Monday, January 26, 2015

What I have learned as a young professional

If you read my last post, you are probably wondering why on God's earth I feel obliged to solicit career advice. However, the truth is that despite some small hiccups along the way, I have found my way to a pretty fulfilling career.  Right after college I had the opportunity to work for a big education tech company as an events coordinator.  I traveled a lot, stayed in fancy suites, and I learned that the demands of executives could always be met if there is money to be spent.  I also learned that my obsessive, perfectionist nature made me pretty damn good at managing logistics, but it also yielded many sleepless nights.  I knew after a year that the marketing side of the events was my real passion.  I relocated from LA to Washington DC to work from the company headquarters.  I was soon promoted and later applied for a job within the marketing department.  I left that company a little over a year ago to work for a higher education media publication for university executives and administrators.  There, I am a digital marketing manager and I generally love my job (there are it's rough days of course).  I get to mentor and manage another employee, I get to be creative, and I get to work with a team of people who are genuinely excited about what we do.

Early in my career (some would argue it is still pretty early), I felt pretty lost.  I had no idea how to transition from school to an office.  I used to sneak out to my car on my lunch break to sleep because my body wasn't used to the long days and long commute.  I was pretty unsure of basically everything I did.  I didn't know when to speak in meetings and didn't feel like I had enough experience to contribute anyway.  I was timid around executives and clients, and I was always unsure of what was too casual for casual Friday.

So I thought I would put together a list of lessons I have learned during my seven years in corporate America.

1) Ask questions.  Even if you think it might be a stupid question, seek out someone you trust and just ask.  Even if you think you've been there too long.

2) Do favors for people when you can, but know when to say "no."  If you are like me, you want to please everyone.  Help people out when you can, but don't be a pushover.  If you think the request is silly or if you have too many other tasks that day, find a kind way to decline.

3) Regarding meetings - speak up wisely, there is no need to force your way into a conversation.  People pay more attention to you when you speak less often, but are precise and thoughtful when you do.

I know I said questions are good, but not always in meetings... :)

4) Be seen.  Attend the happy hours, go to lunch, stop by to say "hello" to colleagues.  Become friends with your coworkers.  You spend the majority of your days with them, work is a lot easier when you are surrounded by people you care about.

5) Be yourself.  Everyone brings something different to the workplace, you don't need to fit into a certain mold to be successful.  I have been told that I am too "nice", and because of that I could never manage a staff or become an executive.  But I bring a level of emotional intelligence that allows me to relate to people in a way that brings out the best in them, a great skill for a manager to have.

6) Admit when you make a mistake or when you don't know something.  Rather than trying to cover up errors, address them head on and present the best options for correcting them.  When I screwed up last week I immediately explained what I had done to the directors of marketing and sales and I offered to prepare an apology email to our clients who were affected.  The response I received was supportive, "thank you for the detailed explanation of the issue" were the words of our head of sales.  People are human and they will understand that you are too.  If they don't, they are assholes and you shouldn't work for them.

7) Take the time to look nice for work.  This doesn't mean you need expensive clothes, it just means to take some time to shower, brush your hair and wear an outfit that you put some thought into.  Dress for the job you want.

8) Don't be a corporate ladder climber.  Schmoozers stand out like sore thumbs.  To "move up", the best thing you can do is simply work hard and try to learn something new everyday.  Keep your eyes open for new opportunities, but don't act like the executives' groupie.  However, finding a mentor is a great idea.  Look for someone you admire, who has a position that you find interesting, and ask if they would have coffee with you to talk about what they do and how they got where they are. 

9) Don't complain about how busy you are.  It is good to be busy, it means you have job security, and it means that you are trusted to get things done.  If you genuinely have too much to do, talk to your manager about your concerns in private.  When quantity increases, quality decreases, your manager should be able to help you prioritize.

10) Maintain a work-life balance.  Like everything in life, too much of something can be detrimental to our health and our minds.  Know when to stop checking emails, and don't be afraid to leave some things for tomorrow.



  1. Always love your posts!!! This is a very good list and I can attest first hand that this is great advice. This may sounds superficial, but the dressing well thing especially resonates with me. I have always worked at places without a real dress code so I've nver had to go out and buy "work clothes". It's hard to resist temptation to show up in leggings and a sweatshirt! But I find that the days I dress nicely, I feel much more confident. And that helps me with the whole "be seen" thing as well as asking questions.

    1. Thanks Cait! Yes, I totally wish I could show up in leggings and uggs - but it is totally worth the extra effort. When I dress the part, I feel the part.

  2. this post makes me so jealous and 1) wish i HAD a career already, and 2) wish I chose a field that wasn't so restrictive and rigid. If I decide that i don't like pediatrics, it's not like I can just make the switch easily without sacrificing like 4 more years before I can switch to another field.

    1. Please don't compare yourself to me! If I did that with some of my friends, I would never have been able to find my own path. I also must admit that I am jealous of you because I always thought I should be a nurse or a therapist. I often think that it would be too late to change careers now, but it is actually never too late. If you actually ended up hating it (which you won't), you could figure out a way to do something else, 4 years is not that long in the grande scheme of life. But I have a good feeling you chose the right path for yourself :)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Steph, that means a lot coming from someone so successful in their own career!