Experts predict that by 2020, millennials will make up about 35% of the global workforce, with Gen Z making up another 24%. As our generation take over the workforce, we have to ask ourselves this question — how many of us are truly ready for our careers? More than a decade in school has barely prepared me for a 50-year career. We could practice writing our resumes and role-play our way into interviews, but not much was done to prepare us for the road ahead.
Job satisfaction, career progression and stability, increasing income, opportunities to work abroad — just some of the things that we want for our careers. We know what we want, but do we know what we need to do to get them?
If you are in your first job, I hope you will find this guide helpful and informative.
Build a career around your talent
You may have heard of the advice to “do what you love”. Many young people could consider pursuing careers based on their passions or build a job around their hobbies thinking that it will be easy to go to work knowing that you would be doing something you love.
Generally, that is bad advice. When you add the pressures of growing a startup and achieving results as fast as possible, the joy of pursuing a hobby or a passion can vanish rather quickly. Leave hobbies as they are— something you do on the side to make you happy. Don’t bring performance pressure into your hobbies.
Instead, discover your talents — abilities or skills that you have a natural aptitude in that allow you to be better at a job than the average person, even though you may not necessary enjoy the job. Talents are what you can do to yield more results with minimal time and resource investment.
Consider talent-market fit
Talent-market fit refers to how exceptional your talent is for an organization+ how much the industry demands and is willing to pay for your particular set of skills and talents.
Ideally, you want to have talents and skills that will set you apart from other candidates in the market. Factors to consider about talent:
- Competency: Are your skills difficult to acquire and master? Are they transferable across different industries?
- Certifications & accolades: Can you get formal training and certifications for your skills? Can you compete in competitions or hackathons?
- Growth and development: Are you able to pick up complementary skills easily and quickly?
As industries grow and shrink, the demand for talents can change quickly too. Factors to consider about market:
- Industry/vertical growth: Is the industry or vertical is growing or shrinking? Is there more or less money invested?
- Jobs growth: Are there more demand for these roles? Is this role slowly evolving into other roles?
- Career progression and mobility: Are you able to observe career progression for your desired role?
Develop a long-term perspective
Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, believes that it is important to develop a career that has a compounding effect, as most careers progress relatively linearly:
“You don’t want to be in a career where people who have been doing it for two years can be as effective as people who have been doing it for twenty. As your career progresses, each unit of work you do should generate more and more results.”
Avoid depending for anyone else for your career. Your HR managers, team leads and mentors could contribute to your career but you alone must take ownership of your growth and learning. You should not assume everyone will make decisions with your best interests.
In the first few years of your career, be proactive and invest time to spot technical gaps in your skill sets and how you can pick up complementary skills to enhance your efficiency and competitiveness. To do this, find mentors outside your organization to gain insights into how another company of a different size tackles certain challenges, or simply do research on new skills you can pick up to advance your career.
Lastly, how you think about your career is very important. Your mindset must shift from the ‘nine-to-five’ (task-driven mindset) to one that reflects a long-term perspective (objective-driven mindset). When we are myopic with our careers, focusing only on checking off our daily to-do lists, we may not see where our careers are headed to or understand how these responsibilities will contribute to our careers in the bigger picture.
Know what satisfies you at your job and work towards maximising your happiness with a goal. When you have drafted a sufficiently audacious goal, plan how you can take steps to achieve it. With a long-term plan, it should help you see that the daily tasks not as dreadful obstacles, but as little steps that will get you to where you want to be.
Produce excellence consistently
The ability to produce excellent work consistently is an underrated virtue. Some people often take too long aiming for a big break only to find themselves overwhelmed or defeated when things do not go according to plan. Even if we achieve certain success with a big project, we could find ourselves burnt out and fatigued right after, unable to keep up with the same pace for an extended period of time.
It is important for young professionals to start by getting the small things right. If we never get the small things right, we will never do the big things right. Small tasks done well gives us the momentum and confidence to tackle many more tasks while building our expertise in the domain.
Every profession requires the dedication and sacrifice of countless hours to perfect and master, to get the little things right every time and to improve on every little detail. While work-life balance is important, being able to commit time and energy into meaningful and fulfilling work can be a great joy to behold.
Invest in yourself
There are two specific areas that you should invest your time and energy in — your portfolio and your network. These two areas will compound and pay off many times over in the long run, creating valuable personal equity that is transferable across companies and probably even industries.
Portfolios are not just for designers. As you build up expertise through various projects completed in your current capacity, ensure that you do proper documentation and start a portfolio. You can use the following format to build one entry for a past project.
- Start with a short introduction of your company
Bumblebee is a marketplace for fresh produce based in San Francisco, a mobile app platform aggregating produce from farmers’ markets and crop owners, delivered straight to our customers.
- Explain the problem statement faced
Our marketing efforts were plateauing. We were working with a tight budget to bring in more users, but because of a few cases where customers were sent rotten fruit and vegetables, the churn rate for our marketplace had started to rise. There was an urgent need to build trust with our users in our quality fresh produce.
- Elaborate on your approach to tackle the problem statement
As the CMO, I led my team in an activation campaign by organizing the largest farmers’ market in Palo Alto. We flew in some of the largest crop producers in the country along with their best produce. We wanted to show prospective users the quality and freshness of these produce, and how Bumblebee can help bring these goods to their doorsteps daily.
- Showcase the results of your solution, highlighting key figures to demonstrate your impact
Through our social media and influencer campaigns, about 25,000 residents showed up at our farmers’ market and our merchants made a total of $79,500. Through this campaign, not only did we secure top crop producers to supply Bumblebee, we have also gained more than 300,000 organic social media impressions and 45,000 new app downloads. Because of the successful campaign, the churn rate of the marketplace has also dropped significantly.
Your future clients or employers may be interested to know which clients you worked for, or which companies you worked in, but showing them how you approach problems and how you measure results clearly can set you apart as an effective problem solver and critical thinker.
You should also consider working on side projects. If you are a developer, designer or marketer, working on side hustles, developing niche ideas or even helping to organize community events can help build your portfolio up within a short period of time.
Building a network is more than just collecting name cards from a business conference or chit-chatting at networking events. When you establish meaningful relationships with people within the industry, you may discover more resources and opportunities in the form of partnership collaborations, career opportunities and even speaking engagements at industry events.
One great way to build meaningful connections is to start with the people closest to you professionally — your colleagues. Always be eager to help people solve their problems and help them grow. You can challenge their ideas tactfully and assist with the brainstorming, but you should definitely avoid helping them do their work if they could do it themselves. You want to be known as the people who cares deeply for the people you work with, not a pushover.
One final tip to build your network is to never have lunch alone. Lunch time at work is a great time to get to know your colleagues and teammates on a personal level. To establish and manage meaningful relationships, build strong rapport by understanding their communication habits, hobbies, passions, and aspirations. If you are managing a team, spending time to know your team members personally can be a great investment, as this rapport can help relieve any work-related friction and increase collaboration.
Building a career is no easy feat. In my personal opinion, while it can be extremely tough to establish a career, hard work and talent compounds, and the earlier we work hard, the more benefits and advantage we can accumulate over time.