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11 Pieces of Career Advice You Wish Your Younger Self Knew

11 Pieces of Career Advice You Wish Your Younger Self Knew

Hindsight is 20/20.  As a Career Advisor, I have the opportunity to talk to college students and help them avoid the mistakes my colleagues and I made in our careers.  Don’t misunderstand me, we love what we do, but because of what we know we all would have done one or two things differently and we all would love to share these insights with our younger selves.  Here are 10 Pieces of Career Advice You Wish Your Younger Self Knew:

1. Do NOT follow your passion

I know, I know, this is exactly the opposite of what everyone tells themselves, their friends, their children, and if you have any regret about your career you blame the fact that you didn’t follow your passion.  My advice, follow what you are good at, even if it is not something you are passionate about.  Employers pay people who do their jobs well, so well in fact that they begin to create better ways to do their job which is called innovation.

Cal Newport, an Assistant Profession of Computer Science at Georgetown University, wrote a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You.  The premise of the book is to NOT follow your passion, you can follow your interests he says and they may lead to passion, but true passion grows out of being really really good at something.  Don’t believe me?  Check out number 8 in the link below and read about Steve Jobs in Newport’s book.

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Steve Jobs was passionate about Zen Buddhism, even wanting to become a monk BEFORE he got into technology. Technology is what he did to make money, small amounts of money at first.  What he discovered was he was good at raising money for his technology ideas. Apple came to be because Steve Jobs was good at seeing opportunities in technology and raising money. Zen Buddhism was the passion he didn’t follow for a career.  What about all those speeches he gave about following your passion you ask?  He had passion for technology, but it grew out of being really good.

2. Start building career skills as early as possible

Were all those college parties you attended really that different that you couldn’t miss a few to schedule early classes a few days a week so you could have an internship in the afternoon?  Did your college degree match what career you went into very well at all?  The advise we give students at the career center is by spring of Sophomore year you should have an internship.  There are many reasons for this, the first being that this gives a student time to do more than one. The reason for doing more than one internship is first, you may discover you hate doing what you thought your dream job would be and you now have time figure something else out and secondly you may need to develop other skills from another company or position.

3. Weigh the career growth opportunity carefully

When you look back at your career, do the positions you have held build on each other?  Did each position grow your skill set to make you a more valuable employee?  When looking at career options for a first job look at the industry and ask yourself some questions.  Is it a growing industry?  Does the job I am applying for have a clear career path?  Is there a clear career path in the industry?  Is this job going to begin to build a skill set for me in something I am interested in?  Is the answer to those questions is yes then you will end up with a fulfilling career.

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4. Move to where the opportunities are

Looking at your life now how mobile are you?  If you are in your forties probably not very.  Are you married?  Do you have children?  How easy would it be to pick up and move for a job?  Your younger self has none of that baggage.  I am not saying a family is a bad thing, for someone who is established.  At 22 or 23 years of age right out of college when you are building a career you need to go where there are the best opportunities.  If you love the city you currently live in, then choose a company that has a presence there, or an industry.  You can always move back in five years maybe running the region or at a competitor making great money and very satisfied in your career because you went where the best opportunity was and built a great skill set.

5. Start saving your pay as soon as possible

Human resource departments and financial advisors always give the same example about starting a retirement plan as soon as possible.  Putting money in a retirement plan in your 20’s or 30’s grows much more quickly than in your 40’s. Many companies will match the funds you put into your retirement account and the matched funds usually vest after five years, meaning if you leave you can take the whole balance with you and not just what you put into the retirement account.  If you start saving immediately you will have a pretty decent dollar amount in five years.

6.  Job-hop thoughtfully, not recklessly

This goes back to building a career.  Did the jobs you take build on each other giving you more skills and making you more valuable or were they random and had nothing to do with each other.  Were you strategic and purposeful about your decisions or did you not think ahead.  Being strategic and purposeful is the difference between having a career and just getting a job.

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7. Follow your gut is okay

There is literally a network of neurons lining our intestines that interacts with our brains called the enteric nervous system.  You can feel emotion in your gut and if you have a good or uneasy feeling about a situation you should not ignore it.

8. Never sell yourself short

John Barrymore the actor was quoted as saying, “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”  Dream big!  However, make sure you have a well defined path on how to achieve that dream.  If you want to be an astronaut, start looking at what type of education is needed.  In high school keep your grades up and apply to colleges that are well respected for that course of study.  Intern at NASA and be prepared to move where the job opportunities are.  Never sell yourself short applies to salary too.  Know what you are worth.  Talk to people in the industry you want to enter to find out what entry level jobs pay. That way when you are made an offer you know it is a fair one.

9. Acknowledge when it’s not a good career match

This is especially important for sales jobs.  Sales people can be the best paid most respected employees at a company.  They can also be the least paid (100% commission not closing any deals) and most quickly to be let go.  Sales is a profession like any other profession that requires a skill set.  Managing people takes a certain personality.  If you make a wrong turn during your career and you realize you are being demoted or taking jobs that paid less than the one before course correct quickly.  Every bad fit in a job effects your self-esteem, clouds your mind and makes you less valuable.

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10. Don’t force yourself into a bad career move

If you are doing everything right, like building skills and you are a good fit for your position the promotions or opportunities will come to you.  I know Financial Advisers and Sales People who have never truly looked for a job.  They were either approached internally or externally for jobs because of their connections and success.  They were recruited, and when you are recruited you don’t interview, in fact, you are usually given a sighing bonus.

11. Define your own success, it doesn’t always come from money (satisfaction/dreams/life goals)

Happiness is what we are all trying to accomplish.  People are motivated by different things, but don’t mistake motivation for satisfaction.  There are a lot of very unsatisfied rich people. They have different stresses than many because money is not their issue, but are they lonely from being “married” to their job?  Your success goes back to not following your passion.  Get good at your job, become valuable and build a career.  You will be satisfied and passionate about what you do.

 

Featured photo credit: Big 20th Century Fox via fogsmoviereviews.com

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

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Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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