Since I dropped out of college, I’ve noticed something unexpected:
Despite starting in entry-level positions, people who quit school and have minimal experience often perform better and advance much faster early on in their careers.
They have a chip on their shoulder. They realize that they’re starting from a lower perceived spot by quitting college, so they buckle down and try harder because they care deeply about growing and proving themselves.
They can’t hide behind a credential. They’re forced to prove themselves by grinding it out. Getting paid $10/hour to make cold-calls 10 hours a day is tolerable because the alternative is paying $30,000 to sit in a classroom and take notes on how to make cold calls 4 years in the future.
Starting from the bottom is exciting to them. It’s a game. They’re learning hands on. They’re surrounded by people who have 10x more experience than them, so they’re constantly growing.
They advance quickly because they carve out a reputation for themselves that shows competence, reliability, and creativity.
While college graduates are used to playing by the rules and following an already-determined timeline, opt-outs have realized that traditional standards are negotiable. They are constantly looking for better, faster ways to do things. And because of this, they find them.
I’ve seen both cases and I’ve noticed some patterns.
Here are 5 specific actions that young, inexperienced dropouts have used to turn their entry-level position into a high-level management position in less than 2 years.
Get Your Shit Done (at least)
It’s so simple, but most people miss it and that’s why the bar is so low. Competence is rare in the workplace, especially in young people. You can stand out by simply doing all of your work.
If you have 100 cold calls to make in a day, make 110. Do everything that’s asked of you, then take it just a little bit further. People will notice, and you’ll start to be reliable. By approaching your work this way, you’re not showing that you’re good at cold-calling. In fact, it’s OK if you’re not that good and don’t hit your quotas all the time. What’s more important than performance is your attitude and work ethic. You’re showing that no matter what the task, you will put 110% into it.
Millennials have a reputation of being lazy and not having a work ethic. By going slightly above and beyond consistently, you’re showing that you can learn quickly and get shit done. While most other people are doing the bare minimum, you’ll be the first one to be promoted. People will want you doing more important things because they know you’ll crush it.
Show up Early, Stay Late
Your youth and lack of experience is working against you. Doing the bare minimum isn’t enough. The fact that you didn’t go to college and are just now starting your career makes people expect more of you.
It seems backward, but it actually makes sense. Imagine you’re a 24-year-old college graduate working as a salesman. Your company hires a 19-year-old dropout and puts them in a similar role, getting paid close to the same. You’d be pissed! You spent all this money to get your degree, while this kid skipped all that. He doesn’t deserve to have the same responsibilities and pay because he hasn’t earned it yet.
The clearest way to make up for this is to show up early and stay late. Even if it’s just 30 minutes. People notice. Then you become a team member who clearly cares about the company, not just another dispensable employee that can be easily replaced by someone slightly older with more experience.
Take out the Trash
I’m not kidding. People notice this too. You should also refill the coffee when it goes out and do the dishes when they need to be done. It takes an extra 3 minutes, and conveys that you’re not just here to do your job and leave. You care about the company, and you want to make sure things run smoothly.
You’re getting all your work done, but then you’re thinking about other ways to can help too. It shows that you actively think about (and do) helpful tasks on top of the work you’re told to do.
Everything is working against you again here. Millennials already have a reputation for not having a work ethic. As of now, everyone expects you to skip out on helping with small things. So if you do them, you’re winning double points.
Understand Principles, not just Processes
Most companies have systematized entry-level jobs. Behind every job is a goal. The system was created to ensure the goal gets accomplished, but this does not mean the system is perfect. Nor does it mean you can’t improve it to accomplish the same goal more efficiently or effectively.
Understand why you’re following the system. For example, if you’re making 100 cold calls per day, think bigger. Why are you making cold calls? How did the leads come in? Why is each person in this position making 100/day? How many leads are there total? What happens after I make a successful call? What do the salespeople need to perform their job best? Can I make it easier for them? How does that fit into how we deliver our product?
If you understand the principle of why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you fit into the business as a whole, you instantly become less dispensable. Instead of being a cog in the machine that can be replaced by anyone, you’re equipping yourself to create value outside of your job in the future.
Bring Value to the Gaps (only after you get your shit done)
Think outside of your job. No business is perfect. Find where the business is lacking, and do something simple (on your own time) that will be valuable. If the company already has a solid sales team, don’t try to improve there. Find the gaps in the details and provide simple solutions.
For example, if you’re into photography, offer to take professional headshots for everyone throughout the week during lunch. Write up cold call scripts for new hires. Listen to what people say, find what’s lacking, and create a simple solution in your own time.
Before you know it, you’ll be indispensable.