I’m closing in on five years of success in the professional workforce (technology / business consulting, to be specific). Time to share what’s worked. I’m sure that in 5 more years, I’ll look at this again and realize that I missed on some ‘practices’. Take it for what it is – an opinion based on personal experience.
- Ask for the opportunities you desire for your career path, and create the ones that are missing. There’s nothing wrong with asking. You’re ultimately the only person who will drive your career path – realizing that your hands are on the steering wheel is a great feeling.
- Evaluate your market worth every couple years, and leverage that worth when needed. Knowledge is power. Would you work for 75% of your current salary? Maybe you would, if it meant spending more time with your family. Understanding the market landscape helps you to make informed decisions about compromises.
- Connect with everyone you work with, because your network will be your most important asset. I can’t stress this one enough. Make a connection and give freely. Investing in your network is usually long-term, but it will always have high returns.
- Give back your knowledge by mentoring someone new. Sharing lessons that you’ve learned with a junior is typically a good exercise for both parties. You get to give back and learn about another person’s perspective, while the newer person gets to hear valuable experience.
- Challenge yourself to do work that makes you uncomfortable. Work is harder when you’re pushing the limits of what you think you can do. It’s also more rewarding and will open doors to new opportunities.
- Refuse to follow the established methods when you have a better idea. Challenging the norm can get you into trouble when done incorrectly, but if your motives are correctly communicated then you can make work better for everyone. Intelligence and experience are very separate – don’t let a lack of experience keep you from contributing your intelligence.
- Never, under any circumstance, make an excuse for your failures. If you challenge yourself to difficult work then you will ultimately have some failures. Be the first to admit your short coming, but make sure that you’ve setup a support system to handle it appropriately.
- Change your environment every chance that you get. This is a pretty easy to accomplish in consulting, but I imagine there’s an industry parallel to draw (e.g. change departments whenever you can). It exposes you to more portions of the business and will help to round out your experience.
- Work with people smarter than you. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. If you’re ever the smartest person in the room, then who could you possibly be learning from?
- Make sure to praise others when they contribute to your success. Early in your career you will typically lean on others quite a bit. Simply acknowledging the fact that someone else is taking time from their day to help you can go a long way. Buy them lunch. Or a beer
- Try to solve your problems before you ask for help. Getting help from others will teach you a lot. But you don’t want to be that person who always has a problem with no solution. Prove to others that you care by taking a first crack, even when you know that you’re way off on the answer.
- Create a brand for yourself. When you are active in the community then people will start to remember you for something. Being the go to person for a knowledge area takes you to the next level for self-branding. You want people to think of you when they have a difficult problem to solve, and your brand will help with that.
- Leave stress behind and ensure that your work is contributing to your overall happiness. Your career wouldn’t be all that rewarding if it consumed your whole life, right? If work makes you unhappy, then you have the power to change it.
- Take all your vacation time and don’t work when you go home. The bottom line is that the work will be there tomorrow or next week, just like you left it. Trust the others around you to pick up the slack in your absence. Enjoy the time away and recharge. You’ll know that you’ve had a good vacation when you’re starting to think about work challenges again.
Note: these aren’t in any specific order, just some thoughts I’ve collected recently.