On Starting A Career
LinkedIn seems to be pimping this #IfIWere22 thing kind of hard, which is cute, considering that basically puts this retrospective series already out of the most desired online demographic. But for those Golden Girls aficionados, 60 Minutes enthusiasts and Murder She Wrote fans who think that LinkedIn is, in fact, a social network, 22 sounds like the beginning of time.
And for most, it is the traditional age where you start your career, although that’s increasingly becoming more difficult, the result of too much competition, too few jobs and a definite trend towards freelance and contract over employment in the workforce.
I was lucky at 22, graduating just before the real estate bubble burst and allowing me to get just enough experience before the recession to land on my feet in the turbulent market after Merrill, but back then, people still sent resumes by fax and filled out paper applications. It was a different world, where Kim Kardashian’s biggest claim to fame was a taped tryst with Brandy’s brother and you could have your choice of gigs simply by graduating with a good degree.
While, according to consultants selling services or bloggers selling BS, both 22 year olds and myself constitute “Gen Y,” and it wasn’t all too long ago I actually was 22, I recognize the fact that there’s a pretty big divide in digital adoption, macroeconomic conditions and the overall jobs market between today’s college grads and the good old class of ott five.
But I guess if I had a Delorean that could crank up to 88 MPH, and I could go back to the middle of the last decade and give myself some career advice in hindsight, this is probably what I’d say:
1. Don’t Play The Game: There are a ton of recent college grads from good schools out there who are smart, hard working, articulate and eager to learn and grow their careers. On paper, you look the same as everyone else; in interviews, you answer questions the same as everyone else, sitting there uncomfortably in your recently purchased suits and silk power ties.
To stand out, you’ve got to break the rules. At 22, I already had landed a pretty cool gig at Comedy Central by writing a cover letter in the form of a Mad Lib, but for some reason, once those internships turned into a job as a recruiter, I was measured by the same metrics as everyone else, and stuck to the same script. I did this for years – conforming to what I thought I should look like, sound like, act like at some of the biggest brands in America.
And yeah, it would have been dumb to roll up with a gangsta lean at the Walt Disney Company, the fact that I tried to play company politics without knowing the rules or gladhand my way based on an org chart instead of people I’d actually connect with probably cost me in the long run. I got the brand reputation, but not the lasting relationships, that come with being yourself at work and looking inside and around instead of constantly up and out.
2. There Are No Experts: Knowledge has become a commodity in the age of social media, and everyone out there claims to know what you need to do to get the job of your dreams, the right career at the right company, paid what you deserve, or whatever other career related insecurities you might be able to sell services or display ads to.
But in a world where there are ninjas lurking in the shadows, gurus trying to peddle personal branding and experts at nothing more than gaming Klout and making lists designed explicitly for linkbaiting and influencer promotion on B2B websites, beware.
Trust yourself, and always question anyone who claims to have a clue about careers – no one knows what they actually want to be when they’re grown up, even when they are grown up, so just go with your gut and ignore those whose livelihoods depend on creating the kind of conformity we’ve already covered as being destructive to a career.
3. Happiness Is A Warm Gun: At 24, I had a corner office in a studio with a ball return and an admin outside – nameplate and everything. I thought, at the time, that would be the case forever. It was a fleeting illusion – and again, even at the next studio, my career might have been my life, but the only thing that’s going to be consistent throughout your career is you. Don’t be too dogmatic about your company’s vision, values or any of that BS – they want to make profits and return shareholder value, and at the end of the day, that might come into a direct collision course with your job.
The days of getting a gold watch are long gone, even though we’re apparently the ones who want a trophy for everything, but there’s no such thing as job security, a pension, or even the guarantees that at-will employment and mandatory arbitration negate – like the promise of a paycheck next week. They don’t even need cause.
So don’t get too swept up in anything except doing your best, and doing it by being yourself. You do that, you’ll be golden.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their “If I Were 22” Series