Politically motivated and fraught with nonsensical change, the professional world is not a natural fit for ambitious college graduates who leave school expecting results from a logical combination of education and effort. Suddenly, the tenets of success you were taught since kindergarten don’t apply, for getting ahead in the real world may have nothing to do with intelligence or exceeding a set of defined expectations.
Today’s twenty-something employees technically have more occupational choices than previous generations, but since the turbulent economy has limited their options, they face escalating uncertainty about their careers. More employees are seeking counseling than ever before, and job jumping, spurred by stress and dissatisfaction, has become the norm. These six steps may not be what you expected to have to do when you graduated, but your transition will be a lot easier if you take them to heart. Recognize that as a twenty-something employee, there’s no way for you to know everything right away, and in your first job, focus on learning rather than achievement. And now, on to the steps:
- Develop a marketable corporate persona: Think of yourself as a publicist with the task of promoting you. Learn to capitalize on your skills, succinctly assert your achievements, and project a corporate persona — or your most mature, professional, and competent face.
- Establish profitable relationships: Business networking is a valuable tool to gain information, increase your visibility in your field and make connections that will help you move forward in your career. Seek out new contacts and potential mentors whom you like and admire and whose interests you share. On the home front, don’t expect your boss to figure out what you’re all about. Determine her priorities, find out what she wants from you, and brainstorm ways to surpass her expectations.
- Master transferable skills such as goal setting, effective communication, and time management: You might not know exactly what you want to do with your life, but transferable skills will serve you well no matter what future path you decide to pursue. Make your time count now by working with your boss to set specific, reasonable, and attainable goals for your present position that will help you advance to the next level.
- Stay motivated despite trying circumstances: There’s no doubt that the business world can be frustrating, but remember that you can choose your response to your environment. If you make a conscious decision to begin each day with a positive outlook, negative conditions at work can’t take that away from you. Aim to increase your self-awareness so you can better understand your emotional hot buttons.
- Get people to cooperate: Always keep in mind that other people don’t care what you want — they want to know what’s in it for them. By approaching negotiations with an attitude that allows both parties to win, you’ll be more effective at eliciting cooperation and ultimately getting what you want.
- Be proactive about your career growth: Approach your performance review strategically by soliciting feedback on your progress, identifying new goals and growth opportunities and hammering out a long-term promotion plan. When asking your boss for a raise, be prepared with a list of contributions that have positively impacted the bottom line.