If You Think Getting A Job Is Tough, Try Keeping One!

Published: 29 July 2012

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by Mosima Selekisho

You’re young, ambitious and have just started your first job. You nailed the interview. Your educational qualifications seemed to help and you were smart enough to make yourself presentable and prepare for obvious questions from your employer. Now what?

This is where the hard work begins. If you thought getting a job was tough, try keeping it and using the position as a springboard to promotion and meaningful career development.

Before going to work on your first day, look in the mirror. Check that your head is on right because your attitude and way of thinking will determine whether you grow your career or blow your career.

Learn one employment statistic off by heart before you even start. This one: by the end of 2010 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis our economy had shed more than ONE MILLION jobs.

There were graduates among those casualties. Many of the newly unemployed had qualifications as good as yours, sometimes better. They all had more on-the-job experience than you do right now.

Market volatility may return. Your challenge, through the ups and downs, is to identify yourself as an asset to be retained and further developed.

There are no guarantees, but some behaviour is helpful while other behaviour is not.

Here are some tips to help you ‘behave yourself’ all the way to the top (based on feedback from successful executives who have shared information on their own development):

  • You’re there to learn as well as earn … Don’t think that because you’ve finished university or high school you’ve finished learning. To earn big you learn big. Start in learning mode from Day One. Ask questions and indicate to colleagues and your superiors that you are eager to learn. Show you are fascinated by the workings of your company and department (even if you secretly see it merely as a stepping stone to other things).
  • Train more and you gain more … check on training and development opportunities. Find out the criteria are for programme inclusion. Your immediate superior or HR department may provide information like this in your first few days. But things change. New modules may be introduced. Make sure you stay in the know.
  • Lifelong learning vital for those yearning for success … in addition to formal training and participation in development courses it is advisable to absorb further knowledge. Read widely. Also read about your industry, new trends and technology.
  • Mentors are great helpers … many companies have formal mentoring processes to ensure knowledge is passed from experienced personnel to newcomers. Participation can fast-track you to greater responsibility or speed your rotation into other parts of the business. If no formal mentoring programme exists you can sometimes identify your own informal mentor – a knowledgeable individual who gets things done. Try to learn from skilled practitioners like this. Polite questions now and again will encourage this role model to share how-to information.
  • Humility highlights your suitability … arrogance is career-limiting. You may be a graduate. You may have won prizes at school. Your family and friends may look up to you. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this qualifies you for advancement. Practising humility is a better way of demonstrating your suitability for greater responsibility. Listen to peers and superiors. Don’t be in a hurry to give your opinion. Express an opinion when it is requested or necessary, but don’t speak at length. You then deny others a chance to contribute. Conduct yourself in a respectful manner at all times.
  • Do more to stand out more … going the extra mile is essential if you wish to quietly impress those in a position to help you. Volunteer for some assignments, and not just the ones that bestow prestige. Try to widen your experience by working in other areas of the business when you can. Volunteering for a task outside your immediate area of responsibility is a good way of doing this.
  • Qualifications hardly qualify you … lifelong learning, development programmes, further degrees and post-graduate diplomas are wonderful, but experience is still king. Build a track record little by little and year after year. You can’t buy experience. You live it. Don’t imagine you will reach a senior position in a few months. It takes years. Commit to the long haul.
  • You’re only best by test … you may think your experience and qualifications are good. You may even be earmarked for promotion, but you don’t have a divine right to advancement. Many companies measure an insider’s suitability for promotion by pitting him or her against an external candidate. The insider has to be at least as good as the outsider.

So remember, there are lots of good people out there. Make sure you are best by test against the rest. One way of doing this is by applying all of the above.

* Mosima Selekisho is a director of Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.