The Advice that Shaped My Early Career
Before we dive in, let’s set the stage, shall we? This blog contains the two pieces of advice that most shaped my early career. That said, advice is just that… advice. It shouldn’t be applied in all situations, and it won’t necessarily be the right decision for everyone. These decisions were right for me, and if you’re reading this, my gut says you may just be searching for some advice yourself.
I hope this brings you value, and maybe a new perspective to consider.
When I was a senior in college, a guest speaker came to one of my communications classes, and she was absolutely fabulous. The way she carried herself with such confidence, grace, and eloquence garnered the utmost respect from everyone in the room. She said something in that class that hit me, sunk deep and took root. She said, “So as long as it depends on you, you should aim to stay in your first job for at least three years.”
“So as long as it depends on you, you should aim to stay in your first job for at least three years.”
Having absolutely no clue what I wanted to do with my career after school, with a graduation date fast approaching, her advice was calming. The onset of my career almost instantly shifted from a scary tidal-wave of constant change, to a new home that would provide consistency in the middle of chaos. I just had to find a strong company who would invest in me, and to settle down for a few years.
After three years at my first job, I’d shout the following advice from the mountains if I could, but the internet will suffice for now. Here are a few underrated lessons that I learned while staying planted in my first job:
The first year of your career, agnostic of what job you have or how much you love it, will beat you up. There’s no way around it. Too often I see strong, new professionals bail in their first year, only to realize that a change of scenery didn’t change the problem. Stick it out and give yourself time to see the fruit come from your labor.
Tenure gives you a chance to see the ups and downs that come with every company, as well as how they’re resolved. Seeing problem solving come to life in a real-world scenario and the positive effects that has on a business can be one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of work.
When you’ve committed to staying somewhere for a certain amount of time, it helps cultivate a mindset of “How can I provide value?” You’re going to be there anyway, so you might as well help make it better. This mindset will serve you well throughout the remainder of your career.
Going through various seasons of life in one job gives you time to figure out what you truly do and don’t like. This gives you more data points so that you can make a thoughtful career transition, as opposed to a hasty one made with limited insight.
Lastly, a longer period of time gives your company the chance to invest in you, and to help create opportunities that align with your interests and goals. This is the good stuff. Growing within an organization takes time though, and it may take two years before you can start doing the stuff you really want to do.
Now, in order for this to be fruitful advice, there are two asterisks to keep in mind. The first is that, frankly, the number of years is arbitrary. Whether it’s two years or five years, the point is to make a commitment to longevity. Second, this requires being vigilant and thoughtful in your job search and enlisting wise counsel to choose that first job. Do your research (like, a lot of it), ask second-level questions in the interview process, and don’t settle.
Okay, but what about when it is time for you to make the next move in your career? Leave on an upswing. That’s the second piece of advice. You know what your mom always said, “Leave things better than you found them.” To put it a bit more bluntly - don’t be the employee who bails when things get hard.
Don’t be the employee who bails when things get hard.
Every business goes through ups and downs; a new challenge is always around the corner. When those challenges come, provide value as best you can, be a part of creating solutions, and be an active participant in moving the ball forward. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Am I running away from something, or am I chasing an opportunity that I believe is the next best step in my career?” If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know the answer.
Leave things better than you found them.
A few exceptions worth noting:
If your work environment is unsafe, toxic, or you’re experiencing any form of harassment, never hesitate to remove yourself as quickly as possible.
Sometimes life takes you to a new city or even a new state. If you have to move and your current company doesn’t have an open position where you’ll be located, aim to leave as gracefully as possible, with the utmost integrity.