“Who the hell do you think you are to write this?” I asked myself minutes before writing this article. And honestly, it was a tough question. Ideally, someone with at least ten years of work experience should write this article, or at least, so I thought.
But then, I checked my LinkedIn profile, and I discovered that I’ve worked for over 30 companies (this does not include freelance roles but full-time roles and internships) in almost two years. It’s crazy, and I don’t encourage anyone to be as extreme as I was.
If there is anything I’ve learned so far, it’s that we all have stories to tell. No matter how little, we all have passed certain stages in our careers. For that single reason, we are qualified to teach those behind us the mistakes we made and how they can do better.
As a young person who has navigated the professional space and worked for over 30 companies, including startups, multinational firms, and small businesses, here are the 30 lessons I’ve learned so far:
Don’t get too excited by any offer
No matter how juicy an employment offer might be, don’t get over-excited and imagine it will be paradise. Reflect and consider your options before you accept it.
Always read the terms of employment
You might get a job offer after being unemployed for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the terms of employment. As insignificant as reading employment terms might sound, it saves you a lot of trouble.
You’re not indispensable
You might have been your class valedictorian or a champion at everything you do, thereby thinking you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But you’re not indispensable. You can get fired any day, any time.
It’s okay to get fired
Yes, you’ll hurt, but you’ll be fine. Trust me. I’ve been fired two times, and the last time I checked, I’m still alive.
It’s not about you
Yeah, you might have been the best applicant, but once you get on the job, you have to realize that not everything is about you. You’re not a protagonist in everyone’s story (including your boss’).
Don’t take anything personally
Everybody has their reasons for doing what they do. Your work partner might not like you or try to sabotage you for reasons best known to them. Whatever anyone does to you, don’t take it personally.
Don’t get fooled by the hype
One thing I learned the hard way is not to get fooled by a company’s online reputation. While a company might look excellent on the outside, working as staff might offer a totally different experience. Marketing is all perception, don’t get sold by it. Before you join a company, do critical research about its culture and policies.
It’s about recommendations
I would be lying if I said I got 100% (or even 80%) of my jobs through job boards. The majority of my jobs came from recommendations. Someone who knew me recommended me to someone who they know. That’s how it is behind the scenes.
Avoid unpaid internships like the plague
Except you look forward to modern slavery, and the work experience is one that you cannot possibly get elsewhere, run from unpaid internships.
No one cares
I used to think making genuine excuses would make people overlook your faults, but I learned the hard way. No one cares!
Don’t make excuses
Speaking about how no one cares, you shouldn’t be known for excuses either (except when it’s completely unavoidable).
If you get paid for it, treat it like a job
The biggest mistake you’ll ever make (especially as a young person) is thinking you do your employer a favor by performing your duties. No matter how you work hard, it’s your job if it falls within the domain of your duties.
Don’t be that one person who’s always complaining about one thing or the other.
Pay attention to details
Although the phrase ‘pay attention to details’ has turned to a CV buzz phrase, it’s an indispensable skill. No matter how insignificant a piece of information might be, pay close attention to it. Not paying attention could cost you a lot.
While it’s advisable not to be too cozy with your colleagues, try to build valuable relationships with the ones you admire. My mentor, Mary Imasuen, is someone I met at a law firm where I once interned. Without her, I wouldn’t have made certain breakthroughs. So, build relationships that transcend beyond the workplace, it always pays.
Don’t trust anyone
While it’s good to build relationships, be careful who you trust. People don’t need to know all about you. Secrets are called ‘secrets’ for a reason.
Underpromise, over-deliver. A good trick is to promise less than you’re capable, this makes your results more impressive than it should be.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep
While you might want to impress your employer, don’t make promises, you know you can’t deliver.
Don’t take too much than you can handle
Except you need to hit a financial target, managing five jobs at the same time is a bad idea.
Practicing is the best way to learn
I’m a fan of taking online courses, professional exams, and getting certified. Still, nothing beats getting dirty and doing the job.
Learn to be willingly foolish
Sometimes, it pays to feign ignorance and learn even more from those ahead of you. Be humble.
Before you ask someone for help, try doing it yourself
If you can easily get the answer to your questions on the first page of Google, there’s no point bugging your seniors about it. You’ll end up looking like a bother rather than a curious person when you ask unnecessary questions.
Know when to walk away
If the job is becoming too toxic, learn to walk away.
There is value in every experience
Even if a work experience didn’t teach you anything worthwhile, you learn something: what you don’t want. That knowledge will help you avoid getting into such situations again.
Learn how to negotiate
Don’t simply accept a salary. You’re bringing something to the table, price it as appropriate. Risky? Yeah. But it’s worth it.
Apply for positions even if you think you don’t qualify for them. You never know until you try. Last year, I applied for a job that I didn’t think I qualified for. Guess what? Not only did I get it, but I also became the first and only Nigerian to have gotten the job.
Don’t rely on one skill
If you get into a job with a particular skill, you use it over and over again. As a result, you get bored with it. This might reduce your value in the marketplace over time. So once you master a particular skill, acquire another on the side until you’re ready to monetize it.
You know far more than you think you do
When I first started, I put those ahead of me on a pedestal. I thought you needed some magic secrets to be like them. I’m just an undergraduate, what do I possibly know? But after working with 30 organizations (and different people), I realized the truth – I know way more than I give myself credit.
Don’t be driven by other people’s definitions of success
I made the mistake of using other people’s success metrics for myself when I first started. That explains my craze for work (and doing more than I could handle). I wanted that LinkedIn glamour, the toxic pleasure of humblebrags. But redefining what success truly means to me has changed the way I approach work and life. I’m no longer afraid to go against the norm.
Say “no” more than you say “yes”.
For every yes you say, you give part of your life away. So be overly selective on the opportunities you say yes to. Try not to do something because everyone’s doing it, or it’ll look good on paper. Don’t feel pressured to take on work or accept a job you don’t want. Be clear on what you want and say yes only to such opportunities.
These are the lessons I’ve learned so far in my career. They are purely subjective and should not be seen as ‘advice’ but rather a reflection that you can learn from.
What have you learned from your career?