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What I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Career

Katrina Brittingham -- Navigating a world of career options: professional intel from a seasoned full-time millennial.

This is a guest post by the daughter of Steve Denning, Stephanie Denning, who writes about leadership issues from a millennial perspective. The views expressed here are her own. Courtesy of VentureReady.

Most of us today, millennials in particular, equate work with meaning. And from afar, it sounds inspirational. But in practice, it’s a lot messier. After graduation, millennials set off to pursue a career that they hope will match their fantasies. The reality they’re faced with is a little less idyllic. Graduation is a daunting thing with the array of career options that await. To navigate a career today, especially since career-switching is so common, is a little like blindfoldedly swinging at a piñata: You’ll have a few hits, and a lot of misses.

I would know. I am, myself, a millennial trying to navigate this new world of career options. In an attempt to understand it better myself, I started to mine my own experience and that of my friends to see if I could learn something, anything, to apply to my career that lies ahead.

1. Your Experience Does Matter

The commonly accepted assumption is that millennials today have more career options available to them than their parents. And that might be true… right after graduation. When you have little to no experience to speak of. Effectively tabula rasa.

Unfortunately, the rest of your career isn’t quite so neat. The dirty little secret of any career trajectory is your experience holds an enormous amount of weight on what you do next. This can be both a blessing, if you have the right experience, or a curse, if you don’t. That first job you take after college—and every subsequent job after it—increasingly matter.

There is one glaring reason for this: While companies and jobs have evolved, hiring is largely unchanged. Experience is key. But there’s an awful lot of forecasting involved in this formula. Few of us know the person we want to become in our 20s. Tellingly, most of us treat our 20s as a time of discovery. We think, what is it exactly I want to do? But while you’re busy contemplating this existential question, hiring departments take no notice.

Don’t let your career atrophy while you’re trying to figure out what you want to do. Instead, find work in a growth area, whether it be the industry, the company, the division or your boss. Growth will most always be a good, no matter where you want to go.

2. You Leave A Job Too Soon

Job-hopping has become common practice among millennials. Maybe even falsely advertised as a best practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report in September 2014 stating workers 24-34 held a median tenure of three years in 2014 to date.

Take a step back, three years really isn’t a long time. Less time than a college career. Realistically, it takes about a year to truly acclimate to any new job — between culture, politics, proving yourself, getting your bearing on what the work even entails.

People mistakenly assume that a job is fixed; that that first year is reflective of all the future years to come. But jobs evolve as changes take place in any company. Opportunities come and go. And three years is a very small window to see the full range of those opportunities.

Nowhere have I seen more evidence of this phenomenon than in a quick comparison between friends who have left their jobs versus those who have stayed.

That’s not to say the ones with longer tenure love their job every single day. There will be dark days, buoyed by good ones. Job enjoyment is never linear; it takes the shape of a sinusoidal curve, a series of ups and downs.

That’s where most millennials get tripped up. We focus on job enjoyment more than learning opportunities. In the long run though, learning has a higher return on your investment of time than simply pursuing the jobs you enjoy the most. Only leave when you believe you’ve exhausted all the opportunities before you to learn.

3. You Have A Unique Career Trajectory

Because there’s no road map to guide us through our careers, most of us latch on to stories of career success. We study stories of success to try to glean the formula behind that success. And then we begin to emulate it. You think, well if I want to be the bigwig in Silicon Valley, you must drop out of school. Or if you want to work in business, you need an MBA. What you soon learn is emulating anyone else’s path will only get you so far. At some point, you have to venture out on your own and start to follow your own instinct. You are the only one that can truly evaluate an opportunity.

I’ve always admired Michael Lewis. And for a long time, I felt I needed to follow suit in his path. But I never much liked finance, and having interned, was fairly sure I had no interest in working in it either. But it took time for me to figure out that while I was trying to become the next Michael Lewis, I was losing sight of becoming myself.

Follow what you find interesting like a dog following that invisible scent. Even if it’s something small and seemingly insignificant, like a side project, follow it, follow it, follow it. Following your interests, no matter how small, no matter how little time you can allocate to it, will eventually lead you to where you want to go.

Some Final Thoughts

I venture to write about career advice because most millennials, unlike many past generations, seek ever-elusive “meaning” in a job. At worst, we want to find a job we really like, and at best, one we love. It can often feel like a Herculean effort to undertake finding the right job. In an effort to minimize that effort, what I’ve gathered here is the best intel I’ve come across.

These lessons have never failed me in my own experience, and I hope, maybe naively, that they might serve you too.

Courtesy of Katrina Brittingham, VentureReady.

Katrina Brittingham is master level business and accounting professional, certified professional resume writer, and gold designated career coach. She is board member for The National Resume Writer’s Association. She is featured in “Modernize Your Resume,” various career-related, and online blogs/publications. Incorporating her business acumen, Katrina is sought after as an expert in resume writing, LinkedIn profiles, interview readiness, and job search strategies. Katrina is the owner of VentureReady LLC, an award-winning career services firm dedicated to assisting entry-level to C-suite executives take the next step in the journey of their careers paths. Connect with Katrina on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter

© 2018 Katrina Brittingham

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