The first jobs we have coming out of college are arguably the ones that shape our careers the most. The younger we are, the more malleable we are; it's not an exaggeration to say that for most of us, our work during our twenties shapes the remainder of our professional lives. I am currently in high tech, and only small, gradual career pivots can potentially get me out of this sector (if I so choose). During these formative years, I believe that there are three factors that are most vital for a healthy and productive professional investment.
#1: The Boss
The Boss. He can be your savior or your nemesis. It's almost blind luck whether you'll land in a group with a great boss or not, particularly on your first gig that you got straight out of on campus recruitment.
The boss quite simply determines everything about your job. He is the one who decides whether your tasks will be interesting or menial, and whether that will ever change. He could treat you with respect and care about your learning and growth, or choose to use you as a cog.
Every company has interesting responsibilities and great learning opportunities. While there is a bilateral relationship in the subordinate demonstrating his capability to the boss, in the end all the chips belong to the manager.
Your boss is also the person from whom you will learn the most, whether it be through his past experiences, the decisions you see him make, or simply the way he works. We will be influenced and shaped by the boss' quirks and mannerisms one way or another, either emulating or deliberately defying them.
#2: The Job
The second most important aspect of work is the responsibilities of the job themselves. The actual things you do from day to day are key factors in your learning, your satisfaction, your happiness, and the accomplishments that you can boast when moving on to your next stint, whether it be inside the same company or not.
Our job responsibilities are what keep us motivated during the 8+ hours we punch in at the office, five days a week. If it weren't interesting or challenging, the job is going to get old and repetitive real fast. "Meaningful" work sounds more realistic and more valuable than so called "enjoyable" work, to me personally at least.
What we do and what we accomplish are what lets us move forward in our careers. The number one reason why people leave a company is because their responsibilities become stale, and they don't see growth in the future, or a different position to move up into in the near time frame.
#3: The Team
Your coworkers, or more precisely your team, is the group you'll be spending the bulk of the time with at the office, both working and not working. They are the people who largely set the work environment for you. Even within the same company, different teams will have different cultures and different ways of doing things. You can easily mesh well with one group but not enjoy the cast of characters in another.
As mentioned before, we're spending at least 8 hours a day with these guys, for more than 200 days a year. You'll be spending around a third of your waking hours at the office with these guys; it's pretty paramount that you enjoy collaborating and debating with them, but perhaps even more important that you like hanging around and engaging and pointless stupid conversation with them. Enjoying the "off" moments at the office is key to health and longevity at the office.
There are other factors contributing to the importance of the team as well. You'll be learning indirectly from them, whether it's by seeing them work or by asking them questions. They are people who will inspire you or demotivate you from doing more and learning more.
As a corollary, they will form your future personal network, the people to tap in both good times and bad. In the West, job security doesn't come through lifetime employment anymore. We gain security through our own skills and experiences, as well as the people we can count on to help us out when the going gets tough. In the West, forging a strong professional network is one of the most important and difficult aspects of one's career.
What About Pay?
What about the paycheck you say? I'd be lying if I said that compensation isn't important. At the very least, it's the most concrete and direct means by which we feel appreciated. Pay is, at the most basic level, what the company is telling us how much we are worth. If it is grossly lower than what we expect from ourselves, then it is a blow to both our pride and our motivation.
However, pay isn't as important as the three factors I've listed above. In the long term, pay is a function of your experience and the opportunities you have access to. This in turn, is dictated by your boss, your job responsibilities, and your team.
If these three facets of your career are solid, then you shouldn't have issues with career advancement or pay raises in the future, whether it be with your current company or your next.
In the end, our professional leverage is largely driven by the flexibility we have and the range of options we have available to us. The three factors I listed will contribute directly to growing your leverage, which is tantamount to establishing and elevating your career.
Crossposted from my main blog