Young professionals

Almost 15 years out of college, I’ve been fortunate enough to establish some solid experience in our industry. After multiple positions and lots of hard work, I’m in a place in my career where I’m starting to offer advice to those just starting out. Here are a few short thoughts I’ve learned from experience building my career’s foundation:

###Adapt to true definitions of leadership
It isn’t a stretch to say that everyone who is career-minded wants to exhibit leadership. The problem for young professionals is they’re drawing on a relatively limited pool of examples of great leadership. For those new to flexing their leadership chops, it is often natural to lean towards an overly simplistic view of leadership where the leader has the right answers, most important thoughts and controls the conversation.

This way of thinking typically doesn’t fare well, and falls under at least half of these 15 qualities of a bad leader. There’s little worse a young professional can do than appear commandeering or dictatorial when presented with leadership opportunities.

Instead, focus on leading by collaboration, motivation and building relationships that foster open communication and trust. Focus on emotional intelligence models of leadership and, even better, identify good leaders in your workplace and talk to them, gaining a mentor in the process.

It is cliché, and if you’re reading it here for the first time you’ve probably been living under a rock. The fact is still plain: networking is one of the best things you can do as a young professional. Good networking can, like mentioned above, lead to meeting valuable mentors. Networking with those in and adjacent to your field can also provide valuable opportunities to expand your professional skills and discover new opportunities.

It can be awkward to start, especially if you don’t know others, but there are tons of resources. The typical advice here is to join young professional organizations, and that’s not wrong (HYPE is a great one for the Cincinnati area). However, it can also be as simple as grabbing lunch with coworkers or joining them for a happy hour. Informal chats can lead to all sorts of things, and the best advice I’ve received has consistently come in informal settings when I least expected it.

One of my early bosses offered this advice/challenge: when we were in a networking situation, he threatened to fire anyone who was talking with a member of their immediate team. Instead we had to talk to people we didn’t already have relationships with. That practice was invaluable in learning how to strike up a meaningful conversation. Although I resisted at the time, I now thank him for the experience.

###Get comfortable not knowing
Right out of college, fresh in the field it is tempting to try and hit the ground running while thinking you’ve got the right answers and perspective to get every job done easily. Not so fast.

I’ve had the experience of working with several people starting their first major jobs out of college, and those who fare the best are the ones who know how to ask the right questions. Or make good assumptions about the right way forward.

Being successful and growing in your career isn’t about having the right answers – and those who always have the right answers are among the most difficult to work with. Spend your formative years offering opinions, absolutely. Also focus on connecting your insights to the insights of others while working to find common ground. Be intelligent in asking questions that expand your knowledge. It is also important to be self-aware and know areas where you can develop. Share those with a mentor or supervisor you trust and work to grow.

###Stay eager
Above all, stay eager. I’ve heard too many people starting out demonstrating an odd form of self-censorship where they don’t speak up or don’t exhibit their full potential because of a misplaced fear of being over eager. Enthusiasm isn’t a bad trait – own your passion and let it shine.

What advice would you offer to budding young professionals? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter via @IntrinzicSays.