I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel like I’m 22. I do, however, work with a lot of 22-year-olds who are smart, interesting, dynamic, and absurdly high-energy.
While it depresses me they don’t understand my Saved by the Bell references, their ideas and achievements are truly remarkable.
And approximately once a week, I get a request from one of them to talk about “careers” — a topic that they know they should care or think about, but don’t know what to actually do with.
Below is a compilation of the career guidance I’ll usually give them. (And even if you’re not 22, the advice can still apply.)
The Career Advice No One Tells You When You’re 22
1) Solve for growth.
Early in your working life, you’re defined by the company you keep, so choose wisely. It’s very easy to pick the company with the biggest name or the biggest paycheck, but I recommend following our Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah’s advice: Solve for growth.
How does the company you’re working for (or considering joining) prioritize growth, both personally and professionally? How does the team you’ll be working for plan to grow in the coming year, and what do the prospects look like for growth for the broader company?
Far too many people pick companies based on their current reputation rather than their possible growth, but you get far more career credit for being the fifth employee at LinkedIn after its explosive growth than you do for being the 5000th employee at Radio Shack before it stops growing entirely.
2) Don’t fire back on feedback.
When you put your heart and soul into your work (as many young people do), you tend to take feedback personally — whether it’s good or bad.
When you get positive feedback, for example, you tend to think that you’re the best marketer or salesperson in the world. And when you get your work criticized in any way, shape, or form — you also tend to take it to heart.
To combat this gut reaction, I always suggest letting feedback “soak” for 24 hours. It allows you to think about what’s true and what isn’t — and how you can use it to grow, regardless of where it falls on that spectrum.
This time for reflection also allows you to have productive conversations with your manager. If you’re personally hurt, offended, or angry, you’re no longer listening. You’ve shut down. If you actually take the time to absorb feedback, you’re going to have a conversation with your manager that will actually help you get to the next level.
3) Find the Tina(s) to your Amy.
A lot of people talk about how developing friendships at work can improve your personal life, but these relationships can also have a huge impact on your career path. Just look at Tina Fey and Amy Pohler — they’re best friends who also push each other to achieve amazing things in their respective careers.
I’ve been lucky enough to find several of my “Amys” at HubSpot (yes, I’m Tina in this scenario, as she’s my spirit animal). Last year, I worked with VP of Operations Alison Elworthy and VP of Product Brad Coffey to prep HubSpot for our IPO — a huge milestone for the company.
The kicker? None of us had prepped a company for an IPO before, and the stakes were high. So we leaned on each other. Because of our strong friendship outside work, we were able to improve our ideas, get feedback, and iterate on messaging and strategy.
So instead of thinking of your work friends as company for happy hour (although that’s important too), seek out peers at work who challenge you, who can help you learn, and who think differently than you do. Just because someone’s a peer at your company doesn’t mean you can’t learn a ton from them — finding a “Tina” or “Amy” who can give you honest, constructive feedback and champion your efforts is incredibly valuable to your career growth.
4) Always be learning.
In my opinion, people overthink the role of formal mentorship in building their career. Instead of identifying one person to learn from and ask questions of, make that your daily practice. Write down what you see, know, and observe about what works and what doesn’t: You don’t think you’ll forget it as you evolve in your career, but you will. Having it written down somewhere will help you maintain perspective. Identify people you admire and learn from them, but don’t wait for a formal mentorship relationship to do so.
Carve out time in your week to prioritize your own learning. Even if you just watch a TED talk or read a few pages of a new book, ensuring that you have time in your schedule to stretch your horizons makes it much more likely you’ll do the same for the rest of your career.
5) Lean in to your weaknesses.
At any part of your career, you need to learn new things — and for that to be relatively painless later in your career, you need to build that habit now.
So instead of running away from things you’re not good at, lean into them.
Great writer but not very technical? Learning even a little bit of code or the ins-and-outs of Photoshop will help you significantly.
Fantastic at detail but have trouble seeing the big picture? Ask one of your peers who is great at project management how she juggles priorities.
It’s very easy to fall back on your natural talents or training, but you’ll be well served if you invest the time and effort to push yourself on your greatest areas of weakness early and often in your career.
6) The best way to network is delivering remarkable work.
Far too many people treat networking as an extracurricular activity like running or playing guitar. In reality, the best form of networking is absolutely crushing results in your job — and doing so pays dividends for the rest of your career.
That’s not to say networking isn’t important; it absolutely is. Just don’t be so fascinated with climbing the corporate ladder that you’re not delivering what it takes to get up there.
7) Learn to sell.
Do I mean you need to become a sales rep to be successful? Nope. (But that’s awesome if you are.)
What I mean is you need to learn to sell your ideas, expertise, or vision. Make presenting yourself and your ideas something that helps you stand out from the pack.
