My 10-Point Plan For Career Success At Any Age
Anyone who wants to achieve lasting career success first needs a potent plan to find their place in the fluid 21st century workplace. This is Part 2 of my "Rapid Career Success Plan" -- which is especially applicable to Millennials (Generation Y) and their younger demographic cohort, Generation Z. These two demographic groups of young people represent a new generation of leadership who will profoundly impact all professions and industries around the world in the coming decades.
Recap of Part 1
Following is a brief recap of the initial four points of this 10-point plan, as articulated here on April 25, 2016 in a blog post entitled, Roadmap to Career Success for Millennials & Gen Z .
1) Define Your Vision: Begin with a dream or vision of success before you enter the workforce. Be bold, think big and be specific. Narrowly tailor your career goals with definitive steps in an incremental hierarchy of achievement.
2) Build Bridges to Your Dream: Obtaining the academic and professional knowledge to position oneself in a competitive marketplace is only the start. Additionally, finding good mentors to help you learn and advance along the way is of critical importance to bridging the gap in age and work experience.
3) Dare to Think Big: Don’t be afraid to follow your
dreams. Dare yourself to take risks in order to plant the seeds of
success. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. Do so while you’re
still young and have your entire work life ahead of you. Recall the saying: “No risk, no reward.”
4) Remember the three Ps: Perseverance, positivity and personality all go a long way toward achieving success of any kind in life. Don’t invent artificial reasons why you can’t achieve your professional goals at a young age, or any age. Don’t talk yourself out of potential career success before even trying. Rather, be positive, personable and perseverant.
Here are the latter six points of the plan...
5) Network, Network, Network
No, that's not a typo. Rather it's analogous to that old saying in real estate: location, location, location. The same applies to career advancement in general and networking in particular. It’s not only important to work harder and smarter with cutting-edge technology, but to also embrace and nurture key professional relationships through networking (online and off).These VIP relationships can help pave the way toward swift career advancement. My advice: be fearless, relentless and tireless when networking. Knock on every appropriate door and leave no proverbial stone unturned. This means reaching out to influencers, executives and experts to assist you.
As noted in Part 1, mentors helped me to quickly land a gig as the editorial page editor of the daily student newspaper at the University of Maryland during my sophomore year. I was the youngest editor on staff and won a writing award from The Society of Professional Journalists.
Once that goal was crossed off my list, I turned my attention to national politics, as I've always had a keen interest in public affairs and public service.
I aspired to land the highest internship possible within the U.S. Congress.
I researched and sought out leading political science professors on campus, some of whom had experience working on prior presidential campaigns. Then I showed up at their offices, sometimes unannounced. Fortunately, none of them threw me out.
I shared my news clips, discussed my career goals, and made a bold request for their help. This came via letters of recommendation and references. Frankly, I was surprised this worked out so well, as I didn't know what to expect. However, reaching out to potential mentors via networking turned out to be a wise move and lifelong lesson.
You may have heard the saying: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
I would add this caveat -- as pointed out by MSNBC-TV host and former presidential speechwriter, Chris Matthews, in his book, “Hardball” (first published in 1988 before his long running political talk show of the same name):
It’s not only who you know, but who you get to know well.
- Who will go to bat for you when needed?
- Who will provide a good recommendation?
- Who will put you in touch with the right contacts?
That’s the true test of networking. You may know a lot of people, but what good is that if they brush you off when asked for help?
Today’s young people are fortunate to have a plethora of social media networking tools at their fingertips, such as beBee. While this certainly makes the networking process easier, it should not supersede it by serving as a safety blanket.
While social media networking is a great start, it’s also important to meet your connections in person, to the extent possible. This solidifies budding relationships and makes you stand out in a crowd of young job seekers who may shun in-person meetings.
Let's face it, most young people today appear more eager to text than talk. They would rather use Facebook over meeting face to face.
Millennials and Gen Z should not rely on social media networking only, nor should anyone. That's just one tool and can't replace the human element.
My friend and colleague, beBee Ambassador John White MBA, offers some exemplary advice on leveraging social media as a springboard to networking in person ("Use Social Media to Create Conversations in the Real World").
Thus, try going the extra mile to meet your contacts for lunch, coffee, dinner, drinks, or just stop by their office and say hello. If geography is problematic, then use live video streaming devices like Skype and other popular tech tools.
What if meeting in person is not possible in the short term? In that case, send VIP contacts periodic emails, cards or hand written letters. That way they won't forget you. Moreover, they will likely be impressed by your efforts.
Then try to meet in person at a later date at their convenience, not yours. Remember that your high-level connections will be super busy, of course, so always be patient and polite.
6) Reject the Naysayers
The bigger your dream, the more likely people will tell you it’s out of reach, if not impossible. But don’t let negativity steer you off course.
I set my sights high in securing a coveted full-time internship (for college credit) with the Office of the Majority Leader, House of Representatives, within the ornate U.S. Capitol Building. That's the Number 2 leadership office in the lower chamber of Congress behind the Speaker of the House.
But I never would have achieved that goal had I listened to all the naysayers.
Most young people secure such high-level internships through home state connections to the congressman and/or big campaign contributions from family members. But I had neither of those key factors going for me.
This caused a lot of my friends and colleagues to ask why they would want me? It was a good question. However, sometimes long shots come in.
Nearly everyone I spoke to about this goal told me I had no chance. Yet I remained steadfast and undeterred, even though I was only 20 years old. Eventually, I was lucky enough to obtain an interview which led to being offered the job.
During the interview, I was passionate about my career aspirations and pledged to do whatever it took to get the job done. This involved, among other things, opening the office at 7:00 a.m. and sifting through all the morning newspapers to point out key articles.
Then I helped prep staff for the morning "message meetings" -- and that was just the very start of a long day's work, which included helping to arrange press events and fielding calls for the press secretary and communications director. I also worked with the speechwriter.
I was unaware at the time that the congressman’s top administrative aide was an alumnus of the University of Maryland who was very familiar with the nationally-recognized student newspaper where I had worked. In hindsight, this likely helped me secure the job.
However, if I had never aimed high in the first place, this game-changing internship would not have materialized.
7) Visualize & Affirm It
In your mind, see yourself having successfully accomplished the goal. Make positive affirmations and feel the corresponding emotions. Other tips: write down your goals, create a scrapbook and be enthusiastic about this process.
My ultimate goal was to work in the White House for a future President of the United States after graduating college in June of 1992. Back then I was a loyal member of the Democratic Party (FYI: I’ve been a registered Independent for the past two decades).
Little did I know at the time that this seminal internship would put me in close contact with the likes of George Stephanopoulos (pictured above at ABC TV News) and other big name political insiders and rising stars who were then top aides to the House Majority Leader -- and subsequently worked for Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign.
The more I assisted them, the more they got to know me, like me and rely on me.
These high-level professional relationships, which I maintained and nurtured, proved instrumental in helping me achieve my ultimate goal: landing a political appointment in the White House for the Administration of President Bill Clinton.
- Below is a photo of my parents and I with President Clinton in the Oval Office. The photo was taken after a Saturday morning weekly radio address to the nation (hence, the casual attire). I worked as a press assistant back then.
- Meanwhile, George Stephanopoulos, with whom I had worked years earlier during that Congressional internship, was a top presidential advisor. Other professionals I had worked with on Capitol Hill also held senior positions.
- Even one of the graduate school professors from the University of Maryland, who helped me as a mentor, ended up working as a domestic policy advisor in the West Wing.
It’s essential to have faith and know in your heart that nothing will stop you from reaching your goal. It’s also imperative to realize that nearly anything is possible if you sincerely believe in yourself and your abilities.
Here's a great example: Russell Wilson is an NFL star quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks (pictured below). He's also a Millennial who led his team to a surprise Super Bowl victory in 2014. Wilson was an undersized and under-rated quarterback in his early 20s at the time. But that didn't stop him, despite his many detractors. Here's Wilson's advice:
- “My dad used to always tell me, Russ, why not you?"
- "And what that meant was believe in yourself, believe in the talent God has given you, and you can go a long way.”
Some might label that outlook as youthful arrogance or even narcissism. However, others will say it’s simply self-confidence, which is an essential ingredient of career success.
I likewise believed in myself and my ability, even though others did not.
9) Leverage Luck & Timing
The rare and powerful combination of luck and timing is an intangible factor in achieving big-time professional success at any age. However, the more prepared and well positioned one is to achieve a specific goal, the more likely that good luck and good timing can be pivotal factors in career advancement.
I did everything in my power back then to best position myself for
unique professional opportunities at a young age. Then I seized those
opportunities despite the odds.
Carpe Diem! (Seize the Day)
Moreover, as noted in Part 1 of this post, this goal and vision of working in the White House started years before I had even heard of Bill Clinton, who was then the governor of Arkansas and not a household name. But interestingly enough, the more I worked for it, networked and believed in my dream, the luckier I appeared to get. However, if you never try, then you'll never know what might have been.
10) Never Give Up
Finally, if you don’t succeed at first, then keep trying. Redouble
your efforts, revise your strategy, and persevere with your revamped
game plan. Don’t give up at the first sign of failure. Rather, consider initial failure as a stepping stone along the way to achieving success.
It's a well known historical fact that most successful people first faced great adversity and failure prior to achieving big goals -- but they fought through it and learned from it. They forged ahead with renewed vigor instead of giving up.
The irony here is that the more successful one becomes, the less people tend to remember the failures which preceded the grand achievements.
Therefore, don't fall prey to giving up too early and prematurely forfeiting potential success. Too many people hit major roadblocks and then end up taking an easier and more conventional career path. In essence, they give up on their dreams and settle for something less.
But no one wants to look back later in life thinking about what could have been. That is, if only they had tried harder by remaining steadfast, positive, and persevering longer.
Whoever you are, no matter how far away your professional dreams may appear, anything is possible if a person is 100% committed to the ultimate goal and doesn't give up. This is critically important for today's new generation of future leaders to comprehend and act upon to quickly advance in their careers.
By acting on the aforementioned 10 points and principles in a strategic and deliberate manner, you may soon find unique job opportunities appearing before your eyes.
In fact, your dream job may even materialize before you know it, just as it did for me when I was a certain age.
What do YOU think?
- NOTE: A preliminary version of the blog post first appeared on beBee.com HiveBlog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I'm an independent writer and
strategic communications advisor with over 20 years of experience in the
public and private sectors, including work in the White House,
Congress, national news media and elsewhere. You can also join me on Twitter and Medium.
NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector employer, private sector employer, organization or political entity.