Disclaimer: This advice isn’t an original creation from my brain or tips that I’ve generated based on my own experiences. These are simply snippets of advice that I’ve gained over the years from colleagues, mentors and supervisors.
1. Run Toward the Fire
Unstable positions are the best experiences. When a company is going through a rough spot, there’s more work to go around, more job opportunities and you learn to work under pressure. So don’t run away from an ideal job description just because the company looks like a mess.
This also applies to internships and jobs that you dislike. You may hate it while you’re there, but I promise you — you learn the most from a bad experience. After a few months doing something you hate, you will know more about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses than any good experience could ever teach you.
2. Say yes/Say no
ALWAYS say yes to interesting opportunities. But say no to crappy assignments and don’t take on things that don’t interest you or seem pointless. I have to admit this piece of advice shocked me coming from a supervisor to a lowly peon.
I think this is great advice for seasoned professionals — you have to learn to say no, or you will end up with too much work and not enough time.
But if you’re an intern or a new hire, most of the time you really don’t have the opportunity to say no. My opinion is that when you’re the low man on the totem pole, you should say YES as often as possible (while still being honest with yourself and your superiors about the amount of time you have).
Even a seemingly silly or useless project could expose you to someone or something that will lead you to a full-time position. As an intern or entry-level careerist, you should soak up as much information as possible and meet as many people as you can. You never know when an opportunity will strike, and it just might be when you’re passing out flyers in the lobby.
3. The myth of 110% — there is no such thing.
Focus on giving 100% and nothing more. Take opportunities when they arise, but also know when a project isn’t a good use of your time. Say no, but offer a solution. Try something like: “I don’t feel like I have time to project manage this on my own, and I want to be fair to you. Could I work with (another intern) or (a supervisor) so we can tackle this together?
And this brings me to #4…
4. Team up with peers rather than competing
This is particularly an issue in leadership development programs and summer internships. Everyone is trying so hard to stand out they forget they are also being judged on how well they can work together and as part of a team.
Even when you have a full-time job, you will have to work with people you may compete against in the future for a position. Don’t let competition derail your team work. Peers can be a great source of new skill sets and inside knowledge don’t over look them.
Although I consider myself competitive in many aspects, this has never really been a problem for me — though I’ve encountered it many times throughout my collection of internships. There always seems to be that one intern who wants to stand out so badly, that they’ll step on anyone and everyone to get to the top. But here’s the caveat, it rarely works. Your peers’ perception of you matters whether you like it or not.
5. Recognize your weaknesses and try to work on them whenever possible.
As a young professional you should know your weaknesses. And no, I don’t mean the BS ones that you give in a job interview only to turn into a positive. I mean your real, raw and serious shortcomings. Figure out what’s keeping you from getting your dream job and fix it. Mine are patience and public speaking. In a corporate environment, both of these are crucial and in my current position I am challenging these skills constantly which is a huge help.
But on the flip side…
6 . Recognize your strengths and your worth.
Know what your good at and don’t be shy about it. Try: “Yes I can do that.” instead of “I think so” when a supervisor asks you to take on something knew. Own your skills and be your own champion. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will?
7. Put yourself out of your comfort zone.
This piece of advice really stuck with me. It sounds so simple, but yet it is easier said than done.
For me particularly, I like to play it safe. I know my strengths and weaknesses (see #6 and 7 above) and I tend to choose projects and roles that fit well into what I know I am capable of. I resist change, and I don’t try new things as often as I should — even outside of work! This piece of advice came from a supervisor that I really admire, so it’s something I’m actively working on.
8. Focus on outcomes and accomplishments and not just “doing your job”
To excel and succeed in any position you have to go above and beyond what is asked. I learned this the hard way at my very first internship. It was an unpaid position where I received class credit and thus, a grade.
But when a boldfaced B reared it’s ugly face on my transcript I couldn’t understand why. “I did everything he asked of me!” But that was exactly the problem.
9. Strive for excellence and take pride in everything you do — big or small
As an intern or a recent grad, you’re going to do some less than exciting work and some things that you down right hate. But when you excel at even the most menial tasks, people will take notice and your level of work will increase. Don’t take any project for granted.
10. Talent Always Wins
The right people will move ahead and end up in the best positions.That’s what interview are for and it makes me so frustrated when people obsess over the “perfect” answers to the commonly asked interview questions.
Interviews are designed to get to know you. Not some fabricated version of you that you think is what the HR manager is looking for. The interviewers job is to find the right person for the position.
And if you’re shooting for a promotion, where they already know you — it’s not about who works harder, it’s about who has the right personality, skill set and mentality for the job. Sometimes you may not even understand why someone thinks you’re great at something or not so much — sometimes others can see things about you that you can’t. Learn your strengths by listening to what others have to say about you. Play to your strengths, and as you move up the ladder, you will build a team of professionals that make up for the qualities you lack.
That’s it! I hope some of these tips stick with you like they did with me. Got any other tips to share? I’d love to hear them!