4 questions from a reader – Advice for Young Professionals

When folks start coming to you for ‘advice for young professionals‘, it’s time to concede that 37 is in fact ancient and it’s time to give up on your dreams of becoming a break-dance contestant on America’s Got Talent.

Here’s a recent chat I had with Jacqueline Cavalheiro (Student Awards) of Humber College in Toronto.

You know you wished you had the guts.

Laugh all you want bro.  You know you wish you had the guts.

JC:  What is the most important thing a young professional should look for when searching for the right company?

MM:  First of all decide what you want before you apply anywhere.  Do you want to develop a particular skill, learn a particular process or cultivate a particular network?  No matter what the industry is or what the company is, 80% of the work will be repetitive stuff.  What ‘task’ do you want to do every day?  It’s not the company that determines how happy you’ll be – it’s what you do every day and the type of interactions you have every day that will determine how happy you’ll be.  And if you’re happy, work is not work and even by accident, you’ll do better than the next guy who hates his job.  The best way to know about a company is to talk to the people who are in the role you want to be in.  Linked-In is good for that.

JC:  What is the most common mistake young professionals make in their careers?

MM:  The most common mistake?  Thinking that every career decision is the be-all and end all.  It’s not.  You’ll have numerous chances to reboot and even what you ultimately want changes as you gain more insight.  The most common mistake is taking advice from a limited number of sources.  Get advice from everybody by being somebody everybody wants to see do well.  Then filter, filter, filter.    In my opinion, the biggest mistake is not having a defined end-game for each job. It’s not about 5 year plans.  It’s about 6 month plans and 1 year plans.  What needs to happen in the next 6 months for you to say it was a good six months?  That’s key.  Define what success looks like in small time frames so when you attain it, you know you’ve progressed. Working for a company is a two-way street.  Once you deliver, you need to expect to be compensated in a way that is satisfactory to you.  Always think about how to up-sell what you’ve learned the last 6 months.  Whatever skill-set you have right now is valuable to enough buyers that will allow you to have a great life.  Being great at one thing is better than being sorta good at ten things.

JC:  What is one of the most annoying traits of a young professional?

MM:  Being dependent.  People want to work with people as peers – they don’t want to hire or work with people who need constant hand-holding.  A good boss doesn’t want a gopher.  A good boss wants a partner who thinks independently and constantly offers up new ways to look at old problems.  Always speak up. 

JC:  What would be one piece of advice every young professional should know?

MM:  Be somebody others want to help.  Be interesting to other people by being interested in other people.   Don’t keep score.  Ask for as much help as you can but also give as much help as you can afford.  Opportunities are limitless, even if they are not immediately apparent.  This is totally cheesy and a rehash of Dale Carnegie but it does work.   But don’t be a pushover either and know what to say ‘No’ to.

Oh – one more thing.  Think about creating something.  Think about what you did at Humber.  Think about the process and how you made it better.  Then package it into a saleable ‘product’.  Perhaps you can sell it to other schools or other non-profits.  Access to people is easier than ever.  It’s persistence that’s the difference.

Loved the chat.  Good luck Jacqueline!

MM