It's seven months, to the day, until my 30th anniversary with my company. I came here at age 20, fresh out of college, with a mixture of idealism and awe. The idealism and awe soon gave way to day-to-day routine (though, truly, I still have some of both even today), and over the years I've built up some thoughts that I'd like to give out as a couple of pieces of career advice, should any of my readers be early in their careers, or know someone who is and might want to read this.
You are in control of your career.
I learned early in my career that ultimately, whatever work you're doing, your job is really to make your boss happy. That doesn't mean you should shine her shoes, unless, of course, you're employed as a shoe-shiner. It means you should be keenly aware of how your boss is being evaluated, and make sure your work is aligned with that.
At the same time, though, consider this: I spent the first years of my career doing what I was told. I worked on the projects to which I was assigned, and didn't
steer my career myself. I was happy with that, and I did well, but after fifteen years I saw people who'd been around for less time than I progressing faster, and I realized that
doing what I was told wasn't the only way to handle my assignments.
Companies need journeymen, who do good work but don't question and don't lead. But they also need and reward those who take responsibility and lead, and the extent to which you have a choice of which of those to be is greater than you may think. Look for, ask for, volunteer for assignments that will challenge you and that will put you in a visible position. Find assignments that will make a real difference to the company. If you succeed in these you'll be more valuable to the company, and you'll have more similar opportunities, and faster advancement.
There's a risk, of course. If you take on a difficult assignment and fail, it might stall your career — don't expect that your bosses will understand that it was a tough assignment and it's no surprise that you failed. They might, but don't expect it, and certainly don't look for it more than once.
Despite the risk, though, if you're looking for career advancement it's worth it. As you become known for being dependable in difficult situations, and for taking on and completing challenging projects, you increase not only your pay and position title, but also your influence and your job security. People pay attention to what you say, and actively ask for your opinion and involvement. It's a lot more work, but it's also a lot more rewarding.
Be respectful of and polite to the people you work with.
I actually do like most of the people I know at my company, I really do. And so it's not especially hard to be polite and respectful to them: to the people down the hall, the people over in the other building, the people 'round the world. But, even in the best of families, there are conflicts, and I see people, all the time, dealing with conflicts in ways that I consider... um... suboptimal.
We will disagree, both professionally and personally, over time; after nearly 30 years in the company, you can imagine that I've butted heads with many. And in my foolish youth (I am now in my
wise youth stage; I'll let you know when I've reached middle age) I know I didn't always handle things in the best possible way. Surely I still err, now and again. But I make every effort to resolve conflicts sensibly and professionally, and to retain social and professional relationships whenever I can.
This is important because, as I have also seen through the years, you will encounter these people again. You will find yourself working, a few years from now, with that pain in the bum that you told off last week. And s/he will remember you. People you used to work alongside will eventually be in your management chain. Someone you had trouble getting along with back then will tomorrow be someone you have to go to for funding. Do not burn your bridges. It's better for you, and better for your company, if you treat everyone as though s/he might some day be your boss. This doesn't compromise you or your integrity, it doesn't crush your individuality, it doesn't make you someone you're not. It makes you a person deserving of respect as well.