It’s easy to get sentimental when sharing career advice. There are endless blog posts revolving around “the career advice I wish I had at 25” or “what I would tell my younger self…” And while they’re not wrong to tell you to love what you do or to follow your passion, some of those things are easier said when examining a career through a rosy, nostalgic lens. But what about when you’re just starting your professional journey – when it’s inevitable that you’ll have to do less glamorous work than you envisioned or when you might not even know what your passion is? Or what about when you want to address what you can do right now, rather than simply focus on wishing what you could’ve done? In these circumstances, practical advice might do you better than idealistic words. With this in mind, we enlisted the help of those who’ve successfully navigated the working world to find out their best pieces of professional (and practical) advice.
1. Add value from day one
Use your skills and experience to bring something new, different, and exciting to the company you’re working for. From the very beginning, hit the ground running and become entrenched in every aspect of your role. The bottom line is: being the kind of person that colleagues can trust and rely on will get you a lot further than being the office slacker.
“You need to find a way to bring your talents to bear as early as possible” – Jeff Lynn
If you’re working at a startup, you’re likely to take on more responsibility more quickly, which is a great opportunity to add value in lots of different ways. Jeff Lynn co-founded leading equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs in 2012 as a response to the unmet demand from startups for capital outside of VCs. He recounts, “My role at first was almost entirely legal, drawing on my background in that space. As time went by, I began to learn more about marketing, operations, product, etc… I now contribute in some way or another across almost every aspect of the company”.
2. “Own what you know and admit what you don’t know”
In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes approximately ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. So, don’t be worried if you’re not immediately an expert in your area or if you’ve still got a long way to go. If there are things you don’t understand, the best thing to do is to admit it and ask. Lying won’t get you far, let alone help you learn.
“A lot of people take a I-don’t-want-to-sound-like-I-don’t-what-I’m-talking-about approach”, says Samantha Hepburn (Partnerships Lead at leading educational institution General Assembly). “Well, the more you bullsh*t, the more you sound like you have no idea of what’s discussed!” There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re still learning; in fact, the honesty is probably much appreciated.
3. Constantly push for more responsibility
Time is money and every day that you spend at your job is an investment into your career. Don’t let time go to waste by not doing, not learning, not challenging yourself. We’re not saying that you should work 9+ hours a day without a break. But if you’re getting through work too quickly and aren’t challenged enough, don’t be afraid to take initiative and ask for more responsibility. That time you’re spending scrolling on Facebook could be put to better use by learning a new skill or applying yourself in other ways.
“If you are not feeling uncomfortable with your workload/learning curve then you are not pushing hard enough” – Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson, Head of Talent at Foward Partners, advocates this piece of career advice: move around every two to three years or so, even if it’s within the same business, to keep learning.
4. “The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing”
In other words, what George Spencer (Founder & CEO of Rentify, the startup that’s revolutionising how landlords let and manage their properties) means by this is “focus on where you want to get to, not where you are”. It’s easy to get sidetracked by small day-to-day tasks or overwhelmed by stressful situations, but don’t let these get in the way of achieving your end goal.
Goal setting, the process of thinking about your ideal future and motivating yourself to turn this into reality, can be a powerful way of keeping you on track. Use the SMART framework (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) to structure your goals. Whether it’s to write 1,000 words of your report in one week or to run a marathon by the end of the year, setting measurable outcomes can go a long way in helping you get to where you want to be.
5. Don’t lose yourself
Contrary to Eminem’s mantra, don’t lose yourself… when it comes to your professional journey. Your experiences have shaped who you are, so even if you’re undergoing a career change don’t discount the importance of the past. You are likely to have picked up more valuable and transferable skills than you know. Ditch the cookie-cutter mentality and embrace your uniqueness.
As Samantha tells us, “I meet a lot of people going through a career change and they tend to throw away everything they did before – well, that’s what makes you unique, that’s why people hire you”.
“It is about owning your experiences” – Samantha Hepburn
6. Embrace failures and setbacks
Your intentions might be to add value from day one, to constantly push for responsibility, and to set mighty career goals, but even the best of us veer off track. Need we bring up the fact that Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple? It’s probably safe to say that at one point or another, you’ll make a mistake or pick the wrong career move. So if setbacks are inevitable, you might as well embrace them and learn from them. As Sorabh Dhir (Founder of docuvo, the startup whose mission it is to allow you to manage all your files in one location) says, “Sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward”.
7. Be honest and share feedback with your team
“Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes with your team” is the career advice that Jobbio’s own CMO, Grace Looney, wants to emphasise. You might be surprised at the support they can offer, or you might be helping someone avoid making the same error in the future. As we suggested in point no. 2 above: honesty is always the best policy.
It goes both ways too. If you spot someone else’s mistakes or see areas for improvement, don’t be afraid of sharing feedback. As long as you’re being tactful and constructive, you’ll be working towards trying to help the team function better.
8. Meet new people and expand your network
Danny Lowney is the Growth Lead at Sup, the app that helps you see your friends more, so perhaps it’s no wonder that his top career advice is to always meet new people. “I’ve found that so many unexpected connections can come about through meeting new people, which is especially helpful for career development”, Danny tells us.
Nowadays there is no shortage of career, industry, or networking events, particularly if you live in cities like London or New York. Not only will attending these help you learn more about your field and stay ahead of the industry trends, but you might meet a potential co-founder, mentor, or friend who is able to share career advice or make useful introductions. The idea of “networking” can be daunting for some, but the opportunities to expand your horizons can be endless!
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Join the discussion One Comment
Structuring your goals is the most effective career tactic. Even if small tasks give you some new experience, it’s essential to remember the “main thing.” Releasing what is your exact final goal is another story, though. Thank you, Nina, for this article. So many practical pieces of advice.