The 7 Most Important Things You'll Take From Any Job
A single paycheck (or 12 or 24) will only get you so far in life. To develop your career, it's important that you're taking away a lot more than that bimonthly direct deposit. By widening your network, becoming a people person, and stimulating your brain, you'll find yourself leaps ahead of those who are just chasing dollar signs. Whether you’re new to the workforce or contemplating a career change, consider these seven important takeaways from any job. If you’re not developing in at least a few of these arenas, it might be time to speak up to your manager and ask for more responsibility, or to look for an alternative position.
Each person’s career experience is different, of course, but the relationships that you build and contacts that you make in your job can be your most valuable takeaways. You may not realize it at the time, but a colleague you work with occasionally (or frequently!) who you’ve made a great impression on might be the one to refer you for your next position at another company. Exchanging business cards at a cocktail party or networking event might lead to a business partner down the line—and perhaps that partnership impresses your future boss and lands you a promotion.
Because of this (and a number of other reasons), it’s important to always be respectful and kind to your colleagues, and show your strengths in the workplace. It’s also essential to maintain the relationships you build—a simple email saying hello to an old colleague every six months will keep you top of mind and update you on what your old coworkers are working on. We also recommend connecting with business contacts on LinkedIn, so no one falls off the map.
Spending time in an office is essential to developing your interpersonal skills. In many workplaces, the majority of your day is spent dealing with people, be it by sending emails to colleagues and clients, making calls, or meeting in person. Whether you like it or not, working is one long endeavor to become “a people person.” Even if you feel a position isn’t challenging for you or interesting to you, if you’ve learned to have a positive attitude in tough situations, to please a demanding manager, to put out fires, to control clients, to add energy to a room, to inspire others, or to earn trust from your superiors, at least your interpersonal skills are better off than when you began.
The name of the last company you worked at might be what gets you an interview, but your experience—along with your demeanor and attitude—is what will land you the job. You should always be able to speak to your past experience in an interview, be it how you solved a problem or how you launched a new business segment or project. And unless you’re taking your first job out of college, your experience—be it in a certain field, with a particular software, or perhaps in a management position—is often what a company hires you for. With that in mind, to ensure that you’re progressing in your career, you should be learning something new and challenging yourself in a new way in each position you take.
The longer you work, the more knowledge you have of your field and of your specialty, simply by default. This is what separates the young bloods from experienced professionals, and it really can't be faked. As you grow in your career, you’ll start to realize that you know a lot more than you thought you did—and more than your résumé lets on—so make an effort to impart your knowledge, know your worth, and stand up for it. No one gets ahead by being modest.
Some people are born with confidence (lucky them!), but for others it takes experience and knowledge (see above) to develop it. Nevertheless, growing your confidence is crucial to progressing in your career. It’s vital to management roles (and what your boss is looking for in a leader), as well when it comes to negotiating with clients, speaking in public, and earning what you deserve. If you feel you need to grow in this area, it’s worth considering a local workshop or even an online seminar on the subject—at the very least, pick up a book!
A tax-advantage account like a 401(K) or 403(B) is one of the most critical components of your retirement savings, as it’s one of the smartest ways to protect yourself from taxes and also an opportunity to earn more (if your employer offers matching). And by contributing early, you give your money even more of an opportunity to compound (or to make more money over time). So even if you’re totally unhappy in your position or your first job is not on your intended career path, if you’re contributing to a workplace savings account, at least you can take comfort in the fact that you’re setting yourself up wisely for the future financially.
As much as we hate to admit it, names can hold a lot of cachet. Despite how hellish or lackluster it may have been for you, a short- or long-term position at a major national corporation can land you a choice interview, and working on a project for a sexy brand may impress a potential future client. Don’t be shy about marketing this experience on your résumé and online portfolios. That said, brand recognition will only take you so far: You have to be able to do the work and in the end, your skills—be they technical, interpersonal, time-management, or management skills—are what will set you apart and ultimately help you succeed.
What would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below.