I think my non-traditional career path is testimony to the increasing dissonance ambitious young self-starters like me have felt with the traditionally available career options. I do receive occasional emails from young graduates who are seeking career advice. Since I don’t have the bandwidth to share my learnings via email exchanges, this is a good home for it.
It is what I have learned from managing and pursuing my career. It may not apply to you or you may not agree with this, but I am not looking for approval or arguments. I wrote this down because I always wished someone had told me this. This is for those who remind me of me
1) Pay close attention to your industry and adapt to its changes.
For professionals in the industry of communications (creative or business side) it is most important to pay close attention to the quicksilver nature of our industry and be flexible enough to adapt and grow with it. In my case, when I entered the workforce, the magazine industry was struggling (still is) and the new media wave hadn’t hit the industry in full force just yet. I changed gears and it has served me well. I also realized that I didn’t need to work at a magazine to be able to write. And incidentally, after I quit the industry, I’ve published work in InStyle, Allure and Zink magazines. Besides, I satiate my ‘writing’ urges here on my blog.
2) Explore the dualities of your skill-set.
By this I mean – don’t allow yourself to be pegged into a singular role. I think most smart people have the inherent capacity and the appetite to understand and function well within both the creative and the business side of work. Personally, I didn’t want to be pegged down as a ‘creative type,’ but I didn’t want to be pegged down as a ‘finance/ business’ type either. The solution for me was to find roles that allowed me to balance and grow in both areas. The solution for you may be different – but I’d say if you are on the client side, explore the agency side at some point and vice-versa. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
3) Jobs are not always for learning what to do.
Some jobs are fantastic case-studies for learning “what not to do” or “bad business practices.” And I’ve had my share of those kind of jobs. It is easy to think when you are stuck in a miserable job that you are not learning anything. But you will only understand the true extent of what the job has contributed to your professional growth, when you are at a distance from it and looking at it from a different lens. So do not fret if you are stuck in a job you don’t like and feel like it is a waste of your time and talent — trust me, if you are not learning about how to be better at what you do, you are most certainly learning, how to not get worse and what not to do. And those types of jobs and learnings, are equally important for your growth. The bottom-line is – you will still emerge a better thinker and will be able to effectively articulate and assert yourself.
4) You are in control of your career.
I don’t know if I can sum this up as lucidly as the others…. Maybe because I am still learning… Upon graduating from college, I had a very narrowly defined understanding of the types of jobs that exist. I struggled to find the perfect fit for me and I kept exploring until I found my niche. I fear that many young people, perhaps do not realize how wonderful this opportunity is. Do not let peer pressure and college dynamics let you believe that your career path is pre-defined. It is what you make of it. Take control of your career. Be ruthless in your pursuit and humble in your deliverance. I guarantee, you will weather any career-storm.
5) Don’t be afraid to email the CEO
I have no shame or fear in expressing my opinions, asking for a job or writing an email of appreciation to the CEO of any company. Sometimes it gets ignored, but three out of five times, it landed me a job. If you don’t think this way – I’m sorry but you might as well accept defeat and move out of the industry because I can promise you, that for every one person who is not thinking this way, there are 5 others who are, and they are the ones who will land your dream job. When you want a job – pull all stops to get it. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to win.
6) About burning bridges and such.
I steadfastly believe: to never burn a bridge. But some bridges are not worth managing. You will come across certain people who you are better off without in your life. I say that because I’ve been there twice and it has made me wonder and ask myself – What’s the one good reason why I would want to keep this bridge afloat?
I ask myself,
Would I ever work with this person again? No.
Would I ever hire or recommend this person? No.
Would I ever help this person? Probably not.
What if in the future, this person is asked to provide a testimonial to their experience with me? This was a tricky one. But I’ll take my chances and say, even then its not worth it.
And quite honestly, I’ve felt much better about myself since. If you are true to yourself, it is perfectly okay to allow a bridge or two to crumble and break down. Or in some cases, take an axe and break it yourself. You cannot always be political and diplomatic – in life nor in work.
EDIT: Dion Hughes left a very insightful comment below. That people change – and it is worthwhile to keep all your professional relationships, at the very least, open. I have to concede to this – it is good advice. I have been in the workforce only four years and I have much to learn. One of these things is: leaving room to allow people for a second chance.
7) On quitting..
I will pass on to you a gem of an advice my friend gave me, “Don’t accept a new job because you can’t wait to quit your old one – run to the new job because you can’t wait to begin that one.” Thats it.
EDIT – (Props to Manoj Damodaran) I should also add that think twice before quitting a job. Climbing the ladder by jumping titles – while great for your wallet, not so good for your professional growth. Regardless of your job title, to thrive in this industry (creative, communications, media) you’ve gotta pay the dues. Take the garbage out, do the shit-work, make photo-copies, feel your intellectual muscles degenerate and wonder why you went to school — think of it as the initiation process to grander things. I’ve had $6/hour internships at top magazines in NYC, written for free for numerous publications, worked for pittance to build my experiencefolder. Now I don’t. I will not work for free, consult for free or even write for free – unless it is for a cause or a company I truly believe in. But I think I’ve earned my right to be there. You will too – with persistence and perseverance.
However, the balance is important. Learning when to say no and learning when to ask for more money for your work is incredibly important. And that will come as you learn, grow and feel that you can offer much more. That moment will most likely come when you are done paying your dues.
8) Lastly, do not take yourself too seriously.
Have fun. It is more important to have lived then have survived. A job at the end of the day is a job. Be nice, help out when you can and do your fucking best. But for gods sake, have a life outside of work. Your life is what makes you interesting, not your job.
I hope this was of some use to you.
I will update this occasionally. If you have a learning you would like to share on this page, please leave a comment or email me and I’d be happy to include it here.