Getting Your Career Off to the Right Start

Every year, around this time, we get a new class of bright, eager IBMers who have just graduated from undergraduate studies and are ready to start their new careers. They are excited about their futures and want to know what they need to do to succeed in this new environment.

In so many ways, these IBMers are no different from any of us who are starting a new career, moving to a new position, or faced with a new challenge. We all want to know how to hit the ground running and demonstrate that we are capable of being successful. And sometimes, the new position seems daunting because, above all else, we do not want to fail. There have been many articles on the subject recently (I like this one from Business Insider), and I wanted to add what has worked well for me in the past.

Find a mentor: Most mentorships develop organically, without the formal “Will you be my mentor?” ask. Instead, look for people who can be influential and inform the career decisions you need to make. Surround yourself with people who are insightful; people who think differently than you or who have been successful in their environment can have advice that you would not have considered. These people can be peers, subordinates, or leaders in other areas. The most important thing is for your mentors to be willing to be candid and helpful. Eventually, your mentors may even become your strongest advocates as you progress through your career. But don’t forget, mentorship is a two way street and you must bring as much to the relationship as your mentor does.

Get involved and get to know your leadership: Attend town hall meetings, networking events, and other activities that will allow you to interact with leaders. Within the first month or two, try to have sit-down, informational interviews with all of the mid-level leaders in your area. These interviews need only be fifteen minutes, but they are excellent opportunities to find more information about the opportunities that exist and the career paths that are available. Ask the leaders about their passions and if they are involved in any special projects or initiatives in the organization. Most leaders will also want to know more about you, in return.  Knowing your leadership is beneficial to both parties; your leadership can volunteer you for projects that meet your interests, and you can continue to get involved in the organization.

Be open: Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. Try new projects, build new skills, and be open to opportunities that you have never tried. Ask questions and share your informed opinion. You have a seat at the table for a reason, use it! Being open also means accepting feedback and constructive criticism.  Being open can be one of the scariest things in a new career, especially when we do not want to fail. Instead, look at these opportunities as ways to grow and develop.

I think it benefits all of us, whether we have been in our careers for two months or 20 years, to reflect periodically on the things I mentioned above.  I would love to read the best career advice you have received, so please share your thoughts in the Comments.

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