10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting my Career
It’s 6am Monday morning, and here I sit sipping my coffee while reviewing my to-do list and browsing social media. In an hour I’ll catch my train and head off to work. I’m really fortunate to have landed in a career that I love but it wasn’t always this way. A few of my first jobs were absolutely terrible. I dreaded going to one of them so badly that I would occasionally have tears in my eyes as I headed out to start my commute. There is so much I wish I’d known before I accepted that first job.
When I was first starting my career I wish I’d known:
Ask Questions in the Interview
It’s ok to ask your own questions during the interview. Actually, it’s more than ok, it’s necessary. Yes, the employer is interviewing you but take this as your opportunity to interview them as well. Ask questions such as:
- How would you describe your company culture? What do you do to improve or maintain employee morale?
- What is the average tenure of your employees? What is your annual turnover? How long have you personally been with the company?
- How did this position become available? If the position is due to expansion, what are the goals for the position and the affected team or department?
You Will Work Outside Your Department
You’ll be hired for a single department but you will be involved with work and projects outside of your expected scope of work. Be flexible and take this as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Company Culture is More Important than Salary
I don’t know that I would have believed this in the beginning but with a bit of experience under my belt I’m telling you now that it’s true. You can adjust your budget to meet your salary but you alone don’t have the ability to change company culture. If you’re unhappy in the work environment your salary isn’t going to do much to change it. Find a place that nurtures your soul as much as it pads your wallet.
Identify Career Goals Before Starting a Family
Fortunately, I did this but I didn’t do it on purpose. I built my career as my love live struggled and fumbled so I am lucky that I was able to establish my career before I started a family. If I had settled down romantically I would have focused on family and I realize now that it’s very hard to build both simultaneously. It’s easier to build your career and then adjust for family than it is to build your family then try to fit in a new career.
Appearance is Important
I’m not talking about your height, weight or ability to be on trend with the latest fad. I am referring to your ability to identify company culture and fit in with the style and atmosphere of the workplace. In my current position people regularly work in jeans and blouses. There are men that wear ballcaps. It’s a software company and it’s casual other than on days where we have big meetings. It’s important to recognize trends in appearance and fit in accordingly.
Don’t Be Limited by Your College Major
I work for a software company as a tech writer but my college major was Social Sciences. Does it mesh? Not really. Does it matter? Not a bit. I worked very closely with people in my first job and I loved it. I eventually shifted in to working as a trainer and preparing a lot of training documentation, presentations, webinars, etc. Over this time I slowly fell farther away from training and social involvement and more into writing and program development. As I changed employers, and continued to pursue writing, my career and degree no longer coincide but I found happiness with my career.
It’s Ok to Quit
At first I felt like a failure if I quit my job. I put up with a job I hated for far too long because I felt like I was giving up or that it would reflect poorly on me for not sticking it out. I kept telling myself I needed to be more flexible, to learn to deal with difficult people, and to understand that no situation is perfect. Eventually I learned that it’s ok to admit that a place just isn’t a good fit for you and it’s ok to move on. Just make sure you don’t quit before you have a new job lined up.
You Have to Speak Up
Find your voice and find it early because you aren’t going to get anywhere by staying quiet and working in the shadows. Don’t be brash or rude but pitch your ideas, defend your opinions, and be involved. Your ideas won’t always be accepted and your opinion won’t always be right (sorry, but it won’t) but you will be noticed and you will be seen as a valued contributor which will go a long way in building your reputation.
Your Goals Will Change
If you had asked me about my career goals 5 years ago I would have responded in a completely different way than I would if you asked me that question today. Your life goals change and your relationship goals change so it’s reasonable to expect your career goals to change as well. I like to think of it as evolution which is a sign of growth and improvement. Write your career goals down, keep a journal, and ask for what you want if someone else is able to help you accomplish it.
Learn to Negotiate
Great negotiation skills will go a long way in helping you achieve your career goals. Your salary, benefits, and schedule are almost always negotiable so it is to your benefit to develop this skill and know your worth. Define your value, prove your worth, and ask for what you want.
Find a Mentor
I feel like this is too often overlooked and it’s important to your career success. Find someone you admire, who inspires you, and tell them. Let them know that you admire their success and ask them for advice. You’ll need these people and they are unbelievably valuable.
If you can’t find a good mentor invest in a few great books, I’ve loved these:
- Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
- Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office
- Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth
- Do you have any advice to add?
- Anything you wish you’d known before you started your career?