8 Secrets to Early Career Success

8 Secrets to Early Career Success 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

About a year ago, a young professionals group within my organization asked if I would come and speak to their group about the key lessons I’ve learned through my career to this point.  In particular, they were interested in the kind of tips or rules of thumb that a person early in their career could follow to accelerate their success.  This sounded like a fun request, so I sat down and made a list of the things I felt I had learned through trial and error in my career.  Ultimately, that list was far too long to share, so I narrowed it down to a list of eight things.  I called the list the “8 secrets to career success that they didn’t teach you in college.”

Apparently, these lessons resonate with young professionals because over the past year, I’ve been asked to present these secrets nearly 20 times to different groups both within my organization and in the local community.  It seems that something in this list is helpful to people, so I decided to share it with you here as well.

The 8 Secrets to Career Success (that they forgot to teach you in college)

  1. Invest in yourself.  Particularly early in your career, you should be greedy about your experiences and any opportunity to learn.  Every thing you learn or are exposed to early in your career builds part of the foundation that helps you perform in your current and future jobs.  So, put down the Xbox controller and volunteer for a big project at work (or read a business book).  
  2. Get self-aware.  Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, passions and frustrations is critical to being able to build a great career.  This awareness provides the framework to be a leader.  It also empowers you to make intentional career decisions to find work that you love.  Use assessments like Myers Briggs, Strengthsfinder, Keirsey Temperament and Leadergrade.com to get objective feedback.  Also, for the bold, send out an email request to those who know you best, asking them to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.  Great exercise to do for anyone.  However, if you ask for feedback, don’t punish someone for giving it to you by arguing with anything they tell you.  Just say thank you, then give yourself the time to absorb the feedback they gave you.  Chances are, it’s more true than you think.
  3. Have a plan.  When most of us take the time to think about it, we spend more energy planning our vacations or even our weekends than we do our careers.  And yet, we spend the majority of our days and our lives working.  It’s critical to sit down and give some serious thought to what kind of job you want in the future and how you are going to get there.  The simple act of making these decisions makes it more likely that you will succeed in making them happen.  
  4. Find some guts.  Those who get ahead the fastest take the most risks.  There’s no way around this.  There isn’t a safe way to the top.  For young professionals, even having a thought out opinion on key business issues can be courageous if you are asked to share it by leaders within your organization.  The key here is to step into situations professionally that feel like a stretch and where you feel like you might not be up to it.  That’s where your breakthroughs will happen.
  5. Deliver the goods.  Low performers don’t get promoted.  Even if your boss is a moron, you hate your coworkers, you work is boring, and you don’t have the resources you need to get the job done.  Get it done anyways.  The most successful people find a way to make things happen in spite of their situation.
  6. Look the part.  It’s easy to say that your appearance shouldn’t matter when it comes to getting ahead in your career, particularly if you perform, but it does.  Early in my career, I was in a phone sales job where I was crushing the numbers.  We never saw a client face to face, but were required to wear ties to work.  I thought that was stupid, so I intentionally dressed down out of protest.  Since I produced big numbers, I didn’t think it should matter.  One day, the owner of the company took me to lunch and told me that he’d like to promote me to management, but he couldn’t because I dressed like a slob.  To be a manager, I had to look like management material.  Learned an important lesson that day.  Appearance matters.  
  7. Build your network.  The better your network, the more valuable you are to your organization.  Your network is like your entourage, where you go, they go.  Having a broad, powerful network of connections with people helps make up for your weak spots.  If you don’t have a particular expertise, but you know someone who you can call and who will help you, the fact that you lack in that area won’t be an issue.  
  8. Lead in the community.  Leadership and management experience is hard to come by until you get promoted and some times you need it before you can get into the jobs where you will learn it.  The best way to close this gap is to find community organizations involved in causes you care about and volunteer for leadership roles at the organization.  There’s four benefits to doing this.  First, it feels good to volunteer and you are giving back.  Second, if you can learn to lead volunteers, you can easily lead people who are paid to follow you at work.  Third, volunteers are much more forgiving when you make mistakes as a leader and they will give you feedback.  Finally, by leading successfully in the community, you will build your network and increase your visibility within your community–both good for your career.
These are the eight secrets.  I’m not sure how secret they are, but they seem to have worked for me.  I’d love to hear your feedback on these.   If you want more information about any of them, leave me a comment or drop me a note and I’ll be happy to share more. 
  • Kelli Dedlow

    Jason – You are right on the money. If I might add some thoughts to number seven – "Build Your Network." I believe that networking internally is just as important as externally. One of the keys to success early in your career is to build the right internal network. It's related to the old saying our parents used to remind us of…"guilt by association." This can be a very positive thing, in that people in our organization will identify us based on who we associate with. Because of this I have two tips: 1) Identify early on who the formal and informal leaders are of your organization. Find ways to be around them, work for them or become part of their network. Soak up every piece of learning you can from them. Your organization has most likely identified these individuals as leaders because they possess qualities that not only thrive in the culture, but are also critical to organizational success. Observe and replicate these behaviors as they best suit your strengths. 2) Consistently be scanning your company's environment for emerging networks. Organizations and trends change, new products launch, regulations change – be on top of curve and seek continual learning. Take a tip from number four and take a risk by volunteering for that new project or task force. It will help expand your internal network.

    May you create the dust, and not be left in it!

    Thanks always for your thoughts, Jason!

  • Clark

    Thanks Jason for those 8 "secrets". I think you're spot on with the Find Some Guts point, you need to put yourself out there if you want anything to happen. I just finished reading a great HR book called From Gatekeeper to Trusted Advisor by Andria Corso. This book is a desk reference for HR leaders and any business leader with an HR team, and it includes tips, checklists, and templates for any business person to use in their organization. A great resource to read with reference to your Secret #1

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Jason Lauritsen