I am no longer a young professional.
Once upon a time I was, but no longer.
This past fall I signed up to be a mentor at my alma mater, Bethel University, and am in the process of mentoring a bright student who no doubt will do well in her career. She is only a sophomore but is already doing informational interviews at top companies in the area. I told her that not many people her age are doing that and she is already gaining an edge in finding a job after college. All of this made me think of some tips for young professionals who are just starting out in their careers. Some of these may even apply to all of us, regardless of where we are at in our careers.
1) Know what strengths you bring to any environment you are apart of
Before you ever get to a job interview, whether it be formal or not, know what you are good at. Better yet, know what are you are great at. If you have not already take the Clifton StrengthsFinder test and find out your areas of talent. Then, work with a coach or mentor to refine how you use these talents and turn them into strengths. If you can go into a job interview and be able to answer the question, ‘What are your strengths,’ you will already be ahead of many people who cannot provide good answers to this standard question.
You should be able to talk about your strengths without mentioning what the strength name is. There is no way of knowing whether or not the person interviewing you knows about the Clifton StrengthsFinder, but that should not preclude you from talking about your talents and how you use them.
2) Have a mentor who helps you navigate your life and career
When I started out in my career I worked for nine months as a temporary worker at Prudential insurance. There was probably no environment that more resembled the movie “Office Space.” Looking back it is amazing that any work got done at all. There was low supervision, lots of young professionals in tight quarters, and a general lack of direction from top management.
I did not have a mentor who was helping me navigate this environment, either inside or outside of the organization. There was no one challenging me in how I was working every day or helping me see the bigger picture of where I was at doing claims processing.
Do not get me wrong, I still was a high producer in the environment, but there were some bridges I was burning with the system that I was not seeing as important. A ‘win at all costs’ mentality was a good example of my Competition strength being used in a less than generative way.
A mentor could have helped me be more effective at Prudential. A good mentor will challenge you to do things that you cannot see as a young professional. Later in my career I was really fortunate to have and find a number of mentors who helped me become a better manager, employee and leader over time. I now feel compelled to help others who are starting out in their careers. Can you find someone who will help you?
3) Network within the organization you are a part of, and similar organizations in your industry
A huge career tip for young professionals is to make sure you are constantly networking within your organization. There are people in your organization who know more than you do, and can help you navigate the culture where you are. Find people who are successful and ask them if you can buy them coffee to hear about their story. They will usually be very open to this and helpful. Come prepared with questions and the ability to listen to what they are going to tell you. Do not worry if some of them turn you down, they are probably just busy, it more than likely has nothing to do with you.
You should also network with people who are in leadership positions in similar organizations to your company. Become known in your industry, not just your own company.
All of these people may help you, but they also will become aware of you and your talents. They, if they are worth their salt as a manager or leader, may be able to see places that you might fit in the future. I read somewhere great managers are always recruiting for jobs, whether they have any openings at the time. So, if you can get in front of these folks, they may think of you when they are looking for a new member for their team.
This career tip for young professionals is something I wished I learned earlier in my career. It also is not something that is a short term play. What I mean by that is this is something that takes time to develop but will help you in the medium and long term.
One final piece of advice here, when you are networking with someone, always ask them how you can help them. This generous posture will help people see that you are not just their to use them, but rather you are willing to help them out as well.
4) Be Faithful
As someone who was a hiring manager I spent plenty of time working with Human Resources to look at resumes and decide who would be interviewed for different roles. One thing I always looked at was how long people were at different jobs. If someone jumped around every year to a new job that was a pattern that made me pause.
On boarding a new employee and getting them trained in takes time and effort. New employees are typically not fully maximized right away and so if someone leaves in one year, it will not be the best for the company. So, I am not advocating for you to stay in a job that you hate, but also know when you jump around hiring managers are going to wonder if you will stay with them or not.
An old boss of mine used to tell me that “Your greatest chance for success is where you already are.” This was because people who are in your organization can see what you bring and how you help whatever group you are in. This will help you with your credibility within that organization and when you move somewhere else to show you were faithful at your former organization.
5) Do what you say you were going to do
If you want people to take you seriously do whatever it takes to do what you said you were going to do. Nothing will damage your credibility faster than not doing what you said you were going to do. This requires you to work hard, but also to know your capacities. This one is hard but simple – get done what you said you were going to do.
Those were my top five career tips for young professionals.
What would you add to the list?
Have you tried any of these?
What worked? What did not?