Career Lessons I’ve Learned as a Young Professional

The idea for this blog post came during a chat with a former colleague, when she asked if I could share “what I’ve learned navigating my career as a curious and talented young professional.” I felt honored that she used those words to describe me, and more so, that she challenged me to reflect on my journey.

I want to add that I’m not a career coach; but, I do hope that what I’m about to share can also guide someone out there.

I want to begin by sharing a little story with you:

When I graduated from college a few years ago, I felt like I had my career all figured out. I thought to myself, “when I’m through with undergraduate school, I’ll get a good job at company X. I’ll work there for a few years, and then I’ll apply to graduate school. Once I’m done with grad school, I’ll be able to get my dream job at Company Y. I’ll rise through the ranks, earn a lot of money, and I’ll be happy.”

It’s almost eight years since I graduated from college, and I don’t feel like I’m close to what I imagined for my career. Maybe if I had known what I know now, things would be different. However, I am grateful for the journey so far. I think that’s because I’ve chosen to focus on the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: Develop the right relationships

While in undergraduate school, I remember that I made friends with just about anybody. From classmates, roommates, professors, to staff at the library, cafeteria, and administrative offices. At that time, I was more interested in developing casual relationships with people. As a result, I felt supported in whatever I did or needed. For example, I found it easy to get good recommendation letters from my professors when I was applying to grad school. On a lighter note, I usually received extra portions of food from those working at the school’s cafeteria, whether I asked for it or not. 🙂

However, I wasn’t intentional about developing the right relationships for my career. I also thought that I’d be able to land a good job based on merit. I was wrong! So I ended up in jobs that I wasn’t happy with because I hadn’t built relationships where it was necessary. 

As we know, a professional setting works quite differently from a school. In school, good grades can lead to many opportunities. In a professional environment, it’s the people you know that lead to opportunities.

In navigating my career, I’ve now learned the importance of building professional relationships with people, especially the ones I meet at networking events, the ones I work with, and the ones in my industry. I have received excellent advice and gotten many amazing opportunities from those meaningful relationships that I have built.

I’ve also learned that the best time to build an authentic professional relationship is when you don’t need anything. People are more likely to warm up to you when you don’t need anything from them. Build relationships with people, regardless of age, race or ethnicity, gender, or background. Make an effort to connect with them and create value to them, and your dream job might just be around the corner—at least, that’s what I like to tell myself.

Lesson #2: Rise Above Rejections

If you’ve ever felt rejected by a person you like, imagine that same feeling for a job that you want. At many points during my job hunt, I wondered whether those employers saw my job applications. It often seemed like I was wasting my time applying to those positions. If my résumé made it through the application system, and I got called for an interview, it made me feel like I had won a marathon.

Rejections can be challenging to accept, especially if you put in a lot of effort to prepare for the interviews. On one occasion, an interview process extended across two months. It started with a phone interview, which led to the first in-person interview with the team, and the second one with the hiring manager. After the final interview, I didn’t hear back from anyone, even after sending my ‘Thank You’ emails to each interviewer. It wasn’t until I reached out again that they gave me the rejection update. I felt terrible. Those rejections affected the better part of me until I learned to stop taking them personally.

I have now learned to handle rejections differently. Ask for feedback, if possible, and then reflect on it—Do you agree with the feedback? Were you rejected because of something you can work on or because of something outside your control? Choose to see rejections as opportunities to develop yourself, show your strengths, and curate your unique value proposition.

Lesson #3: Do What You Love

As cliché as this sounds, not many people can live by it. Some people find it hard to leave jobs that they are unhappy with—maybe for financial reasons or for certain perks that they enjoy. 

Last year, I was in a clothing store when I overheard two ladies’ discussion. I could hear them clearly because we were viewing the same clothing rack. Let me call them Lady A and Lady B. So Lady A said that she was job hunting while Lady B said she’s a Certified Public Accountant. From their conversation, I gathered that Lady B was quite unhappy with her job. She went on and on about how exhausting her job was but stated that she liked her salary. What an irony! One would have expected Lady A to be the one complaining about her job situation.

The only reason for sharing this story is to show that there are people stuck in jobs that they do not enjoy. I was in a similar situation, too, until I transitioned into what I do now and love—Human Resources Management. So I know what it feels like to do a job you do not enjoy. More importantly, I’ve learned that no financial reward is worth the wasted years spent in an unhappy career.

What are your thoughts on these lessons? What lessons have you learned in your career?

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