Things can sometimes feel overwhelming when you’re just starting out in your career. There is so much to learn and it often seems like the more senior people in your company just seem to “know” the right things to do and say. The reality is, those senior leaders were once in your shoes and they felt the same way you do now.
We asked a few of our directors what career advice they would give their 22-year-old selves – the things they’ve learned throughout their careers that they wish they’d known when they were starting out. Here’s what they had to say.
Successful people aren’t born; they’re the product of a consistent commitment to learn over time. For at least the first ten years of my career, I constantly benchmarked my own skills against people who had years —or even decades—more experience than me. Not surprisingly, I always came up short, which completely undermined my confidence. As a result, I spent most of my time worried that everyone around me would eventually figure out that I was a fraud, and didn’t put my neck on the line and volunteer for assignments that would force me outside of my comfort zone. Fortunately for me, I had several great mentors who saw something in me that I didn’t, and gave me challenging projects that, over time, helped me build the skills I needed to be successful.
Chris Meshginpoosh, Managing Director
Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or ask questions from time to time. There were numerous times early in my career when I assumed everyone above me was smarter and knew everything. I would spot something that didn’t look right but I wouldn’t speak up, only to find out I had actually caught something that was missed. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight and understand how much there is to know in accounting and in business, I realize that even the most senior leaders can’t possibly know everything.
Steve Staugaitis, Director, Audit & Accounting
Don’t put all your focus on money and benefits. Instead, ask yourself:
- How much you are learning. Are you developing yourself based on the work you are doing?
- Are you doing work you like?
- Are you working with people you like and who set a good example for you?
- Does your company take an interest in seeing you grow and develop?
- Do you have career goals and are you on a clear path to achieve them in your present work?
Mario Vicari, Director
Don’t underestimate how valuable you are to your company when you raise your hand to take on a special project or to lend a hand during stressful times. These are learning opportunities. You’ll find that leaders rarely work 8:00 – 5:00; they are always in learning mode. When we get an opportunity to meet a new prospect, it often means that we have to work late that night or the next. But we recognize that this is a one-time opportunity and we either go or we pass.
This is a major difference between an employee and someone with an owner’s mentality. Taking on extra tasks is an owner trait and it will get you recognized when the leaders are discussing who is going to be promoted.
David Shaffer, Director, Audit & Accounting
The best advice I have for a recent college grad would be to look for a champion. Find someone you respect and who takes an interest in you. Do everything in your power to listen to them, work with them, ask them questions, and ask for their help. They will be key to your success.
Bobbi Kelly, Director, Human Resources
Negativity breeds more negativity. Stay away from people who bring you down. Early in my career I worked with someone who constantly complained and was unhappy. Eventually I found myself feeling the same way, which is not my normal outlook on life. A promotion within the company moved me to another building and away from this negative employee. I returned to my normal positive outlook and realized that being in the negative environment was causing my attitude to suffer. I no longer surround myself with people who complain more than they praise.
When someone asks you a question or engages you in conversation, don’t interrupt them. And always leave a moment of silence when they finish talking. Many times a person does not get to the core of a discussion in the first sentence. Prematurely answering or suggesting a solution may harm the discussion or prolong finding a solution. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus.
Michele Foulke, Director, Internal Technology
Seek out challenges and rarely, if at all, turn down opportunities that will educate, create more experiences, or even frighten you.
Brian Kitchen, Director, Tax Strategies
Life is a journey, both personally and professionally. Surround yourself with people you enjoy spending time with, who actively promote your development, and who encourage you to continuously become better every day. In addition, have a career plan and follow it. Would you go on any trip without your GPS?
Rob Olszewski, Director, Audit & Accounting
One of the criteria in my first performance evaluation was “able to see the big picture.” My manager at the time explained that it wasn’t enough to just have an awareness of the things I was responsible for in my day-to-day role. I had to think about what else was on my manager’s plate, what my business unit was trying to accomplish, and the company’s broader goals and objectives.
That advice proved to be invaluable in a couple of ways. First, there will be times when you feel like your manager isn’t paying enough attention to your area of responsibility or hasn’t followed up with you quickly enough. Remind yourself that it isn’t personal; your work is just one piece of what he or she is trying to manage. On a larger scale, being aware of what your group is trying to accomplish, as well as the company as a whole, will give you ideas for ways you can contribute beyond your scope of responsibility. That makes you a valuable team player and sets you up for being given larger opportunities and promotions throughout your career.
Melanie Vivian, Director, Marketing
Here is some more valuable career guidance: