I’ll be sharing lessons to my younger self at the beginning of my career. It’s been about a decade since I graduated with my first degree and 9 years since I got my Masters degree so I no longer qualify as being an early career professional. In thinking about what it means to #PressForProgress, there is a need to build a pipeline of skilled women that thrive in the workplace and are well positioned for roles in leadership. What better time to start than at an early career stage?
Here are six lessons I’d tell myself if I were starting off/in the first few years of my career
Pick A Focus, Learn & Hone Your Craft
There’s no better season to put in the time than in the early years of one’s career. Higher energy levels match the drive/motivation to succeed at this stage more than others for most people. Further, the investment in this season will pave the way for opportunities at mid-career levels. Pick a focus; learn as much as you can, then seek even more stretch opportunities. Fail, but fail forward. Prepare for the opportunities you want such that when they arise, your name will be called upon. These are the years to become known for excellence in what you do, these are the years you deposit into your reputation. These deposits will yield benefits in due time when you draw from it.
Know When To Stay and When To Walk Away
There’s a time to dig in and plough, and there’s a time to realize that the ground isn’t fertile and move on to other opportunities. Many stay in jobs/positions out of fear of change or the unknown. Doing so is a disservice to oneself and to one’s purpose. Learn as much as you can in every position, but when it no longer grows you or positions you for the next stage, move on without burning bridges. However, make sure you’re not running away from one thing and towards nothing. Be clear about what the next step is, and why.
Network but Don’t Overthink It:
Relationships are incredibly important, and very often we’re told to network as much as we can. While some are seemingly born to network, others are uncomfortable in these settings. I certainly fell into the second category, and while I’ll never put myself in the first category, I’ve found my happy medium. Take the word networking out of the equation and just focus on meeting people and getting to know them. Listen and pay attention to things that matter to them, and introduce yourself. No need to try to impress them or try to ‘sound’ smart as in doing so many come off as cookie cutter and are not memorable. Furthermore, invest time in networking across as opposed to networking ‘up.’ What does this mean? This means taking the time to meet peers and that’s less intimidating. Remember, a peer today might be a partner/collaborator in 5 -10 years. Lastly, focus on a few people that you’re genuinely interested in connecting with and do not force a connection that’s non-existent. It is okay to say thank you, goodbye, see you next time after a five-minute chat.
Seeking The Right Mentors
In my first year at my firm, someone said I needed to find a mentor. So I thought well… I have to ask someone. So I did even though it was awkward! She was a manager I worked with at the time, and while she was nice and she said yes, it never took off because there was no mentor/mentee chemistry. At the same time, it didn’t occur to me that I actually already had a mentor in someone else. Mentors are important, and it’s great to have a few of them, at least one within your organization, and one outside. People often fall into the trap of wanting to be mentored by the ‘big dogs’ and these people likely already have a repertoire of mentees. Don’t go after a mentor for their title, be sure you find people that are about your success and will take the time to challenge you. There are several people I admire but may never meet. Instead of trying to be seen by them, focus on learning what you can from their stories, their books, and/or social media and be inspired in that way.
Do Excellent Work, Always
There are no shortcuts to this. Excellence should be a way of life, whether someone is watching or not, and whether you’re working on a big project or not. The thing about excellence is that while it may go unnoticed for a season and by some people, it is never forever unnoticed. Cultivate a habit of excellence not for anyone or out of competition but for yourself. Why be anything else? Excellence attracts opportunities. Mentors and sponsors are looking for people they will risk their reputation for. They will make the time and space for those people. Be worth it!
Cultivate a Habit of Giving Back
Another common misconception is that you have to be ‘somebody’ to give back and that could not be further from the truth. As a university student, you can volunteer with high/secondary school students. As a young professional, one can volunteer with non-profits/NGOs or with University students. It is important to do as much as you can with whatever you have at each stage. If one is able to make time for community early on in career, you’re more likely to do so as you advance.
I hope some of these lessons resonate with you. If there’s one you’ll take to heart and work on in the next quarter of the year, let me know in the comments section below. For mid to advanced career professionals, what other lessons would you share with someone just starting out?
Till next time,
Dee O. Olateru
Dee Olateru is a new contributor to the WomennCareer platform. She is a professional Nigerian woman with a weakness for a wicked pair of heels. She has lived on four continents and worked professionally on three continents. She’s passionate about her faith, kicking down glass doors/ceilings as a professional woman (in nice shoes, of course) in a demanding career path, while choosing to live a life full of adventure. She’s been to about 50 countries on a Nigerian passport and has no plans to stop. She shares tips, stories, and images from her travels at www.wellwornheels.com in the hopes of inspiring others to travel. Her blog reaches people in the USA, United Kingdom, Nigeria, and more.