Although I feel generally successful in my working career, there are some moves that hurt my ability to earn more, better my job satisfaction and advance faster. Here are the things I think I could have done differently, maybe they will help you out.
A delayed start.
Going from high school to college is a rite of passage for which I was inadequately prepared. As many do, I started college because it was the expected next step. I had no idea what kind of life or career I wanted. I chose to study Psychology because it was interesting – but had no clue as to what (if any) career opportunities it would yield for me. Instead of trying to work after college graduation at a real career, I took a retail sales management trainee job. It was really the only offer I had. In a year I was married and pregnant and staying home with babies.
Only after we struggled financially to support our little family of four did I think about returning to work. I did things right that time and researched an interesting, well paying field for which I could train in minimal time with minimal cost. If I had only started out in the 1970’s learning computer programming (as I did in the early 1980’s), I could have had ten extra years of experience under my belt. Lack of those ten years put be way behind my peers in learning, in networking and in ability to earn and move ahead.
Too little negotiation.
Growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, I was taught to be polite, revere my elders and don’t make waves. This in no way prepared me to negotiate for more pay, better positions or projects I wanted. I meekly took what was offered – for many years until I finally learned to get uncomfortable and haggle for the positions, the raises, the promotions and the projects I wanted.
It always seemed that it was too risky to negotiate. I was afraid that if I tried for something different, the entire offer would evaporate. Perhaps my fear was somewhat justified. After all, there were so many of us Boomers going for the same job in a tight (think stagflation) economy – employers really did have their choice. I imagine a lot of you feel the same way now!
Know your strengths, cast about for information on when and how to negotiate, and PRACTICE it. Be flexible but do try unless your situation is desperate.
Forgetting to look for opportunities.
Working hard, with my nose to the grindstone got the positive attention of my bosses. But, peers around me were doing more. They were sniffing the wind to see what the next big opportunity in the company might be and working to position themselves to step into it’s midst.
One of the companies for which I worked was growing rapidly in the time I worked there – taking on huge new clients each year. Peers were learning the skills required to participate and lead those new client conversions onto our system and they were riding the crest of the wave to ever higher salaries, perks and positions. I stayed in my own little department. Yes I worked on the conversions, but on a sideline project. Positive client exposure; contributions to the bottom line by landing that new client; and the leadership skills and knowledge gained by the often rigorous and stressful conversion process went to those peers looking for opportunities.
Opportunities come in many flavors. Some are for special projects, others are to get additional learning, and some may be to work in a different division or geographic part of the company. The more variety of experiences you get inside a company, the broader your view of the company becomes and the more people within the company you meet. Those people are on the upward march with you and may help pull you up to the next level or help you land the next big opportunity.
One of my bosses used to talk often about ‘opportunities and challenges’. I don’t think you can have one without the other!
What have you learned from your career that might help the next person with theirs?
Forgetting to look for opportunities is easy. We get real comfortable in our position at work and don’t want to take the risks to branch out into new ventures. It’s scary to do that and often we would rather not face that fear, rather be content to grind along where we are.
True. Our routines can help but sometimes we keep doing them when we should be growing!
And this is why some people don’t grow because they resist change, they’re scared of it, which is a bad thing because in this day and age where technology makes everything go fast, you’ll be left behind.
Change is always with us and some (maybe even most) resist it. Maybe part of that resistance even helps – things that change must overcome the obstacles to become ‘the new normal’, changes that don’t won’t last.
I have learned from running my own guitar studio for the past 8+ years that customer service is king. Returning messages, emails, and the like is NOT hard. Do it right away, no excuses. Be on time all the time, no excuses. Be courteous and never look like a grub, people tend to react poorly to rude, nasty looking people. And above all, be FUN. There is no greater offense to a fellow human than being a complete bore.
All good points. My only problem is that what some people consider ‘a complete bore’ other people view as a stable and reliable person.
I think most people spend very little time thinking about their career! In college, you look for a major so you can receive your degree, but no thought about turning into a career. Negotiating salary does not have to be so uncomfortable! You do some research for similar positions which is done easily on the internet. The rest is just asking questions!
I have read that negotiation comes easier to guys – not sure if that is true. Speaking for myself, I need practice!
Negotiation is tough and most people aren’t very good at it (I’m one of them). Unfortunately, negotiation opportunities generally seem to be reserved for mid to upper levels of management or executives (especially if being heavily recruited). The people in the lower tiers of the workforce, which makes up the most of us, don’t get nearly as much of an opportunity to negotiate. If we do, it’s for smaller $’s and there isn’t much leverage. Instead, we are stuck with whatever HR designates for our job title and that’s it!
There may be more opportunities to negotiate than you are seeing.
I started in apartment management at 17 and worked through college, so when I graduated, I already had several years of real experience in the field. People say I do well for my age, but that’s because I have 13 years of experience in the field. My advice to any young person reading this is to get a job in the field that you think you want to work in, and learn! Do NOT get a job as a server.
Also, negotiation is key, as is networking. Coffee at least one per week with a mentor (or several mentors) is worth the investment.
Wow, how did you get started in apartment management so young?
During my first semester of college, I helped out on weekends in my hometown. Then, I needed a job and a place to live when I moved to Boulder for school and I was hired as a Leasing Consultant. It just grew from there.
Thanks for replying.
Great point on the negotiation, companies generally have some wiggle room, and it is really hard to make up for not having negotiated with further raises. At best you have to wait a year. If you don’t get money, getting a free cellphone or more holidays is still something.
Good point – and sometimes the non monetary perks are the best – especially if you have to manage your tax situation.
Great points on what can hurt your career. Especially, I like the one “Forgetting to Look for Opportunities”. I would also add “…and Exploring your Passions”. You will never succeed in what you are doing unless you follow your passions in life. Great article!
I firmly believe that you can develop interest in whatever work you are doing. Passion is so overused as a description.
Great article! I fall into that last bucket I’m afraid. Now that I realize it, I’m going to make my next assignment really count in a big way!
That one is a big bucket that a lot of us swim around in!