Young people today think getting a job is hard. It’s not.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I can get you a job next week, guaranteed.
What is hard is keeping that job. It’s hard taking charge of that job and turning it into something that you find valuable and fulfilling. What’s hard is becoming so valuable they have to pay you more, bend the rules for you, and otherwise grant you what you want because they know you could go elsewhere and have dozens of opportunities lined up.
For this post, I’m going to assume you already have a job and you’re asking the question “what now?”
Maybe you’ve realized you’ve oversold yourself and now you feel out of your league. Maybe you’re stuck getting coffee and doing other intern level tasks, and you want to break out of that. Perhaps, you simply don’t want to make entry level pay in a dead-end position for much longer.
Whatever it is, there’s a way to fix it. I’ve learned a lot in my three years since dropping out of college. I’ve worked with dozens of businesses and with people from all over the world and have had a fair share of success with a few failures thrown in.
The steps you can take are surprisingly simple and reproducible. Master them, and you’ll accelerate your career by five years or more and begin to achieve things you thought were reserved for a very narrow group of people (hint, they are. You’ll be one of them).
1. Always ask: am I creating more value than I take out in salary?
Your personality, your resume, your previous work, can all be important to your long-term success at a company.
What’s more important though is your ability to create value. I don’t mean that in an abstract way. I don’t mean you’re simply doing the tasks your boss gives you and then going home.
I mean you need to create more value than you take out in salary and then some. Chances are to do this you’ll need to go above and beyond your job responsibilities. That’s okay.
When you’ve just started, anything should be fair game. Rather than asking “am I getting a good deal” you should be asking “am I giving my employer an offer he can’t say no to?” The only way to do this is to be constantly looking for opportunities to do more.
If you read this blog, you might have heard of what we call a “value proposition.” Consider this process your ongoing value proposition.
2. Document your work internally.
Don’t expect that your colleagues will know what you’re working on. They’re busy with their stuff. They probably don’t.
For the first year I worked at Praxis, I bcc’ed the CEO on every email. I did this because I wanted him to be aware every day what I was working on. I wanted there to be no doubt in his mind what I was doing and what I was creating.
Looking back I probably could have gone further. Every morning I should have sent him my daily task list. I should have done a better job at quantifying the results, and I should have communicated more with my other colleagues.
One of the things my intern-turned-employee did was create videos documenting his work. I loved this, even if I didn’t watch the full thing. It told me he took his job with the team seriously.
Note: none of this means be annoying. Give them a chance to opt out of your updates at any time.
3. To accelerate career document your work externally and become an evangelist.
You should own what your company is selling and share what you’re working on with the world. Become known not as a marketer, but a marketer at the company you’re working at. I used Facebook, public speaking, Quora, and a blog to do this.
Early on this signaled to my colleagues that I loved my work at Praxis and I was committed to doing it well. Not only that, it brought in new business and turned my personal network into a reliable source of leads.
You should start doing this now. Write about how you got your job, why you love working at the company, what products you sell, what tools you use, and who your customers are. Show a genuine interest in the success of the business beyond your immediate job, and your employer will start to show an interest in you.
4. Adopt an abundance mindset and don’t be attached to your job.
Don’t be guarded about who gets to do what and who gets credit for what. If a colleague does a task that is normally your responsibility, the correct response is not “hey you’re interfering with my job.”
The correct response is for you to say “thanks!” and then move on to find something else you can do with the time your colleague saved you.
If you want to move up quickly, your goal shouldn’t be to keep a particular job or title. It should be to grow the business in any way you can. If that means having someone else take on tasks to free you up to do more valuable work, you should consider that a win for you and the business and not a threat.
5. Underpromise and overdeliver.
I still have this problem. For various reasons, I tend to overpromise. While I always get my work done, I’ve created unnecessary stress by not setting proper expectations.
The way around this is to be honest.
If your colleague asks you to do something by a certain date, don’t agree to it unless you know you can do it. It’s much better to set an extended deadline in advance and then deliver earlier than expected than the reverse, even if the job is still getting done.
6. Show an interest in other departments.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your job and forget that there’s a bigger picture going on at the company.
If you want to grow in your roles and responsibilities, the best way to do it is to become an expert in everything that is happening at the business. Get to know your colleagues and what they do. Learn their jobs by helping them out when you can.
They’ll start to see you as someone who can be relied upon and who cares about the success of the company as a whole.
If you can, find opportunities to insert yourself into higher level conversations without being nosey. Small bits of input go a long way when it comes to your colleagues deciding to confide more in you.
7. Communicate clearly and effectively.
Even if you do everything right, you’ll limit yourself if your colleagues can’t understand you or find you time costly to communicate with.
Often when I onboard new interns this is a mistake they make.
They’ll want to work on something, and they’ll send a long, fluffy email that is difficult to scan and digest key points. It’s hard to get what you want when your communications are like this.
Instead, you should always send concise, actionable emails and messages. If possible, it should be falsifiable (yes/no) as well.
One more thing: don’t ask a question if you can get the answer yourself. Many people ask questions as a way of signaling their level of interest and engagement. They don’t realize that back and forth question and answer is time-consuming and will drain the energy of your colleagues.
If you want to signal interest and engagement, create more. Do more. Build more.
8. Adopt the principle of charitable interpretation.
Sometimes my colleagues annoy me. Sometimes I annoy them. We make it work by assuming the best intentions always. This is something that is beaten out of us in school.
In school, we learn to compete. We learn to create social drama and in turn, to assume the worst in people. This is a terrible mindset to import to your work. Instead, you should assume that everyone has the same goal: to build the company.
You should demand from yourself to have absolute evidence of ill intent before you call somebody out on it. There’s nothing more costly than making your team feel that you don’t trust them or that you doubt their integrity.
Be above the petty drama that comes in play at most companies. It won’t serve you well.
9. Do not wait for instructions. Kill your permission based mindset. Become an idea machine.
I talked with a kid the other day who told me that he was unfulfilled in his work and didn’t feel like he was creating value.
When I asked him to elaborate, he said: “my manager doesn’t give me enough stuff to do.” This is the exact opposite mindset you should have.
Rather than waiting for your manager to give you permission to work on certain things, you should be throwing so many ideas at him that he can’t keep up with you. There’s always more to do. Telling yourself otherwise is an excuse for mediocrity, and you’ll get mediocre outcomes because of this.
James Altucher has a practice of writing out 10 business ideas every day. You could do the same for your work. Every day when you come into the office, the first thing you should do is sit down and write ten things you could do for the business.
Don’t limit yourself. Think up some crazy ideas and include those in your list. One or two of them might stick and each time, and you’ll add to your list. By doing this, you’re certain to never run out of tasks.
One more thing: remember that your boss has other things going on. He may be your manager, but he’s not there to hold your hand. Do not force your individual responsibility of being an independent, thinking being on him. You’ll be unhappy, unfulfilled, and unsuccessful.