Land Your First Job, Prep for Career Success

Last Sunday was graduation in my town. There was the expected hoopla – families and parties everywhere, traffic jams, and crowds at every restaurant. And, there was one uninvited though not unexpected guest – anxiety about finding a job.

The Atlantic recently offered a good analysis of the current market for grads. The conclusions were clear – unemployment is higher than normal, underemployment is prevalent, with an uncertain future tied to whatever passes for economic recovery. In short, prospects for that first job are difficult, unless you have one of a few valuable, scarce skill sets.

That said, I believe that there are several steps that COULD help you land a job, and WILL help prepare you for long-term career success. Following is a list of these steps.

1. Master your methods – All careers begin with methodology. In this first step, you build knowledge, learn methods and tools, internalize standards, solve problems, and learn to deliver a complete piece of work (balance the books, wire the house, or perform successful surgery). One common mistake is to leave this step before mastering your methods. Even if you plan to start a business or become a manager, real depth of knowledge and the discipline of mastery will always serve you well. Start mastering methods even before you land that first job.

2. Expand your viewpoint – One key trap that comes with mastery is that you see the world through the lens of your own methods, and start to believe that you have the “right” answer. The best way to avoid this trap is to develop the ability to see your work from other viewpoints – customers, internal clients, colleagues, and even your manager. Ask questions like “how could he use what I create?” or “how might he value it differently from how I do?” These questions will help you create and claim value, reduce useless conflicts, and open the door to personal growth.

3. Learn how the organization creates value – For profit or not, every organization has a way to create and claim value. If you want to be seen as valuable, you must find a concrete and visible way to contribute. However, this will be very difficult to do if you don’t know how the organization defines its value creation. You can always start with simple questions like “who are our key customers and why are they so critical?” or “what part of our company has the greatest impact on performance and why?” or even “how do we make our money?”

4. Deliver a contribution and claim value – You don’t have to rule the world to make the place a little better, and you don’t have to run the company to add value. Your challenge here is to find something that you can do with your skills that directly contributes to improved results – close a sale, discover a new method, remove a roadblock, build critical skills, simplify work and reduce its cost, or recruit a talented person. Once you find your opportunity, you must then sell it to others, and sell it so they can see exactly how your contribution will create the desired result – that’s how you claim your value. (for more help here, make sure to check out two earlier Teleos blogs – You Don’t Have To Hate Selling and Why Can’t Those People See That This Is A Great Idea?

5. Develop skills for self-direction – We may never see a truly “flat” organization, but globalization, technology, and cost pressures are changing the way we manage people. Some believe that managers will become obsolete, but I don’t see that happening. It’s not that management is unimportant but, to deal with these changes, we need to change how we manage. Specifically, we need to reduce dependence on managers and build more self-directed people. You will be much more valuable if you learn skills like influence without authority, managing performance without authority, and resolving conflicts and solving problems collaboratively.

I know that I can’t get you your first job, but I wish you the best of luck and I hope these tips can help you both now and throughout your career.