In part 1 of School’s Out, I promised to share those things that contributed to my career progression and led to a measure of greater success than a non-grad might expect.
Your experience may depend to some extent on your circumstances. Some things in a person’s life cannot be easily controlled. That said, whatever a person can influence that contributes to positive growth – is worth pursuing.
Here is my list.
Work harder than everyone else.
I know, you are mad now, because it is so obvious and maybe a little depressing for some. I’m sorry if this idea annoys you, (and if it does, you probably want to stop reading now).
If this does not annoy you, you are in a good place. Nearly everywhere I have worked, hard work really did pay off. On occasions when it didn’t, I worked hard anyway. There seems some merit in the idea that hard work is eventually rewarded.
I don’t suggest that you enslave yourself, stay where you are forever, and hope someday, someone will notice. There are times when the right thing to do is move on. But whether you stay or go – always work hard. Not everyone else will, and by this virtue alone, you will stand out.
Learn something every day.
You can adopt a lifestyle of constant learning without a pricey university and terrifying tuition bill. There are many opportunities to learn new skills without incurring much (if any) cost. I list some of these on my resources page, so please make use of that.
If you want to learn a whole lot in a quick hurry – don’t hide when your manager asks you what you know about SharePoint, and could you please build a site in the next 30 days. I knew absolutely zero about SharePoint when I started on my first site. By working with it (a la push all the buttons) and a few strategic contacts with other users – I built a functional site and trained others to use it, on time.
Learning resources are so accessible now, a person can read books, do online research, blog, design/build a website, or take online classes, while stealing back the small pieces of time we lose waiting for other things to happen (e.g. waiting for the doctor/dentist/kids/etc.)
Communicate with clarity, brevity and when necessary, frequency
Imagine that you or maybe your manager, are knee-deep in emails. What if they were written in plain language? with defined expectations? short enough to actually read? with enough detail to not require 3 more emails?
These are the kinds of emails you need to write. In situations that require more explanation or “face-to-face” contact, a service like Skype or Google Hangouts or maybe the video call feature on Communicator might be best. Use the best available tools to make communication easy and clear.
The Wall Street Journal’s article “Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs,” details just some of the skills that new graduates can lack. Many of these are easily learned by a committed self-directed learner, and one of the most critical of these is to communicate well.
Be polite and calm, even when you don’t want to
Your proverbial bad day will come. Something that someone says to you, or about you or possibly in front of your team – in a meeting – will make you want to flip out.
Don’t. Give yourself the time and of distance to respond, and not react. When I was younger, this was a big struggle. Over time, I learned to implant the filters that everyone is always talking about. It isn’t painless, but far less painful than uncontrolled confrontation.
Time and distance offer perspective. When you regularly apply perspective to challenging situations you will be recognized for that, because it is difficult. Few people do this consistently and well.
Look for opportunities to fix broken things
You don’t have to go far to find things that don’t work, and people who complain about the non-working things. While identifying problems is laudable – solving them is better. Solving them without being asked to can make you absolutely popular.
One organization I worked for experienced a boatload of transition over the course of three years. This period of semi-chaos resulted in broken processes with an unclear path to the resources and expertise needed to fix them. It also presented the opportunity to uncover the path, find the resources and rebuild the process.
Reaching out to strategic contacts at my level throughout the enterprise and asking straight-forward questions both helped solve our immediate problems and created relationship-equity across departments. By collaborating, sharing resources and helping each other, getting things done (or fixed) became much easier for everyone.
Expected a different list?
I can see that. Maybe you expected resume tips, or networking or interview tips. Those things are helpful, and if that is what you most need help with, I encourage you to check out the resources offered by Liz Ryan on The Human Workplace. While these are not specifically for non-college graduates, they should prove helpful to nearly anyone seeking a next role/position/company.
My approach has been to do my best to be exceptional, and to land roles that were composed of work or projects that stretched me. These kinds of projects have provided the experience I needed to tackle other roles that required more education than I have.
There is also something to be said for the idea of what a lot of people would consider crazy luck or divine favor, or right place/right time… Fifteen, ten, and even five years ago I could not have imagined the places I’d work and the challenges solved. I can hardly wait to see what the next five years will bring.
What are the keys to your success?
Please comment to share them!