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REP: Damn Good Career Advice

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It’s that time of year when college grads (CGs), or soon to be CGs, are preparing to enter the workforce. It makes me recall the excitement (and slight anxiety) I felt when I accepted my job offer with Intel. I wondered, “What’s a real job like? 9AM-5PM? People will be depending on me and my academic training to …deliver real-world solutions? Do I have enough knowledge to be successful? …hmm.” That last question resonated with me—partly because I am a self-professed optimizer (an individual who tries to optimize the outcome of all variables for maximum experience) and a person who likes to feel prepared for approaching situations (in school it was tests; ~1yr ago today it was Intel). And while I found web searches and library browsing to be quite helpful, I’ve discovered greater meaning in the advice below (a list of compiled wisdom passed along to me and married with my own personal experience.)

1)     Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Fear is a compelling (and sometimes crippling) emotion, and it can keep us from pursuing a worth-while opportunity. A couple of things I feared were applying to MIT and negotiating my starting salary—both rooted in rejection. How did I overcome my fear? Logic. There was zero probability that I would be admitted to MIT or negotiate a better salary if I didn’t at least try. I also have an amazing family that supported me to do both, and (of course) Google to help “coach” me.

2)     Find your sweet spot. Recall my previous blog “REP: Finding the Perfect Career” I’ve learned and been mentored by senior level execs that have all agreed that in order to be successful there are four primary needs to fulfill:

  • Know Yourself (interests, talents, and current job market needs),

  • Choose the Right Company,

  • Select a Good Manager

  • Continue to Learn.

3)     Do what you love, the money will follow. Seems obvious, right? Not always. I’ve come across many people (and have been guilty in the past myself) of desiring a job that pays handsomely, without, so much, as considering whether I actually liked the idea of that field. Can you imagine getting paid six figures to watch paint dry 10 hrs/day, 365 days/yr? It sounds deceptively appealing, but if you’re anything like me (a go-getter with an insatiable desire to learn new things) it would be an accomplishment to waste your life make it past 1 month of “employment.”

4)     "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." -Samuel Beckett. The first two lines of this quote are of particular importance, because (yes!) everyone has tried and failed at least once (or if you’re like me, many times). And, referring back to point 1 (about fear), I think it’s hardwired into us to fear the unknown because we fear failure. Imagine how often you would fear…well anything…if you always knew the outcome. Our innate fear of failure isn’t only intended to help us avoid not-so-great situations (like challenging a bear to a wrestling contest), but it can also be used to motivate us to prepare for impending events (like school exams and presentations). Failure is a natural (unavoidable) part of life that shapes who we are, how we deal in stressful and unfavorable circumstances, and how we use the knowledge we gain to grow as individuals. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my most recent failure at work, it is not that I am inadequate, it is that the importance of an advanced degree (I’m thinking EE) and how it will help me to further my career at Intel.

5)     “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” –Emerson. Ever heard of a Fortune 500 company of one? Me either. When I was a teenager, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world. (Well, even now at times, if I’m being honest.)) I knew the ins-and-outs, dangers, and array of experiences. Of course, this was (and is) not the case but I don’t think I realized this truth until I was, truly, a small fish swimming in a big pond (at MIT and Intel). In fact, I’ve met many individuals (SMEs—or subject matter experts) who are supremely talented in different areas—from technology to math and even fashion and celebrity buzz. If there’s one thing I’ve come to terms with, it is that I do not know everything (and probably won’t) and (most likely) neither does the person sitting across from me. But (!) we are all talented (and passionate) about certain things in life that perhaps others are not. In this way, it is possible to leverage the minds of the many to reach beyond our expertise and teach each other and solve amazing world problems.

6)     Under-promise and over-deliver. I learned this one the hard way. As an ambitious and highly competitive person who enjoys working on multiple projects (I think it keeps things interesting), I tend to overstretch myself and my time. In high school and college alike, I was involved in many extra-curricular activities and on the exec board for most. Though, as I’m sure many of you can imagine, juggling a commitment to school activities AND maintaining an A average is no simple feat. Similarly, at work, committing to too many projects and not delivering (or even delivering on 75%) due to time management shortcomings is unacceptable. The best thing one can do when joining the workforce (or entering any new environment) is learn the ways of the company, your capabilities, and begin building your brand by delivering a string of successful projects (one after another). Once you get the hang of things, it’s much easier to gauge the pace you work at (how much time you need to complete a project), adapt company protocol, and extend your responsibilities.

Like most pieces of advice, these are only words unless and until you can make a connection and/or heed their importance. It is easy for me to pinpoint the moments in my academic and professional career when I could’ve greatly benefited from the advice above, but I wonder (with my ambitious spirit—code for “hardheadedness”) whether I would’ve taken advantage of these tidbits or not…  And, more interestingly, I wonder how many of you will take advantage of this wisdom. Better yet, do you have anything to share?