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11 Tips For Getting Your Career Off To A Stellar Start

Don’t waste your time–or anyone else’s–taking things slow when you’re launching into a new career. Give it a jump start with these tips.

11 Tips For Getting Your Career Off To A Stellar Start
[Photo: Flickr user Steve Garner]

As you begin your career, you are judged largely on your ability to ramp up fast, make your boss’s life easier, and make everyone including the company look good.

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Here are 10 tips that will help you do all of those things, fast-track your career, and help you get the most out of your experience.

1. Be Self-sufficient

There is such a thing as a stupid question–it’s called a lazy question.

If you ask something that you could easily find out yourself, whether it be from a quick Google search, past work, or a shared internal database, all you are really saying is “I’m lazy.”

A good rule of thumb is that if the person you ask is going to need to look up the answer using a resource that you also have access to, then you shouldn’t ask the question.

Never waste someone’s time. We have so many tools at our disposal these days. Use them.

2. Make It Easy For Others To Trace Your Steps

There is nothing worse than being handed another person’s work and trying to figure out what they were thinking and how they got their answer.

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If other people spend more time deciphering your calculations and piecing together your logic than they would have spent doing the exercise themselves, you are surely at the bottom of any popularity contest.

Whether your company formally practices these things or not, you will be doing everyone a favor by:

  • Using a consistent file naming convention
  • Keeping a document that summarizes major changes in each version
  • Providing commentary and support for all assumptions
  • Avoiding in-cell spreadsheet calculations (“hard-codes”)
  • Organizing/formatting slides, spreadsheets, and documents in a logical order

You also want it to be easy for you to trace your own steps, just in case you are asked to explain your work in the future after you’ve forgotten the details.

3. Triple-check Your Work

It will seem like overkill, but the first time you screw up something big because of something little you will wish you triple-checked your work. People are quick to judge.

First, make sure you are delivering what was asked for and review for any glaring mistakes, such as typos, missing page numbers, or incorrect dates.

Second, check every calculation and assumption. Triangulate.

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Third, print out your work and read it as if you were your intended audience. Revise if necessary.

4. Anticipate Your Audience’s Response

Take the time to understand your audience’s expectations and perspective. It will force you to consider different risks, opportunities, etc., and give you a better-rounded picture of what you are working on.

Use that knowledge to adjust your approach. Addressing questions and concerns before they arise is the easiest way to avoid looking stupid. That might mean an extra bullet point or two, or it might mean the careful phrasing of a key point. At the very least, come prepared with explanations in your back pocket.

Furthermore, bosses come in varying degrees of pickiness. Learn how they like to be managed from below.

5. Have A Good Attitude

Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The qualities that make up a good attitude depend on the situation, but in general, try to be a combination of humble, grateful, clever, confident, and eager.

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When I first began my career, I was asked to fill-in for a sick administrative assistant and take notes in a meeting because the director preferred to keep his hands free. Even though the task was not anything special, I sent an email to the director after the meeting that simply said “Thank you for inviting me to the operations meeting this week.” A few months later, I was leading those meetings. We still keep in touch and he has been a great supporter ever since.

6. Think About What You Are Doing

Junior employees are often workhorses. They crunch numbers, build presentations, etc., but since the emphasis is usually on iterating fast and meeting tight deadlines, they may not even know why they are doing what they are doing.

That’s probably a by-product of our education system, also. We’re taught to please rather than to think, but trust me, thinking is where the value is–pleasing is easy.

Take the time to understand how your work fits in the big picture even if it is after hours. You will be better at your job when you finally “get it.” Plus, doing so will teach you more than you could have dreamed to learn in school.

7. Keep Your Mouth Shut And Your Ears Open

A senior vice president at my first job took me aside one day and said, “Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. If you forget that, you will go from hero to zero faster than you can blink.”

I was 20 years old and this guy had been an executive for longer than I had been alive. It was a piece of advice that stuck with me as I sat in on very candid executive meetings, hearing private discussions about everything from clients and financials to wives and extravagant vacations.

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Proving that you are trustworthy with confidential information is a necessity for advancing in your career. Having access to the inside circle, even if just as a fly on the wall, will give you a unique perspective on business and is a great learning opportunity. That is why it is so important to keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Don’t participate in gossip or leak information for short-term gains.

8. Study The Leaders

It’s one thing to recognize what you do or don’t like about certain management styles. It’s even better to pay attention to how leaders conduct themselves in different settings and situations.

You are in a unique position at the bottom-of-the-totem pole. You might be responsible for completing work, but in the grand scheme of things, you aren’t responsible for much. That is the best time to learn from leaders, so you will be ready for the day when that $5 billion deal is in your hands.

9. Be A Consensus Builder

You are probably not responsible for making billion-dollar decisions. You can help build consensus for those decisions, though.

Here’s a not-so-secret secret: everyone thinks they know what is best.

Every organization is filled with people who think the leaders don’t know how to make decisions. Any time there is an “Us vs. Them” mentality, and you are one of “Them,” you can subtly try to get the other people on board.

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If you want to one day lead, you need to know how to make people want to follow.

10. Think Like The Owner Of The Company

“Think like THE OWNER of the company” doesn’t necessarily translate to “think YOU are the owner of the company,” although it can.

No matter what your position is in a company, ultimately, you are supposed to be working on something that facilitates the realization of a greater goal or vision. Remember that, and try to do things that help the vision come true.

11. Stay In Touch

You might be great at meeting people, but don’t overlook the most important part of networking and relationships: keeping in touch.

It is always the ones you don’t expect who will inevitably have a crucial connection to someone you need in the future.

Matt Furey helps build and improve businesses. Since finishing his undergraduate degree at 19, he has played a lead role on teams responsible for developing turnaround strategies at a $3 billion service company and launched international markets at a $400 million consumer products company.

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