In 2018 I celebrated 10 year at my company. Well not exactly, since I’m currently on maternity and not there at the moment, however it counts all the same. I have been thinking about what I accomplished in 10 years and what I have to look forward to in the future. I feel that I have been in the workforce long enough to dish out some advice to you. Regardless if you are just starting out or have been there for a while take a look at the list below and don’t make the same mistakes I made in my career.
I got my first grown up job in early 2008. Before I finished university I was seeing friends graduate from school and spending a year looking for a job so I wanted to get a jump on it early. I started looking and ended up being pretty lucky to get a great job in a great company. Then the Great Recession happened and my friends who didn’t have jobs couldn’t find anything for years. I was so lucky that I managed to get in at the time.
Working for Free
This is #1 because it is SO wrong on so many levels. Collectively we need to promise that we will not do it. Repeat after me: I WILL NOT WORK FOR FREE. I will break some of them down and let me know if I missed anything.
When I first started I was SUPER interested in the work and figuring out how things worked and how I could solve them. It was a huge puzzle to me. I would get there at 8 and stay until 7pm at night just going through things. Did it matter? Maybe. It’s hard to tell now. But at the time I didn’t understand some of the ramifications of working overtime without being paid.
Your time is money. You need to value your time. There are tons of things you have to do that you are likely not being paid for; don’t make working be one of them. I could have focused on other things like myself, my relationship with friends and family or continued to work at my part time job were I got some fun perks and I would get paid. There was a missed opportunity there.
Working for Free Hurts Everyone
If I work for free then that just raises the bar for everyone else. My boss sees that I can get 1 million things done in what they believe is 40 hours and if other people can’t get that done in actually 40 hours it gives me an unfair advantage. Even if my boss didn’t know I was working overtime my coworkers did so they would work more just to compete. In a company like mine you are compared to your peers for salary increases so people want to appear better than their peers. It just makes the whole environment tough to work in.
It also hides the fact that my job might not be doable for one person but they don’t have to pay me to do the work of additional people so they don’t know that they need additional resources on the team. When departments have to pay that much overtime it is more costly than another person’s salary. They might look into hiring another person. Extra resources benefit whole teams.
When I started at the company the department I worked for had very strict rules about getting paid for overtime. I needed to ask before I worked OT. If it is 5pm and I need to do something and my manager is gone I can’t exactly ask for approval at that point. On the one hand they didn’t actually want people to work overtime but on the other hand they didn’t acknowledge that sometime it is bound to happen so flexible policies would have made that easier. By 4 years into my career I knew that if I needed to work overtime I was going to get paid for it. At that time I moved to a team where the money flowed so I was pulling in tons of extra hours each year and getting paid. After you start getting paid for overtime it’s really hard to go back.
Moral of the story: Don’t work for free. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Offering to Take Meeting Notes
I try to be helpful and a team player but I realized that a lot of the extra administrative work on my team was being handled by women vs men. Most of the women volunteered to do these tasks before men did. When I exited a team, I made sure to hand that piece over to a male on the team who wasn’t really working on all the much. Sometimes women are put in a place where they are believed to be better at tasks because they do them more often and then they are consistently given this work. Then they are seen as excelling in administrative tasks while the men do all of the talking. While this work is important it isn’t going to advance your career or give you leadership skills. If you went to any schooling before working the odds are you know how to take notes.
It is a lot of effort to take meeting notes during a meeting. The biggest issue is that you want to get everything so you spend less time talking and more time writing. If you can take notes and talk, good on you. I don’t feel like I do either thing well when I try to multitask. In a lot of companies how much you say and when you say it are important. There are times when the only face time you get with senior leadership is in monthly meetings. If you aren’t saying anything, even just a comment, people notice that. In the last 2 years before my maternity leave (link) I only took notes when being told to. I never volunteered.
Moral of the Story: Women, don’t offer to take notes and if they are always assigned to women speak up and try to get them over to men to handle.
Not Understanding My Strengths Early On
After 3 years in the company I moved to a high profile team. The manager of that team was supportive and helped me in my career. One of the things he said to me early on was that I needed to figure out my brand. That puzzled me. What was I going to be known for? Or more appropriately, what did I want to be known for? At first I was focused on mastery or being the go-to person and while I am good at that it really isn’t what my strength is.
It took me a while but I eventually realized that I like to change things. I can break teams, processes and ways of working apart, making them better and put them back together.
