It was more years ago than I’d care to admit, but I vividly remember being 21 years of age.
Beneath a headstrong facade hid a perplexed kid, riddled with nerves about succeeding on the professional road that lay ahead. I concealed these feelings of uncertainty because I thought that’s what would impress an employer: an uber-confident young talent with an unmistakable hunger to get ahead. Surely they would respond well to someone who was outspoken, bold and unmistakably ambitious.
Upon entering the full-time workforce I applied this attitude in droves. While I thought I was doing the right thing, unbeknown to me I was damaging my reputation. It started to become apparent that my colleagues perceived me as somewhat arrogant, closed minded, and difficult to work with.
My career advancement was limping rather than sprinting. I’d watch peers receive promotions while I hovered in the same position, brimming with resentment.
Rationalising it was just a simple case of not finding the right job, an environment that would finally let me shine, I propelled myself down a path of short-term stints in various organisations, becoming increasingly disillusioned every time I job-hopped; where was this professional utopia? It took me a few years to realise that utopia doesn’t exist. It wasn’t the particular organisation, culture or people that were clamping my progress; it was my misguided attitude. My professional disappointments were no one else’s fault but my own. Coming to terms with that wasn’t easy, but ultimately, and thankfully, I did.
Today, I am a CEO. My many missteps as a young professional are a chief reason why I spend a significant amount of my time mentoring young people throughout Australia and abroad. I want to help them avoid making the same mistakes that I did.
During these mentoring sessions I am always reminded of my fledgling missteps, and what I wish I’d known as a young professional. If I were to have a mentoring session with my 21 year old self, here’s what I would I tell that bull-headed young person:
KNOW YOUR IMPACT
Self-awareness in business is paramount. Not identifying or understanding the impact your behaviour has on others is a professional pitfall and will limit your progress. Observe how people respond to you. What is their body language like when you speak or enter a room? If it’s noticeably negative, is there anything you should be doing differently?
This is not about changing who you are as a person: it’s about finding better ways to relate and work with your colleagues. Taking the time to listen, observe, see things from someone else’s point of view is essential to knowing your impact and building solid relationships.
FOCUS ON THE MOMENT
Ambition is great. Blind ambition is not. Constantly focusing on reaching the next level of your career will detract from your responsibilities and relationships at hand. One of the biggest annoyances for any manager is an employee who expects more responsibility before they’ve mastered in their current role. Master your current role and you will be invited to the next level much quicker.
BE GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT
When people are promoted ahead of you don’t let it unsettle you. Jealousy is never, ever, a good look. Believe me, managers are always observing how their employees respond to unfavourable situations. Remaining positive in these situations, using them as motivation to work harder, will be recognised and respected by your superiors.
YOU’RE NOT KIDDING ANYONE
Employers know you’re inexperienced. They know you’re likely anxious about your first foray into professional life. And they know that you want to impress. Their expectations of you won’t be that high for those very reasons, so avoid trying to look like you know all the answers, because they know you don’t.
The first job is about listening, observing and fulfilling requests to the best of your ability. You’re laying the foundation for bigger things — don’t be impatient.
- Understand the impact your behaviour has on others and respond accordingly.
- Focus on doing your current role well and your manager will take notice.
- Don’t be jealous when a colleague is promoted ahead of you, rather use it as motivation to work harder and improve.
- Employees don’t expect you to know everything – so don’t pretend you do.
This article first ran on news.com.au: