What Every Professional Should Know Before 30

At 18, I had my first “real” job working at a small law firm. I had my very own desk, computer, and stationary. I remember feeling responsible, nervous and excited all at the same time. I thought I had arrived….(into adult-hood) until I realized I lacked quite a few things.

1. How to say NO. When you’re just starting out, saying YES is what you think you’re supposed to do, especially if you’re a bit insecure about your ability to pair up with people who have more experience than you. Some people say yes to be nice. Others say yes because they think if they say no, they’ll be viewed as someone who doesn’t want to work or isn’t serious about being part of the team. I’ve discovered that saying YES and not having the time or experience it takes to get the work done the right way is far worse than saying no could ever be. Saying yes and turning in mediocre work is never a good thing. Saying NO kindly and confidently will be a powerful tool in your career toolbox. If you ever get stuck, try this: “Would you mind giving me some time to think it over? I have a few things I need to consider before deciding.” Most people don’t mind giving you a night or two to sleep on it. It’s respectful, yet not quite a solid NO without thought.

2. How to ask for a raise. Asking for a raise can be tricky and honestly, it takes a bit of boldness and confidence to do it. That’s why most young professionals take whatever they can get, keep their heads down and hope for the best. When they look up, they realize they’ve spent far too long giving away all that good talent for little to nothing in pay. When I teach my Salary Negotiation course, I tell my students to remember this key factor: If you don’t know how to effectively communicate your value, it cannot be measured in compensation.

It’s much easier to ask for a raise when you know your value and can clearly relay that value to your boss. Work is a give/take relationship. When negotiating, don’t overlook that fact. Any successful negotiation ends with both parties not fully getting what they want, but being satisfied with what they have.

3. Stop taking things personally. I once had an employee call me into Human Resources to tell me, in front of the HR Manager that she was just sick and tired of working here, not feeling appreciated. She went on to use some extreme language throughout the meeting and basically told me I was a terrible boss. As I sat there, all I could think was – she just wanted to be heard. She wanted us to acknowledge her pain point and find a resolve so she could be happy. To me, it didn’t matter what her delivery was because I knew we both wanted the same thing, to be happy at work. So instead of me taking it as a direct insult to my leadership, I learned from it. I asked her what I could do better and how we can move on in a more positive direction. Stay focused on the result. The problem is only as big as the energy you give it. 

When I started out, I was stuck in the “thanks for doing me a favor” mode for a while, until I realized my value. I learned that every great opportunity doesn’t really mean it’s a great opportunity for me. I learned I was worth more than what I had the courage to ask for and I learned that true leadership is learning how to hear what isn’t being said and being willing to look beyond the mess to hear the message.

What are some things you wish you knew before starting out in your career? Post a comment below or tag me in your post via social media @MVDavids.

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