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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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