Before we say anything else, let’s get one thing straight: there is no such thing as a linear or “right” career path. However, there are a few things you can (and should) avoid early on in your career that could end up limiting your opportunities down the line.
Consider this your guide for avoiding those missteps and replacing them with the success habits that will keep you on track toward achieving your dream career (even if you aren’t sure what your dream career looks like yet).
1. Leaving a Big Company to “Figure Things Out”
One big mistake people often make when they are just starting out is getting “grass is greener” syndrome and hopping around to different orgs in search of resolution. It’s common to feel a little disoriented or impatient to advance your career, but don’t let those feelings sabotage the opportunities that may already be at your fingertips.
In the words of The Forem’s CEO, Alli Young, “a big company is a sandbox for your career.” If something doesn’t feel fulfilling about your work, think critically about why that may be. Could you ask your manager for more work that you enjoy? Could you move to a different department with a new manager? A different team with new colleagues?
Especially if you’re employed at a complex organization with room for horizontal growth, don’t take your resources for granted. Leveraging the network you’ve already established to help guide you through those early phases of self-discovery will prove invaluable in the long run.
Of course, if there are red flags abound, or you don’t have room to pivot, make your exit. But: be careful about developing an industry reputation for job-hopping. There is a lot you can learn under one roof. Start there first.
2. Neglecting Your Peer-Level Network
When most people hear the term “networking”, they envision awkward cocktail hours where employees circle to schmooze the higher-ups.
Ditch that notion. Nobody networks effectively this way. On the contrary, networking is about building authentic relationships. And who better to start with than your peers and colleagues?
Yes, we know what you might be thinking: but I want to advance my career…my peers don’t have the power to help me do that…
First off, stop thinking about networking as a transaction. Remember that part about building authentic relationships? Whether you end up getting something out of your connections or not is irrelevant. But even so, you’re far less likely to get a sincere sponsorship from someone down the line if they suspect your intentions are solely self serving.
Second, don’t underestimate your peers and their potential. When you establish strong connections early on in your career, you get to grow alongside those people and help one another along the way. You never know where your peers may end up in five or ten years, or how much weight their recommendation may hold for future opportunities.
Reaching out to senior leadership is fine if you’re looking for guidance (or aligning with stakeholders for an opportunity), but it’s important to acknowledge where you are at in your career (and embrace it). Don’t neglect the circle you come in contact with the most.
3. “Waiting Your Turn” for Promotions or Opportunities
There’s also a fallacy that you should play the sole role of “sponge” for the early phases of your career. Yes, you will learn a TON when you are just getting your feet wet, but it’s a mistake to assume you don’t have anything yet to offer, or you’re “too soon to the game” to start planning for that next level up.
You can establish yourself as a leader in any role, no matter your seniority. While you may not have cutting edge industry insights to offer just yet, we assure you: there is plenty in your bank of knowledge that is worth sharing.
(*And that you need to start sharing now if you want to build momentum for your career.)
Start with understanding your personal brand. This is how others perceive you, and you build it by leaning into your strengths and your passions. When you know and trust what makes you an asset at your org, you’ll feel empowered to step up and share those things as a valuable resource to your team.
Your personal brand will evolve over time as you grow and learn, but always self-advocate for whatever strengths that you have and that are developing in real time. Whether there is an immediate opportunity on the table that you are interested in or not, if you begin your career by taking a back seat at work, you’re only going to diminish the opportunities available to you down the road.
Bottom line: you don’t need to have everything “figured out” on day one. Your whole career will be a series of personal discoveries and professional developments. But whether you have a clear goal in mind or you’re questioning your direction, always lead from the heart. The only “successful” career is one where you love what you do and feel connected to your values.