My career officially began when I was hired as an intern for a semiconductor company in late 2007. Prior to that, I was working at a HVAC company for an abusive boss. The pay was lousy, the benefits were none, and the work was monotonous.
Luckily, these hardships occurred for me somewhat early in life, just shortly after I graduated from college. I’m not sure I could handle this type of abuse now, quite frankly. And although this site is geared towards achieving early financial independence (and rejecting the corporate world, for the most part), I do attribute much of my success to the time in my life when I really did focus all my efforts towards building my career.
I was so grateful to have been hired as an intern, that I literally did cartwheels on my way out of the HVAC company. I left for a superior company that offered: better pay (nearly double), better benefits (even interns received vacations days at the time), better work culture, and a much nicer boss.
Because this new surrounding was night and day from the old place, I was most appreciated of my good fortune. Not even two weeks into the new job was I already telling myself, “I’m going to give 100%. I want to show these people they hired the right person. I want to build my career here. I want to be promoted full time. I want to make everyone proud.”
One night, during the Christmas holiday, I printed out an article I found online that offered 10 tips to to help you advance in your career. I printed out the article at the time, often re-reading it for inspiration. The article can still be found online here. The ten tips offered are as followed, with my own personal reflections 5 years later:
1. Talk to your boss
Sit down and have a very direct and pointed conversation with your boss about your future in the company. Stress that you want your job performance to meet the company’s goals. Share your own career goals. Your boss will respect this display of confidence and maturity.
[I actually applied this tip about 5 months into the internship. I let my boss know that I wanted more responsibility, and I let him know that my main goal was to be promoted full-time. We had many conversations about this, and in retrospect, it was the right decision. For an intern, I think it shows maturity, and forward-thinking. Bosses look for these type of things when they consider promoting interns to full-time. Because my boss knew very well what my goals were, he helped engineer my transfer to another group which eventually did have the means to promote me to a full-time position. This tip paid off big time.]
2. Ask for more work
Volunteering to help out other departments or teams — or simply asking for more responsibilities — increases your value within the organization. Asking for additional work shows an interest and desire to help your department and company to succeed. It also puts a spotlight on your value to the business.
[By taking initiative, you are showing other co-workers that you are a team player. Over time, you will earn their respect. You want to make yourself so valuable that they delegate certain tasks to you, and trust you to deliver with 100% confidence. Eventually, you will have ownership over these tasks which only enhances your value in the company. On the days you aren’t present at work, they’ll start to think “how did I ever used to get this done?”]
3. Volunteer for boards
If you have your career set on something beyond what you are doing in your present position, seek out opportunities to volunteer or serve on advisory boards, where you can build a reputation as someone who is passionate and dedicated to your particular target industry.
[I never volunteered or served on any boards, but I did take additional classes to show that I had a keen interest in learning new technologies. I didn’t get much return from the class, and it didn’t impact/improve my work in any way. The bosses were too busy to notice anyway. I don’t think this tip is necessary. It’s hard to build a reputation in industry when you are just starting out. For the more experienced, there are better ways to build a reputation (publish papers, teach at a university, file for new patents, etc).]
4. Sharpen your people skills
Strong interpersonal skills play a crucial role in gaining the respect of your boss and co-workers; they will also attract the notice of outside influencers who might open new doors of opportunity for you. Be friendly, outgoing, and personable. Listen carefully to people, and practice being a clear and effective communicator.
[This one is important, especially when you are first starting out. One of my younger co-workers who is a recent college grad learned quickly to master this skill. By interacting with everyone in the company (not just members of your own team), people start to know you on a first name basis. Before you know it, you’ll start making lots of friends within the company. Without even trying, you’ll be acquainted with folks who wield a lot of power. My savvy co-worker parlayed his friendship with the Director of Applications into a promotion just two years into his career. This is stuff you don’t learn about in school (there’s a reason why most engineers don’t have good people skills)]
5. Be innovative
Never be afraid to think outside the box and put your business acumen to work. Stay on the lookout for creative solutions to problems that will make you — and your boss — look good.
[I took this tip and ran with it. I delivered my own innovations through unique software programs that helped streamline and automate many difficult tasks that people used to do completely by hand. In fact, after 5 years, I’ve basically built my whole career based off this piece of software (it’s been my go-to deliverable in every company I’ve been at). It’s my bread and butter, what I’m good at. It’s helped me earn numerous raises and bonuses. Find something you excel at, and find a way to deploy it as an innovative solution. Even more powerful, get people hooked on your solution to the point they become absolutely dependent on it to do their job.]
6. Find a mentor
Develop mentoring relationships, either inside or outside of your company. Recent studies have shown that four out of five promotions are influenced by a mentor higher up in the company. Mentors are also great sources of information and career guidance.
[Another great tip. Find an older co-worker who you admire and would like to be like someday. Start up conversations with them. Get to know them. Shadow them and become a sponge. Soak up all the knowledge that you can. Most older co-workers like to see enthusiasm and passion from their younger peers. Some may appear guarded at first, but most will be willing to share their knowledge/experience with you, eventually. It takes time to build up this trust, but finding the right mentor is priceless.]
7. Sell yourself
Learn the fine art of self-promotion. If you have had major accomplishments or created successful programs, make sure people know about it — especially those in influential positions who could help you advance professionally. Let it be known that you are seeking a promotion or the next step up in your career.
[This tip is that is easier said than done. It helps if your direct manager/supervisor is the type that likes to promote their own team, but some bosses are just terrible at this. YMMV. Frankly, I find the absolute best way to earn a promotion is to sell yourself… to ANOTHER COMPANY. Your company will always be strapped for cash until the moment they realize you have one foot out the door!]
8. Keep learning
A proven way to advance in your career is to be continually acquiring new knowledge. Stay on top of trends or developments in your field and make sure that your current résumé reflects those needed skills.
[Continual learning is never a bad thing. This one is straight-forward, and applicable to all fields. Once you stop learning, what’s the point?]
9. Expand your network
Strengthen your personal network by joining professional organizations, attending industry conferences, or even volunteering. The more people who are aware of your strengths and abilities, the better your chances of hearing about any new opportunities that might arise.
[This one isn’t too hard to do these days. LinkedIn makes it so easy to network with other professionals, that you almost don’t even have to try anymore. Once you have established a few connections, you’ll probably notice a lot of recruiters start to contact you. I agree that networking is important, but because it’s so easy to do these days, I wouldn’t necessarily spend too much time on it.]
10. Build your reputation
In business, your reputation is the most valuable thing you own. Be known for being dependable, professional, and cooperative. Act and look the part by dressing professionally. Make a name for yourself by attending conferences, delivering speeches, or writing articles.
[This tip goes without saying, especially if you interact with customers. You always want to be known as the person who delivers what they say they will. This one is also important to establish early on in your career. Once your reputation precedes you, you can concentrate more on other things… like planning on how to retire early ;)]