Selling yourself doesn’t have to be public speaking. It can also be using data creatively to sell your idea, designing beautiful materials to sell your product, or collaborating with your peers to get buy-in on an initiative you want your organization to prioritize.
The key is to learn how to sell your ideas and your input as early in your career as possible — doing so helps your personal and professional brand and builds your comfort level with expanding your influence and ideas.
8) Rack up results, not recognition.
The biggest complaint I hear from folks new to the workforce is that another person got credit for their work and “that’s not fair.” It is incredibly frustrating when other people get credit for your blood, sweat, and tears, but guess what: Life isn’t always fair, and neither is work.
However, I can tell you that over time, fortune rewards those who rack up results instead of focusing on getting credit. Instead of obsessing over recognition and credit, obsess over results. Your career will thank you for it later.
9) It’s not your manager’s job to manage your career.
Your boss is your manager at work — not a mind reader, fortuneteller, or psychologist. He or she can and should support you in your professional goals, but the only person in the driver’s seat of your career is you.
Manage it proactively by asking for what you want, making it clear what interests you, and eating up feedback for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — doing so will make you a better employee and a better leader, regardless of whether you stay at a company for 10 months or 10 years.
Which leads me to my next point …
10) Write down specific goals.
I did this early on in my career, but took a hiatus for several years. Then, this year I decided to try it again. I literally created a vision board for what I wanted to achieve professionally in 2015.
Turns out, writing down specific goals works as well in your 30s as it does in your 20s.
The research is abundantly clear: If you write down your goals, you’re much more likely to achieve them. Stating what you want to be when you “grow up” — even if you’re not sharing your aspirations with another soul — makes you much more likely to be diligent about achieving your goals.
A lot of young folks are not exactly sure what they want to be, and that’s okay. Instead, write down more of what you want to do, what you think you might aspire to, or someone you want to be more like. All of those things are going to help you inch closer and closer to your aspirations.
11) Tackle the big stuff.
Develop a nose early for what’s important in your business — what’s a top priority, why, and what projects can actively support that priority. Raise your hands for those projects. They are high risk, but high reward, and the work you do on them can impact your career for decades to come. Be thoughtful, diligent, and tenacious: Managers notice employees who aren’t afraid of the big stuff, and your teammates will always want to be in a bunker with someone who can tackle a big challenge.
12) Use social to your advantage.
Most 22-year-olds think of social media as a way to connect with friends, but it’s a powerful lever in getting future employers to notice you.
First and foremost, delete or make private any photos or comments about how great your years of partying in college were. Second, set a calendar reminder every quarter to update your LinkedIn profile with recent results so your online resume is always current and fresh. Finally, share content from companies and people you admire: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, social sharing is a close second — it can go a long way to getting you noticed.
13) Learn to rebound.
Jack Welch, who I was lucky enough to have as a professor at MIT Sloan, is famous for having failed early in his career at GE. His quote, which I come back to often is, “Your career isn’t always linear. But what matters is how well you get back on the horse.” If a project didn’t go your way or an internship didn’t turn out as planned, don’t get down on yourself — get on with it. Your success is heavily predicated on your ability to bounce back from challenges, so the earlier you learn to reset your attitude after a setback, the better.
14) Embrace your vulnerability.
When you’re young, you’re often so focused on doing well at your job that you want to seem invincible. To admit failure or ask for help seems like a massive weakness, so you avoid it at all costs.
But the ability to recognize and admit the not-so-perfect parts of yourself helps you become significantly more reflective and self-aware — key skills that will help you move up the ladder.
Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher and author of one of the most popular TED talks of all time, has a quote on this subject that always stuck with me: “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” By realizing that even successful people have imperfections, you become free to admit your own shortcomings — and work to overcome them.
Humility and vulnerability feel like threats to your career when you’re 22, but they are actually powerful weapons for growing yourself as a professional (and human being).
15) Get the gratitude bug early.
I realize I sound ancient saying this (I’m cool with that), but people remember gratitude in a way that outperforms other emotions or motivators. Take the time to thank people who interviewed you, people who made time to share what they know with you, and people whose influence helped you succeed. Be gracious in your praise of others and your kindness toward people who help you: People notice and remember this for years to come.
It used to be that signing on with a new company meant years (if not decades) of your life, but now that people switch jobs every few years, managing your career has become both more important and more challenging. Options seem infinite, grad school seems necessary, and far too early you start comparing your career trajectory to that of others, worried that you’re being left behind or left out. Instead of overthinking your next job, your next decision, or your next networking event, focus on being remarkable at your job, tackling your weaknesses head-on, and being someone who isn’t afraid to take on tasks that other people find terrifying. The rest of it will work itself out, I promise.
What other advice would you give to someone starting out in their career? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2014 and has been updated to reflect even more great advice as of October 2015.
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