A few weeks ago I met up with Emma, a recent graduate from the University of Washington. Filled with passion, this young professional was smart, but unfortunately she was starting her career in a tough economy, and entering a fiercely-competitive job market. This was my advice to her.
- Look, Listen & Learn You have awesome ideas, no doubt, but you are also young and can use this "excuse" as a tool to soak up decades of knowledge from your coworkers and parent's friends. So, just try not to be the new freaking guy and interject too often (I know this from personal experience). Instead, listen to the ideas being presented around you, try to find ways where you can contribute meaningfully, then deliver on your promises.
- Work with Your Strengths You may not have a decade of work experience, hundreds of connections in your field or a lengthy resume to support you in your job search. However, that doesn't mean you don't have a competitive edge on other professionals in the market. After four years of college, you know how to live cheaply. This means you can take a lower-paying position that a professional who is supporting a family might not be able to. Also, you probably can move around and travel easier than others in your field. Make an inventory of your skills. You might be surprised by what you come up with.
- Seek Out Opportunities to Network You probably didn't discuss this much in school, but networking is probably the single most important activity you can do to support your career. This includes getting to know your coworkers, colleagues in your field and other professionals out in the world. Seek out projects at work or in your volunteer life that expose you to a wide variety of people. You never know what will come of it --an exciting project, new job or maybe even a marriage.
- Brand Yourself "So, what do you do..." is something you might hear a lot in your life. And while the monikers "Doctor" or "Engineer" conjure up specific images of a profession, "write stuff and manage clients" is much more nebulous. Try to identify the root of your skills and work (for a simple narrative), and offer this to the next person who asks. "I am an online marketer for enterprise software." A wise man once told me "No one hires a generalist." So true!
So these were a few of the tips that I offered Emma. I know she goes far!