Your career doesn’t define you. For most people, it’s what puts food on their plates and a roof over their heads.
Millennials have started to change the rules of the workplace (much like Gen X did before them). However, there are some basic, universal words of wisdom that everyone should keep in mind. Here are our top-level pieces of career advice to help you get the most from your career and optimize your earnings potential.
1. Attitude determines altitude.
Go above and beyond what is expected of you.
- Merely getting deliverables done on time is the bare minimum that is expected of you. If you never go beyond that, then you’re at the right level for you (i.e., don’t expect to be promoted).
- Put your own fingerprint on the work you do. Become irreplaceable.
- Add value to the team, the project, and the company whenever and wherever you can.
Bring your passion and enthusiasm into the office. A positive attitude is contagious. (So is a negative one.)
- Get enough sleep on work nights. Not getting enough zzzzzz’s will have you slogging into work. Nobody wants that.
- Make your boss and your team look good. Make your boss’ job easier.
2. Advocate for yourself because nobody else will do it for you.
Keep track of great work you’ve done at your job (projects, reports, ideas, going above and beyond the call, great feedback from customers, clients, or other people at your company). When it’s time for a performance review, mention these details to remind your boss about your accomplishments and your importance to the team. You will make your boss’ job easier, plus you have undeniable proof. Be specific. Keep track of the date, context, the issue, your contribution, the result, etc.
If you haven’t had a performance review in more than a year and you think having one would be helpful to your career, ask for one. Also don’t be timid about asking for that raise or promotion that you feel you deserve. If you can’t advocate for yourself, don’t expect anyone else to do that for you. Research what your counterparts at other companies are earning (take a look at sites like Glassdoor). You can use that information to help bolster your case for a raise.
3. Find your voice.
Speak up at meetings. Let your voice be heard. Share your views. The next big idea could certainly come from the most junior person. Nobody has a monopoly on great ideas.
At the same time, get to know the culture of your work environment. A meeting with Ms. Mostimportantclient is probably not the best time for the intern to spout new ideas.
4. Don’t mix business and personal life.
Every work environment is different, but in general, try not to bring your personal life to the workplace. Work is work and personal is personal. Don’t mix them.
Political discussions can get dicey. Try to avoid them at the office. And don’t assume that everyone agrees with your views (whether religious, political, or otherwise). You may be unpleasantly surprised.
5. Stay current with developments in your industry.
Attend industry conferences and meet-ups to keep current with the latest developments and innovations in your field. Business moves fast. Keep up with the daily business news in your industry as well. Don’t be left in the dark when someone at work mentions the big new thing that just hit the news cycle.
Take webinars or courses in your field to learn new skills and to keep the old ones sharp. You should also be reading and following the major publications, content, and influencers in your field. This is the information age. There’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.
Joining industry associations is another way to stay current in your field (as well as meet new people). Your education didn’t stop when you left school. Keep learning new things every day.
6. Know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em.
There are times when a particular job seems to run it’s course for you. You are no longer advancing, learning, or growing in your career. For those times, it’s good to be proactive and prepared.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date all the time. Jobs may be looking for you. Update your resume periodically even if you aren’t in job-hunt mode. Opportunities might arise when you least expect it. If you wait until you’re looking for a job, you might forget important details.
Network rabidly. Good professional relationships and contacts are vital to your career. You also never know when your company may send great employees packing, so always be prepared.
Attend industry events and meet-ups in your field (and not in your field). A great opportunity may arise even if you aren’t actively looking for one.
There are opportunities for personal and professional growth out there. Keep your antennae up at all times. If you get a sense that your job may not be secure for whatever reason, be proactive in researching other opportunities. Don’t wait until there’s a time clock on your head.
Unless you absolutely need the money and can’t find it some other way, don’t stay in a job where you feel as though you are stagnating, not learning, not advancing, not respected, or not happy. But listen to your parents: Don’t quit one job until you find the next job (unless things are intolerable at your present job).
People who switch jobs more frequently end up earning more over their entire careers than people who stay at the same job for long periods of time (although there are certainly exceptions to every rule). That’s not to say that you should become a revolving door every year or two. Many companies frown upon “job hoppers.” But it’s wise to consider other options with an eye towards your long-term career goals and earnings capacity.
7. The long and winding (and broken) road . . . .
Most people’s career paths are winding, not straight. Don’t let detours throw you. Expect them. They can be liberating and vital to your success. Failure is part of the path to success. If you avoid failing, you are probably playing it too safe and missing out on what could eventually become something bigger and better.
Many great employees are let go due to downsizing, outsourcing, department closings, industry changes or a long list of other business needs that have absolutely nothing to do with the employees themselves. If that includes you, do yourself and your self-esteem a big favor by not taking any unplanned exit personally. You’ll find something better. Move forward.
8. Vacation only works if you take it.
Make sure to take vacation time. Nobody is so busy at work that s/he can’t take off time to get away. Vacations will help you be more productive when you return to work. Don’t leave your vacation days on the table.
Vacations don’t have to mean expensive trips. (Check out our post on travel hacking.) If you can’t afford to travel away from home, you should still take your vacation time. Who wouldn’t love a week off just to clear their mind? You can also have a great (and frugal) time as a tourist in your own town. (Staycation or localploration, anyone?)
9. Remind yourself to feel gratitude for the positive things your job brings to your life.
Feel grateful for the job you have. It helps support you (and maybe also your family) and hopefully brings you pride and personal satisfaction. Many people would love to have your job (and it’s benefits), so don’t take any of that for granted. The daily grind can’t cause you to lose sight of what you have. Step back from time to time to appreciate the job you have and the positives it brings into your life.
10. Keep these “don’ts” in mind as you move along in your career:
- Don’t try to have everything mapped out in advance. Be open to new opportunities that you didn’t foresee. (At the same time, it’s important to set career goals for yourself. That way, when new opportunities do come along, you will be better able to evaluate them.)
- Don’t let your career be dictated by inertia. Your career won’t flourish on autopilot.
- Don’t ever feel pigeon-holed or stuck in something you hate. You can (usually) change what you don’t like.
- Don’t let money justify a bad situation. If the job isn’t working out for you, money shouldn’t change that.
- Don’t stay in a job or career just because you’ve already invested so many years to it. Your time is the most valuable resource you have. Don’t waste it.
- Don’t let your career define you. Who you are is not the same as what you do for a living.