Never burning bridges; thinking the grass is greener; not prioritising money; putting family ahead of work; are all lessons that were etched in me during the formative years of my career. These lessons have become principles that have essentially defined how I manage my career and inform many of the professional decisions I make. Some had to be learnt the hard way, while others were learnt through near misses — in both cases, the principles were equally ingrained and appreciated. I have obviously not stopped learning and will continue to do so, as I believe the learning process ends with life itself. The following are my personal top five career rules to share with every professional.
1. Never burn your bridges.
I love the quote “never burn your bridges, you will be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.” A few years ago I attended a final round for a job interview. When the interviewer saw where I worked two jobs ago, he realised he knew one of the directors at that company (that particular director was not even in my references). At the time, I didn’t know, but the interviewer called him to ask about me. A year later I bumped into the aforementioned director (I had gotten the job by the way) and he told me about the call. Principle: everyone you engage with in the world of work, even those that you think you will never need, can have an impact on your future!
2. The grass is not always greener at the other company.
Early in my career, I used to idolise specific companies and industries, believing people employed there were so much better off. I would then come across someone working in this “dream” role and find they were often facing the same and at times worse challenges than I was in my current environment. I learnt it is always important to do your homework and research before moving onto “better” prospects. If you are tired of politics at your current company, how sure are you the politics in your next company are not worse? Or if you feel your career is stagnant, ensure any new roles you consider have the type of growth you are looking for. Principle: The grass is not always greener on the other side, its green where you water it!
3. Never putting career ahead of your family.
If you were told you had one week left to live, would going to work and rounding up all your tasks be a priority to you? Probably not. You would most likely spend that week with your family and loved ones. I witnessed a few incidences in the world of work where loyal employees, who had practically given their lives and sacrificed their families at the helm of demanding companies get discarded and forgotten by the same organisation they were unconditionally committed to. Even though I did not have a family when I first witnessed this, it taught me that as an employee I will always be disposable and as much as I love my job and remain committed, my family will always come first. This of course is a personal choice. Principle: Do not neglect your life, family and other relationships for work.
4. Never Prioritizing Money (if you can help it).
I once accepted a job which offered me a huge salary bump, this was in spite of knowing that this role was the polar opposite of my personality, values, interests and work style. The three months I spent at that company can best be described as “soul destroying”. Needless to say I quit without securing another job. The greatest takeaway from that experience was to interrogate the core functions of any role I was considering and being unafraid of passing “great paying” roles that did not align with my values, interests and career goals in spite of the package. I qualified the title of this paragraph with “if you can help it” because I do not deny that at times, due to life circumstances, money may have to be a driving force. Principle: Money does not always equal happiness, some of the most career satisfying projects and roles I have been involved in have been the lowest paying!
5. Invest in yourself.
One element I consider to be a valuable metric to my professional growth and development is continuous learning and up-skilling. This means keeping up with industry trends though activities such as professional conferences, seminars, formal training, extra certifications etc. I spent about 18 months as a free-lance consultant and had to forgo the privilege of the “training budget” allocation I had received as a full time employee. I was tempted to put on hold any training and development activities as they were largely expensive when paying from an individual’s pocket. However, I determined to make the sacrifice in order to remain relevant and I saw this as an investment particularly being “a knowledge worker.” In hindsight, there isn’t a training course I attended that did not eventually pay dividends! Principle: If you invest in the right training and development for yourself, this investment will pay for itself many times over!
These are obviously not the only career rules and principles I live by, but they certainly do rank as my top ones. As much as I can help it, I try to make them core to how I manage and navigate my career. What are your essential career rules and principles?