I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel like I’m 22. I do, however, work with a lot of 22-year-olds who are smart, interesting, dynamic, and absurdly high-energy.
While it depresses me they don’t understand my Saved by the Bell references, their ideas and achievements are truly remarkable. And approximately once a week, I get a request from one of them to talk about “careers” –a topic that they know they should care or think about, but aren’t really sure how.
Below is a compilation of the career guidance I’ll usually give them. (And even if you’re not 22, the advice can still apply.)
1) Solve For Growth
Early in your working life, you’re defined by the company you keep, so choose wisely. It’s very easy to pick the company with the biggest name or the biggest paycheck, but I recommend following our Cofounder Dharmesh Shah’s advice: Solve for growth.
How does the company you’re working for (or considering joining) prioritize growth, both personally and professionally? How does the team you’ll be working for plan to grow in the coming year, and what do the prospects look like for growth for the broader company?
Far too many people pick companies based on their current reputation rather than their possible growth, but you get far more career credit for being the fifth employee at LinkedIn after its explosive growth than you do for being the 5,000th employee at Radio Shack before it stops growing entirely.
2) Don’t Fire Back On Feedback
When you put your heart and soul into your work (as many young people do), you tend to take feedback personally–whether it’s good or bad.
When you get positive feedback, for example, you tend to think that you’re the best marketer or salesperson in the world. And when you get your work criticized in any way, shape, or form — you also tend to take it to heart.
To combat this gut reaction, I always suggest letting feedback “soak” for 24 hours. It allows you to think about what’s true and what isn’t–and how you can use it to grow, regardless of where it falls on that spectrum.
This time for reflection also allows you to have productive conversations with your manager. If you’re personally hurt, offended, or angry, you’re no longer listening. You’ve shut down. If you actually take the time to absorb feedback, you’re going to have a conversation with your manager that will actually help you get to the next level.
3) Always Be Learning
In my opinion, people overthink the role of formal mentorship in building their career. Instead of identifying one person to learn from and ask questions of, make that your daily practice. Write down what you see, know, and observe about what works and what doesn’t: You don’t think you’ll forget it as you evolve in your career, but you will. Having it written down somewhere will help you maintain perspective. Identify people you admire and learn from them, but don’t wait for a formal mentorship relationship to do so.
Carve out time in your week to prioritize your own learning. Even if you just watch a TED talk or read a few pages of a new book, ensuring that you have time in your schedule to stretch your horizons makes it much more likely you’ll do the same for the rest of your career.
4) The Best Way To Network Is To Deliver Remarkable Work
Far too many people treat networking as an extracurricular activity like running or playing guitar. In reality, the best form of networking is absolutely crushing results in your job–and doing so pays dividends for the rest of your career.
That’s not to say networking isn’t important; it absolutely is. Just don’t be so fascinated with climbing the corporate ladder that you’re not delivering what it takes to get up there.
5) Learn To Sell
Do I mean you need to become a sales rep to be successful? Nope. (But that’s awesome if you are.)
What I mean is you need to learn to sell your ideas, expertise, or vision. Make presenting yourself and your ideas something that helps you stand out from the pack.
Selling yourself doesn’t have to be public speaking. It can also be using data creatively to sell your idea, designing beautiful materials to sell your product, or collaborating with your peers to get buy-in on an initiative you want your organization to prioritize.
The key is to learn how to sell your ideas and your input as early in your career as possible–doing so helps your personal and professional brand and builds your comfort level with expanding your influence and ideas.
6) Rack Up Results, Not Recognition
The biggest complaint I hear from folks new to the workforce is that another person got credit for their work and “that’s not fair.” It is incredibly frustrating when other people get credit for your blood, sweat, and tears, but guess what: Life isn’t always fair, and neither is work.
However, I can tell you that over time, fortune rewards those who rack up results instead of focusing on getting credit. Instead of obsessing over recognition and credit, obsess over results. Your career will thank you for it later.
7) It’s Not Your Manager’s Job To Manage Your Career
Your boss is your manager at work–not a mind reader, fortune-teller, or psychologist. He or she can and should support you in your professional goals, but the only person in the driver’s seat of your career is you.
Manage it proactively by asking for what you want, making it clear what interests you, and eating up feedback for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–doing so will make you a better employee and a better leader, regardless of whether you stay at a company for 10 months or 10 years.
8) Get The Gratitude Bug Early
I realize I sound ancient saying this (I’m cool with that), but people remember gratitude in a way that outperforms other emotions or motivators. Take the time to thank people who interviewed you, people who made time to share what they know with you, and people whose influence helped you succeed. Be gracious in your praise of others and your kindness toward people who help you: People notice and remember this for years to come.
It used to be that signing on with a new company meant years (if not decades) of your life, but now that people switch jobs every few years, managing your career has become both more important and more challenging. Options seem infinite, grad school seems necessary, and far too early you start comparing your career trajectory to that of others, worried that you’re being left behind or left out. Instead of overthinking your next job, your next decision, or your next networking event, focus on being remarkable at your job, tackling your weaknesses head-on, and being someone who isn’t afraid to take on tasks that other people find terrifying. The rest of it will work itself out, I promise.