Your job won’t always be your dream job. Sometimes you’ll take on projects you don’t like, work with people whose company you don’t enjoy, or get paid less than you think you’re worth. Sometimes, your focus will be on getting by until you find your next gig or get promoted. However, no matter what you do, there is almost always more to gain from your work than a paycheck.
Many employees think of their salary as the sole value they derive from their job. Career growth requires a deliberate focus on personal growth to prepare yourself for the next rung on your career ladder. Here are five goals to focus on in your work:
A story is a narrative that you can use to demonstrate the value you created for your organization. Stories are much more powerful than a list of responsibilities. A responsibility is blindly following what your manager tells you to do. A story shows that you have the understanding, initiative, and follow-through to create value for your organization.
Let’s say you work at a pizza parlor. A responsibility might be “I made pizzas, ran the cash register, swept the floors, and closed the restaurant.”
A story could be:
I started out washing dishes. After two weeks, I learned how to mix the sauce and throw the pizza, and was able to handle all the kitchen duties on my own on weeknights. After a month, I offered to close the restaurant so my manager could see his son’s little league game. He taught me how to run the cash register, and soon after, I was able to run the pizza parlor on my own when needed.
This story demonstrates ambition, progression, and responsibility. It adds context, credibility, and an emotional element: Every restaurant manager wishes for someone reliable to trust when he needs to attend to personal matters. I did not approach my first summer out of college with this attitude, but I did master pizza-making and created a veggie stromboli that was added to the menu.
Imagine how many more entrepreneurs we would have if every college student approached his summer job with the goal of running a small business. Don’t start writing your story when trying to write your resume—your story should be the most important consideration when you decide which opportunity you want to pursue.
Skill-building is the second essential goal you need from your job. Building skills requires your attention when looking for a job and an entrepreneurial attitude when on the job. Especially when you are starting out, it is often worth it to sacrifice salary in exchange for skills.
My first job out of college was to build a customer relationship management platform for a small machinery sales business and run their IT operations. It didn’t pay much, but I had complete freedom to architect a software solution to the business, which I then abstracted into a software product we sold to another company.
I wasn’t paid much that year, but I gained tremendously valuable experience for my career that would not have been possible for a junior developer on a large team. After a year, I was able to jump right into a mid-level role and more than double my salary.
No matter what your boss or HR says, it is up to you to build your toolkit. Be on the lookout for developments in your chosen field and try to steer to projects that build on that. Some of my peers in software worked themselves into a career dead-end by jumping into high-paying roles for major corporations that involved arcane and proprietary programming languages. Despite years of experience, they had trouble moving on because their skills were too specialized to be interesting to anyone else.
Your salary is a reflection of how much value you create for your organization. If you want to increase your compensation, you must increase your value to your employer. Do what your boss asks first, but then discover what builds value for your employer and focus on that.
Consider making the value you create visible within your company as part of your job description just as much as the work you are responsible for completing.
4. Social Capital
The fourth asset you need to derive from your work is your social capital. The best leads for your next opportunity will come from the people who see you at your best—your coworkers. Use your time at the office to establish connections with peers, mentors, and influencers who will aid in your career.
Even lunch should be a strategic tool to advance your career. Don’t have lunch with the same people every single day: Use it as a mentorship or networking opportunity by inviting someone from your organization. Don’t gossip, complain, or brag—talk about some work you are excited about or ask for advice—and find people older and more experienced than you whose advice is worth asking and who can vouch for you when your name comes up for a new project.
Finally, you should find a job you love. Especially when you are young, make your job your primary focus in life.
This is not to dismiss the value of family, friends, etc., but as far as goal-pursuit is concerned, you need to prioritize your career. If you come in the morning tired from video games, partying, reading books, or engaging in other hobbies, think hard about your life and your time management. Schedule your social life, put time limits on games, and sip your liquor; do whatever it takes.
Write the story you want to tell about your job. Discover what skills your market finds valuable. Build social capital with mentors and influencers.
Cut out the non-essential junk in your life so you can come in and perform like a rockstar every morning. You’re not a kid anymore, and you need to start adulting ASAP. If you can’t get sufficiently motivated about your job to do that, create opportunities to combine your hobbies and your career.
Making your career your primary purpose in life does not mean working more hours. Not only is overwork counterproductive, but it is also often the excuse to avoid taking the few, uncomfortable steps needed to actually make progress in life.
Write the story you want to tell about your job. Discover what skills your market finds valuable. Build social capital with mentors and influencers. Finally, find work that you find truly satisfying.