5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Starting My Career

Ryan McGrath
Jun 16, 2021
min read
5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Starting My Career

It’s no secret that with age, comes wisdom (generally speaking). Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about who I am, what I value and what "success" really means. As I reflect on my career, here are five things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. By adopting these action-oriented strategies, you can create true, long-term success for your career.    

Prioritize skill development overcompensation

Early in my career, I failed at this. I pursued an investment banking job at a big firm because I knew it would pay handsomely — not because I necessarily saw myself growing as a leader at the bank. Don’t make this mistake. The individuals who prioritize compensation over skill-set development will ultimately end up working for the people who prioritized skill-set development early on in their careers. It wasn’t until I made the switch to Asset Living, the company I currently lead, that I genuinely began harnessing my professional toolkit. I was able to refine my skills across finance, sales, operations and, ultimately, senior leadership. Put simply, invest in yourself rather than your bank account; the compensation and extrinsic rewards will follow.  

Nobody knows it all

As an intern or associate, you may feel pressured to constantly have the right answer. It’s understandable to want to make a positive first impression, but that doesn’t mean you need to be omniscient. In fact, I can confidently admit that I still don’t know it all — nobody does. Show up early, do your research and showcase your creativity and problem-solving skills. Regardless of your field, the first few years of your career will likely be full of learning curves.

The knowledge you learn in school is definitely useful, but it doesn’t always prepare you for the obstacles you’ll encounter while on the job. No amount of education is a substitute for work experience. Soak up as much knowledge and experience as possible. Schedule one-on-ones with your managers and peers, embrace informal communication channels and always ask questions. If you approach a job with the notion that you already know everything, you likely won’t succeed.  

Interviews and internships aren’t one-sided

When you meet with a potential hiring manager or future colleagues, remember that you are interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you. The questions you ask your interviewer may even matter more than the questions asked of you. At its core, an interview is an opportunity for you to determine if a company and its employees align with your interests and future goals. More over, internships can serve as extended interviews of sorts. Your supervisor will evaluate your performance and, in parallel, you’ll get a taste of what life at the office is like. Use this time wisely. Ask questions, introduce yourself to people in different departments and embrace the company’s culture. At the end of your internship, you should be able to answer these two questions confidently:  

  •  Can I succeed and grow here, and will I be happy doing so?
  •  Can I add true value here and contribute meaningfully to the organization and its mission?
  •  Take more risks; make mistakes

Failure is not a requirement for success, but it’s often the path most travelled. College students tend to play it safe; I know I did. New graduates often accept the first internship or full-time role they’re offered. In a lot of ways, the fear of failure takes over, but this reflex is flawed. Fear shouldn’t be something you actively avoid, but rather something you tackle at face value. Looking back, the decisions that frightened me the most ultimately proved to be the most rewarding.

Mistakes will be made; in most cases, they’re unavoidable. Most great leaders have experienced their fair share of blunders. So, take risks and recognize that failure is more often than not the foundation of success. You may initially choose one path or career for yourself, but discover later in life that it’s not meant for you. It's important to recognize that you’re allowed to change your mind. Be honest with yourself about the worst thing that can happen, accept it, then jump.

Time is your single most precious resource  

The last lesson may be the most obvious, if not the most critical. Time is on your side, but it is finite. So, use it wisely. Be sure to wake up early. Hitting the snooze button is the first failure of the day for most people. I know it sounds simple, but having just one to two hours of extra time each morning can sky rocket productivity over the course of a year — or a lifetime. As you grow older, you’ll find that time becomes scarcer with each passing moment. That’s precisely why it is your most valuable asset. In the end, it is your choice how you allocate this (free) resource. You can use it to learn a new language, volunteer or hone a business skill. It goes without saying that the biggest mistake you can make is to simply waste it.

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