Career guidance: Four keys to getting your career off to a great start

Posted March 08, 2018 by


Congratulations, you landed a job out of college! You’ve launched your career, but to make sure you keep going in the direction you want, keep your eyes on the ball. You (not your employer) are the owner of your career. I learned a few lessons early in my career that I share that career guidance here. Things worked out alright for me, but looking back I believe the following four points can increase your chances of starting off in the right direction and excelling in your chosen career.

  1. Setting your foundation of strengths and values

What are you incredibly good at and what do you really believe in? Now, that’s probably going a little bit too deep for your average party conversation, but there is growing evidence that suggests a career aligned to your greatest strengths is going to lead to a stark increase in performance and potentially satisfaction. There is also evidence suggesting that people who do a good job of matching their personal values to those of the industry and organisation that they work for also stand to gain similar benefits.

Think of these strengths and values as the smart foundation for your career choices. The better aligned you can be to these foundational elements the greater chance you have of having a career that can sustain the sort of interest and motivation that is required to achieve excellence.

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For example, you can score different roles against your strengths and values to find the best fit. There are resources available to help you find your strengths and values and then score roles against these elements (role scorecards).

The great thing about strengths and values is that everyone has them and displays them all the time. The chances are that you haven’t really had to give much thought to them at this point in time, but as soon as you become familiar with some of the language you will start to see the behavior and patterns in your own life that display these traits.

A good friend of mine at University used to run the basketball club while I was there. He was one of those people that seemed capable of generating a buzz about the club and the sport and always managed to get us pride of place in the Uni’s newspaper. It wasn’t until he left and others started running the club that I realised what a special talent he had for this type of activity. He is now a global marketing manager for one of the world’s top consumer brands. He knew his strengths and values and pursued a career perfectly aligned to them.

  1. Evaluating your first year

Find your path to a great careerOne of the great challenges about finding the right career is the imperfect information that you have at the time of decision making. Of course, you can close the information gap by doing your research and talking to people who actually work for the company you are interested in, but the bottom line is, until you actually work there you really don’t know what it is like.

This is why your first year of work is so important. Intern programs are equally valuable in this regard. Most people are too busy spending their newly acquired cash to notice what is really happening in their first year. In my view, this year is priceless for gathering information about your daily activities; what you do and don’t like, as well as information about the company you work for and how this matches your preferences, style and values.

Once you are a few months in to your new role, you should start to see a pattern of regular activities and responsibilities. Not all of these activities are equal when it comes to your strengths and interests. The key is to start to tap into how you feel about these daily activities; how motivated you are and what your performance looks like in each of them.

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One of the first roles I ever had was programming Microsoft Excel. I was so engrossed in it, I would often lose track of time. This innate ability to perform highly logical work and write code never left me and whenever I had a role that involved these aspects, my performance and enjoyment would soar.

The role mapping tool that accompanies the book can help you automate and track a lot of the work required to perform a thorough role evaluation.

  1. Adding context to your new role

Context around your first job helps with career guidanceWith so many ‘mega-companies’ around it can be easy to forget that the chances are a small group of people started the company at some point. I have worked in companies that employ tens of thousands of people and you can easily find yourself in a lot of meetings where no one ever talks about how the company actually makes money. The day to day operational aspects of the company dominate the conversation and it can be all too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Early on in your career, you need to make a conscious effort to broaden your understanding of the company and industry that you have selected to work in. This will mean extra effort on your behalf, reading annual reports and asking timely questions to the right people.

Not only will this context and business knowledge help you in your future career, it will also help you in the short term understand the endless jargon that companies frequently use.

People these days are looking for purpose and in some very large organisations this can sometimes feel hard to find. Yet, every business has a purpose and if you understand the roots, the customers and the different business lines then you will be well placed to progress whilst feeling a sense of meaning in your work.

  1. Following your interest instincts

Follow your interestsOk – a quick test. How much did you enjoy your choice of courses throughout your education? I know when I got to University I soon found out that math was not quite as it had been in high school and quickly became much less enjoyable.

The point is that you have already been involved in making your own choices about interests and it’s probably a good idea to be honest with yourself in how well you have performed to date. Maybe you found an interesting subject whilst at college and managed to build the rest of your education around this interest area.

This kind of skill will be invaluable throughout your working life. The world of work is changing rapidly and new ways of working and new concepts are entering the workforce all the time. Specializing in a future oriented role and interest area will be one of the keys to your success.

You will be exposed to lots of different roles, technologies, concepts and tools throughout your working life. If you can find an area that is of particular interest to you then you will be well placed to commit the sort of effort required to reach expert level within this area.

As you embark on your career it’s important to remember that you are your own boss and you are in charge of your career decisions. With a solid understanding of your strengths, values and interests you are well placed to evaluate any role and organisation. The rest involves paying attention to the detail and having the courage to back yourself when it matters.

Author Ian BorehamAbout the author: Ian Boreham is a professional coach and the author of Why Your Boss Can’t Help You’, a go-to resource for anyone looking to change their career, find their best career or get their career off to the best possible start.

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