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Five Career Tips for Young Workers

When I look back on my first year out of college, I realize that there’s a lot I would have done differently. I would have read career advice rather than thinking it didn’t apply to me. I would have sought out a more experienced person in my industry to be a mentor. And I wouldn’t have waited until a year into my job to discuss performance expectations. I graduated a year early, so I was especially eager to please and reluctant to assert myself. So, here are five career mistakes to look out for.

1. Having vague career goals.
If your goals are unclear, then how can you expect anyone else to know what kind of work to give you? It’s not your employer’s job to help you find yourself, so if you don’t have a clear picture of what you want to do, then you are an easy target for tasks that no one else wants to do. Not every manager is good at delegating or figuring out other people’s strengths, so the employees who know what they want and ask for it make their managers’ lives easier. Those who don’t, get stuck with the leftovers.

2. Not getting negotiations in writing.
In the past I’ve been promised raises and I failed to get it in writing because I trusted my bosses. The first time, I was working at a taco shack over the summer and my manager got fired a week later, meaning I missed out on that extra twenty-five cents an hour (tragic, I know). The second time, I was salaried and my boss gave me a verbal raise but never told accounting. I straightened it out a few paychecks later, but I should have emailed him to confirm immediately after our meeting and avoided the confusion later. Another unfortunate salary manipulation is what I call the preemptive raise. Basically, you get a small raise when you’re not expecting it and they know that you won’t try to negotiate. But you should always negotiate so that you establish yourself as someone who knows what they’re worth.

3. Staying too long in your first job.
People worry about the stigma of job hopping, but sometimes it’s the only way to gain respect. Say you were interning somewhere and got offered a full time job at the company. Your parents would be elated, but I would caution you not to jump in without weighing your options. First of all, you’ll always be remembered as the intern, so people will continue asking you to fetch coffee and locate office supplies. My first job out of college was as an admin but a new position opened within a few months and I grabbed it. Even a year after I’d moved up, people still treated me like the receptionist because that’s what I was doing when they met me. If your company thinks you’re worthy of a full time job, then trust your abilities and someone else will offer you a position with more money and more respect as well.

4. Allowing your work to take over your life.
If you don’t have 2.5 kids and a spouse waiting at home, then in many industries, you’ll be expected to put in extra hours (and no, you don’t necessarily get comp time or overtime). It’s not fair, but that’s just how it is. Take it from someone who didn’t have time to date her first year out of college, because she was running around helping at events on Friday and Saturday nights. I suggest you put in the extra time when you can so that no one can fault you when you have a family commitment or a friend’s birthday party. After all, you have outside obligations, too. Don’t let your eagerness to please prevent you from having a life.

5. Not getting (or asking for) feedback.
Lots of managers are uncomfortable giving feedback (especially negative), so they’ll avoid it if at all possible. For example, I once had a manager say to me “annual reviews are coming up in a month, but since you just started, we’ll wait until next year.” Fourteen months passed before I had a performance review, and I was blindsided by some of the comments I got, because no one brought up issues that had been going on for over a year! You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken, so you should take it upon yourself to check in with your boss periodically and avoid any surprises at your review. You could even ask what you need to do in the next six months to qualify for a raise. They may not give you clear directions, but at least you’ll show that you want to excel in your job.

By Susan Johnson, Writer/Project Manager