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?