Most of us don’t start on top. We likely have our share of jobs lacking glamour or world-changing ability. For a lot of people these might be part-time jobs while in school. Notable people who had rather un-notable early jobs include financier Warren Buffet who bagged groceries, General Colin Powell who sold baby furniture, and actor Matthew McConaughey who shoveled chicken manure. I’ve had such exciting part-time jobs as a car washer, cleaning a health club, and delivering flowers. Often even when one finishes college in order to work toward the job one wants and is preparing for one will have to take a position that supports the type of work they want to someday do.
It’s the old “getting your foot in the door” approach. There is wisdom in this in that if you can get in, do good work, and get the right contacts then someday you can position yourself to interview for the job you want. Whether near or far from the position you are seeking there are attitudes and characteristics you can cultivate now that will help you in the long run. Here are four timeless traits valuable to develop which will benefit you no matter your career choice.
Taking pride in excellence is something that keeps you grounded and validated in what you do.
Learn to work hard
This may sound like your grandmother’s advice but it’s passed down as wisdom for a reason: it’s true. Learn to appreciate a good day’s work. Show up early and leave late when it’s necessary to get the job done. While its true life has to have balance it is also more likely that your life obligations are less complex when you are starting out then they will be later in life. Your supervisors notice who is there on-time (or early) and who isn’t afraid to work late if needed. Move yourself to an orientation where your satisfaction with the job is based on your ability to give it your best, not on outside validation. Taking pride in excellence is something that keeps you grounded and validated in what you do. There’s not going to be a “high five” at the end of every work day from your employer or fellow employees. If you take pride in doing your best work day in and day out the right people will notice.
Learn to work humbly
When you are building your career not all work assignments is going to be the stuff of dreams. Some are tedious, arduous, and even boring. While some of the tasks may seem mundane it doesn’t mean they can’t be done with excellence in attitude and action. In fact, I would encourage you to strategically seek out the tasks others don’t like and learn how to do them. You may find ways to make it better. Look for the jobs and tasks your supervisor doesn’t like or seem to have time for. It may be that you can take those off him or her. Overall, it’s a great way to demonstrate you are a learner and a team player in addition to being able to find you know a lot more about the work than most people around you. In the end a humble attitude, whether it is helping lead a project or packing boxes will communicate you are the type of employee an organization wants to invest in.
If you can add and subtract then ensure the amount you spend is appropriate when it is appropriate you’ve got the basics.
Learn to manage money
It’s most likely you don’t need degrees in finance to manage the budgets of your work area. For whatever reason I’ve found many people get nervous about managing budgets. Unless you are doing long-term strategic financial planning managing monthly and annual budgets is the same simple math you learned in grade school. If you can add and subtract then ensure the amount you spend is appropriate when it is appropriate you’ve got the basics. Understand what factors drive your spending, what risks throwing things off-track, and do your best to keep the spending at or below what the budget allows. If you can follow these basic principles and keep the appropriate people updated then you can manage a budget at work. There are likely people that your supervisor can go to for the complex issues of financial planning but if your supervisor can trust you to know and manage your budget you will position yourself well.
Personnel headaches are one of the biggest challenges of your leadership so demonstrating you know how to tackle these issues is a way to stand out.
Learn to manage people
Herein lies the trickiest of the four practices, learning how to manage people. This is complex because, well, humans are complex. Each person has different work styles, levels of motivation, goals, and ways they communicate. Unlike the understood truths of managing a budget (spend less then you take in) managing people is an ever-changing dynamic and not many people learn to excel in it. The best way to begin to get a handle on this is to know yourself well. Taking some personality and emotional awareness assessments are a great place to start. Once you have a good foundation of understanding what makes you tick and how you communicate then branch out to learning about others. This can be done through several coaching type of courses. Learn about the different ways to lead others. Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership philosophies are a great place to start. Personnel headaches are one of the biggest challenges of your leadership so demonstrating that you know how to tackle these types of issues is a way to stand out.
Although each situation is different practicing and adhering to the principles of working hard and humbly as well as learning to manage people and budgets will get you a solid foundation on which to build your career path. It won’t happen overnight, or even as fast as we would like sometimes, but dedication to these principles will pay off and make you a valuable part of any organization.