A few weeks ago, Kari wrote a very thoughtful entry titled “Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20s“, which I linked to from this blog. Kenny left a comment on my blog that, as someone in his early twenties just entering the workforce, he had hoped there would be some career advice.
I’ve spent the past few weeks mulling over the lessons I’ve learned in twenty years of working and would like to share these things I wish I had known when I started working. Of course, I don’t claim that it is comprehensive. What things do you wish you had known when you started working?
Lessons About Myself
I am responsible for my own growth and development. My manager, the training organization and HR are all resources to help me, but ultimately I am the responsible party.
As such, I should always be learning. Learn from each situation: ask what went well and what could be done better next time and then apply the lessons.
Step up and volunteer for things. Timid and shy people who are afraid of new assignments and more work, are the ones who miss out on the opportunities.
Manage expectations. “Under-promise and over-deliver”, as they say. By setting realistic expectations with others, I avoid some of the the stress of trying to meet unrealistic deadlines. That doesn’t mean that I won’t have tough deadlines to meet, but at least they won’t be tough deadlines of my own making.
Lessons About Companies
Yes, it is my job and yes, I am paid to do that. My job is to help the company succeed and as long as I am not breaking any laws or violating company policies, then I’ll enjoy greater success by doing it, even if the task is outside my normal job description.
“Up” isn’t the only way to get ahead. Lateral moves and moves into other parts of the organization can sometimes be better for my long-term prospects than standard promotions. Consider alternate routes to get where I want.
Sometimes it is better to have to wait for a promotion. Each time I didn’t get a promotion, I took the opportunity to be much better prepared for it when it I did finally get it. As a result, I always performed very well in my new role. Had I been promoted before I was really ready, I would have struggled and possibly failed.
Lessons About Customers
Treat customers the way I want to be treated as a customer. I had a manager who was an expert at empathizing with customers. No matter how angry the customer, she won them over and made them feel that she was on their side. She did the by treating them with respect and caring and by truly listening to them.
Related to that, I wish I had known that I can’t “win” an argument with a customer. While there may be customers I choose not to do business with, feeling any sense of satisfaction after trouncing a customer in an argument is pointless. What have I won? I have lost their business and have sullied my company’s reputation.
Lessons About Managers
Offer solutions, not problems. If I notice a problem or opportunity, think of at least one possible solution before approaching my manager. That way, I am welcomed as someone who brings solutions rather than being someone my manager regrets seeing at her door.
Managing and doing aren’t the same thing. I was a great widget maker but when I became the manager of the widget makers, I discovered that it required a new set of skills. Remember this when criticizing a manager or “the big wigs in HQ”. Remember this also before gunning for a promotion to a management or supervisory position.
Make my manager look good. Even if my manager isn’t perfect or has major flaws, trying to make him look bad will only reflect poorly on me and my entire team. My first manager was a tremendous a**hole and I almost quit because of him. But I decided I wouldn’t leave on his account. Sure enough, a few months later he had been fired and I went on to enjoy a very good 15 years with the company.
Lessons About Coworkers and Vendors
Treat everyone as a customer. When I respond to people with a “How can I help you?” attitude, I don’t necessarily get any additional work, but I do get the appreciation of coworkers and vendors who feel like I am a nice person and someone who helps them rather than hinders them.
Related to that, success in business (and maybe life as a whole) is based on good relationships and strong networks. Treating people well – not bullying, intimidating, yelling, name-calling or back-stabbing them – paves the road to success. Because, sure enough, at some point in the future that “little person” I treated well will hold the key to a door through which I want to enter.
Lessons About Retirement
Start investing in my 401(k) or other retirement savings from day one. Even if I can only afford to invest a small amount – even $20 a month – it is better to get into the habit from the very beginning. The benefits of compound interest and time (forty or more years until retirement) can only accrue if I start saving. I’ve done well with this, but wish I had started much earlier.
Reviewing these, I feel like there are plenty more things I could share, but these are the most critical ones that, had I known them on March 17, 1987 when I entered the workforce, life would have been a whole lot easier and working a whole lot more enjoyable.
What additional advice would you give Kenny?