My very first grown-up, “look at me adulting”, professional job came when I was in my early twenties and landed a coveted position as a legal secretary-turned-paralegal at a criminal and personal injury law firm. Prior to that, I had worked countless jobs in varying professions over the years: I was a cashier, a sales clerk at a department store, a manager at a popular shoe boutique, a makeup artist/skin care consultant, a tech at a comedy club and then a waitress/hostess.
While I learned new things and acquired different skills at each job- none of them really required me to set limitations on myself (like not staying out all night with my friends) or gave me a structured schedule. My days off always varied. My hours/shifts were always inconsistent. I never really planned excursions in advance and I was almost always inaccessible around major holidays where many of my former employers stayed open while the rest of the world closed up shop. I lived my life day-by-day- paycheck-to-paycheck.
Going from that to a regular 9-5, Monday-Friday took some adjustment, to say the least.
Now that I’m 30, and am currently engrossed in and embarking on my second professional career- I’m a little more prepared and experienced. I’m by no means an expert- but I have learned a lot of things along the way.
The good folks over at Casper– a startup company that makes mattresses that come in a box, which have grown to become popular to young adults in their twenties and on the move, got me thinking: what tips or advice do I have for young professionals?
I took a few days to look back on my career(s) and selected a few choice kernels of wisdom/knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years which I thought would be beneficial to those just starting their own paths in new or unfamiliar professions- and that I wished I had known a little sooner.
1. Adjust your evening and morning routines so you’re not just punctual and prepared- you’re downright early and fully ready to go. Every day.
In my early twenties, staying out all night on a Wednesday or Thursday went without consequence. I typically went to work in the afternoons- so crawling into bed at 4 a.m. and getting a few hours of sleep before it was time to show up for my shift (and get ready to go out again after work) became a regular thing. Of course, it was quite a shock to my system when I started working “normal” business/office hours and had to set a curfew for myself during weeknights- and even more of a shock to have to get used to a morning routine that included an actual commute- but I wanted to make a good impression and be taken seriously by my boss and my peers.
Here’s the thing, nobody likes BARELY making it anywhere on time. It causes unnecessary stress. You can forget important things while you’re racing out the door- and you never know what unpredictable factors can get in your way (traffic, inclement weather, etc.) and make you tardy- so I always made it a point to go to bed at a reasonable time to ensure I got plenty of rest and woke up a little earlier than most people would have liked in order to shower, get dressed, eat a decent meal, grab a coffee- and still make it to my office in time to get myself ready for the day’s workload- even if I encountered traffic or bad New England weather on the way.
DVR that show that’s on a little too late at night. Lay out your outfit and pack up your bag/briefcase with the next day’s essentials the night before. Charge your phone/iPad/tablet/etc. while you sleep. Shower in the evenings if you absolutely need some additional time in the morning to get a few more minutes of rest. Keep your keys in a designated location so that you can just grab them when it’s time to head out the door. Order and pay for your morning latte from your phone so you can just pick it up and go– there’s plenty of ways to save yourself time at night and in the mornings to ensure you are not just skating into work and clocking in on the dot each and every day- but that you are rested, energized, early- and ready to put your best foot forward.
Trust me- employers notice this.
2. Get your social media under control.
I’ve been on various forms of social media since my late teens/early twenties- and I wish there were a way to create a flipbook detailing the way my photos/posts have evolved over those years. Drunken party or vacation photos have gradually morphed into less embarrassing photos of me and my dog, or pictures of things I’ve cooked/baked. It’s not just because I’ve gotten older and a little more serious and aware of my surroundings (I absolutely still drink at parties and while on vacation, after all)– but because employers, both prospective and current- tend to check up on those associated with their companies/brands to make sure they are conducting themselves appropriately.
I know- it’s impossible NOT to be on some form of social media these days, and sometimes having to censor yourself can be downright exhausting- but I implore you to take full advantage of each site’s privacy settings if you absolutely and positively do not want your boss, co-workers or clients to see the results of your Saturday night out barhopping with friends, your thoughts on politics, or anything your crazy aunt/cousin/friend from high school who always says problematic and offensive stuff (we all have one) posts on your wall/tags you in.
