As you enter the working world, here are seven tips I wish I had known about navigating a career path.
During college, I did everything right: got good grades, participated in extracurricular activities, interned in Washington, D.C., bought a suit and a filing cabinet, and reworked my resume over and over using different iterations of Garamond. I sent out at least 75 resumes to companies around the country.
Then … crickets.
I eventually landed a job at a small company, editing and writing copy for various publications. I worked my way up the ladder, tripping up and standing out in equal measure. Here are a few words of hard-won wisdom that I wish someone had told me as I drove off into my future, in a Ford Tempo stuffed with all my belongings.
Work like you own the business. Don’t get hung up on job descriptions. Pitch in. Stay late. Invest in the company like you have a stake in its success.
Interview the interviewer. When applying for a job, remember that you are sussing out if you and a company are a good fit just as much they are trying to figure out if you’d be a good hire. Don’t spend so much energy trying to win over the hiring manager that you forget to assess if you would even want to work there.
Realize that just because you’re good — or even great — at something doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. Instead, think about what you love doing and work toward excelling in that, even if it means switching careers or skilling up.
Pick up the phone. Work relationships seldom gel and can even sour if business is conducted entirely over email. Never-ending email threads can often be put to rest with a single phone call or walk down the hall. Put a voice, face, person to the message and you’ll score major points.
Accept responsibility … and offer a solution. As I got more work experience under my designer belt, I realized that it was OK to screw up now and again, as long as I fessed up right away and offered ways to fix or mitigate the problem.
Remember that what’s urgent isn’t always what’s most important. Most jobs are stressful, with competing deadlines and co-workers vying for your attention. Take a moment every morning to prioritize your work, based not on the squeakiest wheel, but on what you know to be important in the big scheme of things.
Dare to fail. It’s OK to fail or, gasp, be fired. Rejection can be useful and even lead to a new opportunity. Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that can happen if you’re fired? See? You’ll be fine.
Oh, and wear sunscreen.