When you start your career

My little cousin received a placement offer last week, and I was proud of him. He was asked to join a prestigious Indian IT company immediately, an offer that would have made almost anyone in the industry stand on one foot and beg. The sensible, thoughtful kid that he is, he politely told them that he was preparing for GATE, and would they consider giving him a later date, a few months down the line? They agreed, and a good boy did not come last.

I am doing him no favors by referring to a 20-year old as a boy or kid, but to me he will always remain one. I am impressed by the maturity he has shown at this age! It set me thinking about my own experiences, both when I was 20, and when I first started working, and these are some reflections, in no particular order.

As I neared the end of my college days, I was stressed by the idea of having to find myself a job, and to work. While I was confident I could do it, I had no clue what “it” meant. Would it be filing and pushing papers for all eternity? What did people do at their jobs all day, anyway?

I eventually entered the workforce, through a dark tunnel of failed campus interviews, unclear expectations, and sheer desperation. My first job was with a small HR consultancy. Just one man, whose M.O. did not give me much confidence from the beginning. Plus I quickly realized I did not want to be there, and I heard about another opening and moved on to the more established corporate world.

It took some planning and effort, and many false starts, and some luck, before I got to where I am, doing a job that I love and that lets me use my strengths while also learning something new everyday.

So what advice do I have for my cousin as he starts this new phase?

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation counts, whether you are sending a job application, attending an interview or group discussion, or negotiating an offer. Learn the skills that will make you better at these key activities, and prepare for each step as thoroughly as you can. People have lost opportunities for being under-prepared, never for being over-prepared.
  2. Go with a learning mindset. Soon after start working, people become impatient: to move fast up the career ladder, to switch jobs to a better company, to make more money, to have all the trappings of ‘success’. While there is nothing wrong with being impatient, also be prepared for the dark, long days of slogging away without an end in sight. The ‘unfair’ decisions, on promotions or job offers, that lie ahead, and make you question your competence. The very real times when you realize what you know is not enough, and you need to learn more and do more. These times are what make the good times even more sweet. You know you have earned it for all the late nights and long slogs that you have uncomplainingly put in through the years.
  3. Attitude matters. No one wants to work with an entitled jerk. As Tina Fey writes in Bossypants, you want creative writers, but you also want them to be nice people, because everyone works late and you don’t want to run into jerks in the corridor in the middle of the night. (Again, I paraphrase, but you get my point). Treat everyone with respect. Be the colleague everyone wants to work with, because you have something to contribute, and you do it without complaint.
  4. Always remember your why. Your career is a large part of your life, and no one goes through it without some self-doubt, without wondering if they are on the right track and doing the right things. Entire industries are being disrupted. So keep in mind why you work-  the money, the friends, the sense of accomplishment, or the desire to do something meaningful with your life. It will change through your life, but check back in with yourself occasionally, and verify that you are still following your true north.
  5. Set yourself big goals. Don’t hold back, don’t hide in the shadows, push yourself more than you though possible. Your own courage and resilience will surprise you.
  6. Enjoy every moment. The good, the bad, the ugly – it is all worth it in the end. And if you don’t savour each day, you will not enjoy your life at all.

This post turned out longer than I meant it to be. I am sure this is not an exhaustive list, just someplace to start. Wish you all the luck in the world of work, bro!

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