Think before you post- “will this affect my job or my career if anyone sees it?” If not- go for it. If there’s a chance it might- it’s probably not a good idea to share it. If you still want to, just make sure yo put as much distance between yourself and your company/employer as possible so that any resulting issues cannot negatively impact or compromise your position, your job or brand. I never specifically name who my employer is anywhere at all- not even in any of my short bios on any sites I’m active on for that very reason.
3. Avoid office gossip at all costs. Worry about your own business and no one else’s.
At my last job at the firm, I briefly worked with a woman who spent all day every day gossiping about pretty much everyone she had ever come in contact with: former employers, people that worked in other businesses within our building, even my boss and his family. It made me extremely uncomfortable and I avoided her as much as I could without it creating tension in the office or negatively impacting my work- which was ultimately the best decision I ever made- since I found out shortly after I’d left my position in November that she’d started talking about me, too- speculating as to why I left and even going as far as to insinuate I’d had an inappropriate relationship with my boss.
So Cathy in accounting has the juiciest story about Mike in H.R. and that one girl who sits a couple of desks away from you keeps alluding to the fact that she has some dirt on one of your supervisors from a company Christmas party two years ago. As tempting as it can/could be to get the scoop (we live in a world that closely scrutinizes the words and actions of reality TV stars, after all)– I implore you- just avoid any and all office gossip. That is a slippery slope to go down, and it benefits no one. Worst of all? Apart from participating in and being a witness to the damaging of someone’s reputation/character- employers aren’t too fond of gossips, either- so you could also be damaging your own career and progress by associating with people who are too busy talking about others to do their actual jobs.
And let my own experience at my last job be proof to the popular saying- if someone is willing to talk about other people, then they’ll be willing to talk about you, too. Just avoid them and that unnecessary bad karma that comes with them.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibilities/a raise/a vacation- but just make sure your timing is right, first.
One of the most nerve-racking moments for me during my first professional career was standing in front of my boss’ desk and asking if I could take a few days off the following month in order to head out to California for a friend’s baby shower and to catch a surfing competition. I had only been at the firm for a few months when the invitation came- but I had never been late, had finished every assignment on time, and really wanted to go. I waited until the end of the day on a Friday afternoon- when everyone was in a good mood by default- before asking my boss for a moment of his time and timidly mentioning receiving the invite and my desire to take a couple of days off. He was more than accommodating and kind about it, which was a relief- and made eventually asking for a raise a LOT easier when the time came.
I know not all employers are so friendly, and some might not even give you the time of day to chat, let alone ask for a favor- but you have to develop the courage to ask for the things that will benefit you personally and professionally- and you have to hone in on perfecting your timing to better increase your chances of getting those things. Monday mornings are typically a bad time to ask for a raise/time off, as are the minutes following a stressful meeting- but when the timing is right (and you’ll know when it is. You’ll sense it)– go for it. Don’t be afraid!
5. Punch through that glass ceiling and don’t stop climbing.
One of the things I really like about my current employer is that it’s such a large, diverse company that there are literally a thousand and one different directions I can go. There are hundreds upon hundreds of positions I can fill and try my hand at- and they will adequately train me and make sure I’m a good fit for the job before they either let me do my thing in peace or find a different role for me that I might be better suited for. The possibilities are endless- which keeps me optimistic about my future in the company.
I understand that sometimes, particularly after a rough day or week- it can get downright discouraging if you feel that you’ve reached your full potential within your career and there’s nowhere else to go- but I assure you: there is always, ALWAYS room to grow and advance. You can never learn too much. You can never try too many things. Continue working hard and continue acquiring new responsibilities and skills. Keep an open mind and actively seek out new opportunities and positions within your company that interest you and which you believe you will find fulfilling.
Treat every day at your job like it’s your first day- and go that extra mile. Your employer will notice your enthusiasm and it will not go unrewarded. There is no glass ceiling if you shatter through it and keep on soaring.
I know that every workplace and environment is different- and those embarking on their careers will undoubtedly learn their own lessons along the way (I’m still learning new things in my current position!)– but I think the five tips I’ve listed above sort of transcend limitations and can be applied across the board to any professional job. They’ve helped shape who I am in my career- and I hope they can help shape others, too.
Thanks again to Casper for asking me such a complex and thought-provoking question. They’re a great company and are definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to update your mattress, sheets, and/or pillows anytime soon (young and seasoned professionals alike need a good night’s sleep, too!)
If anyone would like to share their own tips/advice for twenty-somethings entering any professional fields- feel free to share!