firms and across industries. You will all move up together and will need each other at the stages of progression. Connect with your peers.
Have ambition — and be unashamed about this. As you strive to achieve your goals, don’t be in (too much of) a hurry. Almost all the best things in life take time. You won’t be an overnight success but you will succeed if you do these things consistently. Practice, they say, makes for perfection.
Don’t give up when it gets tough. Live up to your word. If people know that your word is your bond, they will come to trust you and rely on you. Earn people’s trust. Respect everyone.
Do these things and thank me in 6 years.