5 Steps to Early Career Success

By | 7 months ago

You’re at the point where you’ve accepted a job offer. How do you feel? Excited? Nervous? Confident about what to expect? Unsure of what it will be like? A combination of these feelings—and more?

My guess is it’s probably the latter, and for good reason. School teaches you theory; work teaches how things work in the real world. You may be able to cut a class at school, but there is no cutting for job responsibilities. You’ve probably heard that before, but how are you preparing for the shift?

One of the most important valuable things we can tell you is that every firm has its own culture and norms. You may have gotten some impressions about this during the interview process, even if you weren’t really paying much attention:

  • Did staff seem relaxed and friendly?
  • Were partners’ doors open or closed?
  • Did your interviews go as scheduled or did you have to wait longer than planned between every meeting?
  • How did you hear that you got the job? An email from HR or a call from your new manager?

These aren’t right or wrong questions. Your answers can guide you about what to expect at the firm you are joining. If it is a more traditional firm, for example, there might be set work hours while a more laid back firm might give you a choice of hours. (That doesn’t mean you’ll have fewer hours; it only means that if you like to sleep in you may be able to work from 9:30 – 6:30 instead of having to be at your desk from 8 to 5.)

Whatever the firm culture, there are a number of steps you can take to be successful early in your career. Here, in no particular order, are our top five.

5 Steps to Early Career Success

1. Use every available opportunity to hone your technical skills. Your first years on the job are a time for learning as much as you can about how your chosen profession works, from its processes and procedures to how it does research to how it interacts with clients, and everything in between. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Learn how to read between the lines. The added benefit of all of this is that you will begin to understand a lot about yourself. Things like what you like to do and what you don’t; what motivates you and what doesn’t. Ultimately, these are the tools you’ll use to shape your career.

2. And your soft skills. Every time you have the opportunity to enhance your soft skills, take it. Whether that means learning how to read body language, write more clearly, develop better selling techniques or be more comfortable speaking in public, your proficiency in these areas will serve you well throughout your life and your career. These skills, together with your enhanced technical skills, will combine to form your professional brand.

3. Be flexible. Use what you learn to plan for your future. Perhaps you’ve discovered that you want to stay in public accounting but would rather work at a different sized firm. Or that you really like business development and would prefer to do that over straight accounting. Or that you’d like to go into private industry. Or earn an advanced degree. Or even that you’d like to relocate to a bigger/smaller city. Recognize every opportunity that comes your way—but take the time to assess how they fit into your emerging career plan before jumping at them.

4. Use social media wisely. When you’re in college, especially in the first couple of years, social media is a fun tool for connecting with friends. Once you start thinking in terms of graduating and a career, it becomes more about creating a personal brand that is attractive to employers. That means you need to pay attention to separating your professional and personal channels, not that you have to completely stop being you. So, no beach photos on LinkedIn. Separate accounts for public, friends and family on other networks.

5. Put aside time to selfassess. As you progress in your career, set aside time at least once a year to stop and think about where you are, what you have learned and whether you need to adjust your goals. We’ve said this before in other columns, but you in charge of your career and making the changes you need to increase your level of personal satisfaction.