When I was a little girl, I was the daydreamer in the classroom: head in the clouds, chin nestled into the palms of my hands. I’d imagine myself as this big shot, high-flying businesswoman.
Like a triumphant movie moment, she’s independent-organised-but-has-time-to-look-smoking-hot. She glides into the building in power heels, head held high. Her hair smells of some L’Oreal advert. Her flustered employees crowd around her as she answers their queries in her quick-witted state. Oh, she knows she’s worth it.
Sometime later, I shuffle into the lift in pumps that I keep forgetting to throw out, eyes half open, while trying to unknot my tangled I-just-out-of-bed-so-please-f**k-off hair. I land into the office, screaming every obscurity to myself. ‘Oh F, I haven’t done this! Oh b*llocks, I forgot this!’.
I would love to tell you that my early career was just like my fantasied movie. I wasn’t quite prepared for reality when I graduated. Here’s my ultimate guide on building a happier career.
Be confident in your abilities
Remember, you went through studies, research, tedious application process and interview/pitch to get where you are. The most important thing I would have told myself was to know my worth. Know what you want and have faith that you deserve it. Be kind to yourself; you deserve this role. On day one into my graduate job, I received my first set of emails, and I overanalysed Every. Word. It felt like no matter what the email said, I felt like everyone in the business didn’t like me. Today, I don’t overanalyse in the unnecessary; I’m there to work to the best of my ability, make a positive contribution and get paid. You’re not going to get on with everyone, that’s just business. Own it through your work.
Learn how to manage upwards
Learn how to manage your manager/client. And not in an I’m-a-smartass-I’m-trying-take-your-job kind of way (that will result in the opposite effect). Regardless of whether you plan to stay or leave in some time, learn how your manager works. Some will want you to get the job done, and others will appreciate social interaction more than others. Some will request pieces of work ad-hoc and others will set deadlines. Managers are humans too, they’ll have good days and bad days, but knowing how to adapt to their organisational and communication style will make a heck of a difference.
Work smart, not hard
Society has taught us that the number of hours you input is directly proportional to the amount of productive output that you produce. Well, F that. Working smart is about having the self-awareness about your work style, as opposed to increasing your (ineffective and inefficient) hours. I wrote about this in detail here.
Surround yourself with supportive people
One of my biggest failings in life is thinking that I can do everything on my own. To grow in your job, you need to surround yourself with people who will help you do that. The workplaces I’ve enjoyed are the ones who had the most cohesive teams. Alongside your day-to-day role, support your colleagues; you are all working towards a common goal. A good working relationship is a two-way street: a good manager will be supportive, listen to what you have to say, and take action. A bad manager will not trust you, be controlling, have no interest in what you have to say or your development. If you don’t get along with your manager, then there will be someone else in the company who you can source as a mentor. I look for people who ignite my creativity, encourage me to work harder and challenge me.
Whether you have spotted a few things that could be improved, or have some great ideas, you should feel comfortable to speak up (if you feel like you can’t, then I’ve learnt the hard way that you’re probably in a weak environment). The saying, ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’, is true in this case. Asking questions will enable you to be better at your job and if said in front of the right people, can benefit you in terms of career progression. I’ve said plenty of silly things, but I rather receive the correct answer than for the issues not to be resolved.
Gossip, politics and red tape lurks in every organisation, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s straightforward to become close friends with someone in your company, but unless you fully trust them, avoid saying anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to hear. The same applies to clients.
When it comes to your career, there’s a lot of pressure to do well. My parents had high expectations, and I watched them work hard to provide for us. But, if there’s one piece of advice I could give, remember that no amount of money is worth more than your health, so look after yourself. Your career will only work if you put you, first.
I would love to hear your career experiences so far and your most important words of advice! If I’ve missed a key tip, feel free to leave me a comment. I always reply when I can.
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