A long time ago — or maybe it only feels that way — our careers were at their beginning. Full of promise, ambition, and possibly misplaced self-confidence, we embarked on our journey up the corporate ladder. The luckiest among us received plenty of advice from the wiser and more experienced people in our lives, whether they were our parents, teachers, first bosses, or friends. If we were really fortunate, we were even able to hear it.
(Photo Credit: laughlin/Flickr)
Here’s some of the best advice readers received from their mentors and colleagues:
1. Always be learning.
Kristin: “From my favorite professor/advisor: Should you leave a job for money? A promotion? Maybe. But the number one way you know it’s time to go is when you feel like you’ve stopped learning new things.”
2. Get experience.
David: “Work part-time, do internships, volunteer, etc., in the field you want to work in while you are in college (and even high school). I did that and it made me realize I didn’t want to go to architecture school, and my wife did that and she was never turned down for a job in her field partly because of her impressive college internships.”
3. Go with the flow.
Crystal: “Quite simply, ‘Wu wei.’ (Go with the flow.)”
4. Work hard.
Lisa: “My grandmother told me that ‘if you want to put your hand out on payday, you have to do the work.’ Being successful means having a good work ethic, doing your job, etc.”
5. Learn other people’s jobs.
Kristin: “Don’t just learn your job. Know yours inside and out, then learn what those down the hall do. First, you’ll know who to go to when you need help. Second, the more skills and institutional knowledge you pick up, the more valuable you are to the company. I’m an editor, but I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities because I’ve gotten comfortable with development side of things, too.”
6. Look busy.
Matt: “Walk around the office with a stack of papers and look somewhat concerned. People will tend to leave you alone.”
7. You are not your job.
Connie: “My dad always said to have an avocation. Don’t let your work be all that you are — don’t let it consume you.”
8. Forget faking it till you make it — be real.
Kara: “I used to use ‘fake it till you make it’ to deal with impostor syndrome — because the only way to get over feeling like they will figure me out any minute now and take away these awesome projects is to jump in and take the risks. But now I prefer my boss’s advice: ‘be authentic.’ Does that mean I go around telling people, ‘Oh god, I can’t believe they let me run this project?’ No. But I noticed that once I let go of trying to be the perfect person in any given scenario, started sharing my experiences, and gave myself permission to be wrong in public, the actual work got a billionty times easier.”
9. …but maybe not too real.
Robert: “‘Just be yourself. But not here.’ – Warehouse manager at the blood center where I did PC support for nine miserable years.”
10. If possible, get it right the first time.
Susan: “‘If it goes through the typewriter more than once, you’re losing money.’ Which I translated as, ‘Get it right the first time and move on.'”
11. Money isn’t everything.
Rod: “Don’t be afraid to take a lower paying job if it’s the right next step.”
12. There’s no such thing as a perfect job.
Meghan: “Even the coolest, most glamorous jobs in the world have s****y parts, and you just have to deal, because that paperwork or those early mornings or that one awful co-worker lets you spend an awful lot of time doing something you love. Deal with it.”
13. Be loyal to yourself.
Dave: “‘Look out for No. 1.’ You can interpret that a few different ways, but coming from my father it meant, ‘Professional loyalty be damned … they’ll downsize you in a heartbeat if it makes operational sense,’ etc.”
14. Don’t burn your bridges.
Andrea: “From a mentor of mine: Your professional network is extremely valuable. No matter what your reason is for leaving a job, never burn the bridge when you move on … I’ve seen people basically ‘tell off’ a boss as they go out the door. Even if what you tell them is true, and you never want to work for this company again, you gain nothing by airing all your grievances on the way out. You never know where you may run into these colleagues again in the future!”
15. Neatness counts.
Sandra: “Make sure your desk is always neat before you go home. That’s not easy for someone who isn’t neat at heart, but people walk by your desk in an office all the time. They make judgments based on what they see. If you look neat and organized, you’ll make a better impression. Now that I work from home, the advice is more esoteric (sadly, for my desk). But it’s still important to try to be organized and efficient, and to make a good impression to every client.”
16. Sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof.
Marc: “The best career advice I ever got was also the best life advice I ever got. Four simple words, from an old lady in Texas: ‘Honey, don’t borrow trouble.'”
17. Ask for what you deserve.
Amanda: “Re: salary negotiations. Don’t take a dime less than X, because ‘a man wouldn’t.’ Also, someone once told me don’t downplay your success. I didn’t realize I was doing it until I heard it out loud!”
18. Look beyond what’s already there.
Teri: “Re: career path. Don’t assume your next step must be an already existing, defined role. Look for what should be happening, and isn’t, and use that to create a new role for yourself.”
19. Don’t cry.
Jenn: “My mom told me never to cry in front of the boss. I don’t know if it was the best advice, but it’s been the most memorable.”
20. Keep your eye on long-term goals.
Thomas: “Don’t go looking for your dream job, look for the job that gives you the most options in the future. This means thinking about leveraging the skills you already have to get in a position to learn the skills you don’t.”
21. Don’t wait for people to ask.
Rod: “This one is my own philosophy and it has worked so far: The only way to get a seat at the table is to pull up a chair, because no one is going to offer theirs.”
22. Know that you’ll make mistakes.
Donna: “The only perfect employees are those that don’t do anything.”
23. Dress for success.
Sue: “(From a former boss.) When you ask for a raise and a promotion, maybe don’t wear a Rainbow Brite T-shirt to the meeting.”
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