My last role was a dream role. I got to create a brand new role in my company with pretty much a blank canvas to do so. It was a steep learning curve that was draining and challenging but it was the best job I ever had. It was thrilling to make something from nothing. I want to make things better than they were before. My strength is figuring things out and changing organizations. If I positioned myself like that from the beginning I feel like I would have gotten to where I wanted to go sooner. I would have been able to get more opportunities if I framed myself up that I was a fixer and I would have had more interesting projects to work on. Don’t worry if your strength isn’t normally considered “valuable” in your company or industry. Being amazing at something and having lots of confidence does help.
Moral of the Story: Know who you are and go all out on it.
Not Negotiating My Starting Pay or Asking for Raises
When I started at my job I was working as a barista (yes, there) and while I was making decent money at the time it wasn’t a starting salary at a huge company money. Since the amount was so much higher than I was getting paid along with benefits and 3 weeks of vacation I just took the job. I was stressed out about finding a job (see above) and this was an AMAZING opportunity. I didn’t want to risk it.
As I mentioned less than 6 months after I started the stock market tanked and the economy ground to a halt a year after I started. There were hiring freezes and job losses. Truthfully we were hit hard and at that point having a job was considered amazing so pushing for pay raises wasn’t really cool. When things started to turn around I had a boss who was more than generous with my pay curve and pushed for as much as he could get for me. When I spoke to other coworkers on other teams I was finding out I was getting 5-6X what they were getting. We weren’t doing the same work and my job was considerably more difficult so I was happy to get what I got.
After I transitioned bosses my increases slowed down. It wasn’t clear if that was at the end of my pay curve or my current boss wasn’t as generous. I never asked. I felt that I was getting paid well so I didn’t make a big deal about it. But I’m sure now there was money left on the table. Money that could have been used to save more or invest or do whatever I want with. I should have asked for more transparency and I will in the future.
Moral of the story: Ask for more money. The worst they can say is no.
Not Advocating for Myself
I SUCK at talking about myself. When you are trying to get promoted the way I was I needed to talk about myself all of the time. I don’t like doing that; I don’t know why. Maybe I have been trained to not brag about my accomplishments. Maybe it’s the patriarchy telling me not to talk or that women shouldn’t have ambition. I know that one of the biggest issues that I have is my inability to recognize when I have done above and beyond on something. A lot of the time I would get thanks from people I would brush it off as no big deal. “I’m just doing my job” I would say. The fact was that I was AMAZING at my job so what I viewed as NBD was actually a pretty big deal for most people. That cool role I had only 5 or 6 people in my global company held it and me and my co-worker were far and away the most successful. We had to stop on the regular to remind ourselves that we were rocking it.
When I had to advocate for myself and list out all of the things that I did that was deserving of promotion I struggled. Since everything I did was “just my job” it made it difficult to list big time accomplishments. Leadership didn’t want to hear about regular stuff. They wanted to hear how I saved money or time or money or especially money. Even saving a tiny amount of money in a big organization is a big deal and it isn’t something that every person does. The fact that I could not see what I was doing was spectacular and valued it led me away from advocating for myself. Everything was so run of the mill in my mind.
According to other people this also makes me a weaker leader. One leader actually told me that if I can’t boast about myself how can I do it for others on my team? Truthfully I love talking about other people’s success. I would share the same success stories from my co-workers over and over since they were amazing to me. But my own stuff I was tight lipped about and brushed it off. I was lucky that I had huge cheerleaders in my corner to help support me. When I head back I need to overshare (from my perspective) results from my team and myself.
Moral of the story: Talk about yourself. Especially if you don’t want to. If that’s you, you have to talk even more.
Not Taking Advantage of Free Training
I work through my lunch. I get stressed out attending all day meetings when I would rather do work. So I didn’t take advantage of free training that would put me out of the office all day. But I missed out. In my last role I was much more inclined to take training however I worked in another office so it was difficult to get to the office and arrange for the training well in advance. But I missed out on free development and growth that my company offered. WHAT? Why would I do this? Because I didn’t want to check e-mails at night? I should have just treated training like an investment in my growth and career the same way I did for my audio books. Free training is free training. It goes on a resume and makes me better at my job overall. When I head back I will be in the main office and I will attend as much training as I can and make sure every employee around me does the same.
Moral of the story: If you company is giving you free things that can improve your resume find the time.
I want to hear from you what you think your biggest mistake in your career has been?