The U.S. economy is in a hiring surge, there are more high salary job opportunities out there than ever before, but if you don’t have a strong personal brand or network to vouch for your credibility, you will be playing the game with one arm tied behind your back. Through years of experience, managing teams, helping people find great jobs, and coaching friends on how to increase their salary, I can tell you that the actions you take during the first five years of your career can make or break your long-term earning potential. My personal belief is that if you do not hit your dream salary by the time you are 40 years old, the probability of ever reaching such a salary goes down significantly. Your actions during the early years of your career lend themselves towards building a reputation and credibility about yourself. By utilizing the actions below, you can significantly up your chances for faster promotions and new job opportunities and higher salaries compared to your competition.
Volunteer for assignments outside of your area of responsibility:
Take on a variety of assignments, no matter how big or small the task. It is important to learn multiple areas of your company’s business and show your company leadership that you are a team player and willing to take on any task to help the team. Do not showboat and brag/complain about all the hard work you are doing compared to other employees, just humbly offer to help out wherever possible. Do good work and do not expect to be rewarded for it. By learning the different areas of the business you will be provided with a myriad of experience over a short period of time and may be able to identify opportunities to help make improvements to the current processes.
Early in your career, you have way more energy and the ability to cope with longer work hours than you do later on in your career. Use this to your advantage over your peers, when necessary, to help the team complete major projects that may have high visibility by the company leadership. It is important to maintain awareness of your, health and mental stamina to avoid burnout. If working 60 hour weeks back to back for more than 2 weeks feels taxing to you, make sure to space out how often you work overtime. Leaders will most likely take note of your hard work, remember you for years to come, and become huge advocates for your future career success, even if you are no longer working for them. One warning, do not work over time just to show your management that you can work long hours. If there is not a specific reason to work overtime, company leaders may think you are incapable of handling a normal workload in a 40 hour period. It is essential that any overtime you work goes towards helping the company complete major objectives with high leadership visibility.
Maintain a weekly journal
Your manager knows you are a great employee but she/he does not know every little detail of what you do. Creating a weekly journal of your major and minor achievements helps you market the best qualities about yourself. The journal does not have to be very detailed. You can write multiple paragraphs to explain each achievement or create a list of bullet points. The journal makes it easier to write your annual performance review and gives your manager a huge arsenal of fact based data at the end of the year when she/he has to go and fight with other managers about why you deserve a bigger salary increase over another employee. A journal also helps you build credibility when interviewing for new positions. If you were interviewing someone and they said they could hand you a 100-page digital journal of every weekly achievement for the past 3 years, wouldn’t you be impressed and remember that candidate over all others?
Use 10% of your time to explore:
I first read about the 10% rule from the company 3M, whose work policy allows all employees to use 10% of their time to work on whatever project they want. Google also has a similar rule where they allow an employee up to 15% of their time for special side projects. I have found this practice to be one of the most rewarding parts of my career. Tell your manager you would like to set aside 10% of your time to do whatever you want with the intent that you will use that time to find new opportunities to help the company. Great managers will respect this type of request and recognize that you are interested in helping the business grow.
Continuously educate yourself:
The work environment is always changing and it is important to keep your mind sharp and skills up to date. There are many ways you can go about continuous education. Many companies will pay for your graduate degree, but if you are not interested in going back to university, you can also sign up for certification courses, commit to reading/listening to one book a week, listen to podcasts related to your career field, attend industry seminars, join a leadership training program, or even take free online classes at Coursera.com
Join a professional association:
Professional associations are another great resource for continuing education, but they also provide face to face networking opportunities with company leaders from different companies related to your industry. These networks can often provide you with career guidance, mentoring opportunities, and even direct access to hiring managers which help you skip through the online job application filtering process.
Experience does not equal the amount of time spent in a job. It is possible to work at a job for 30 years and have the equivalent of 5 years of experience, compared to someone else who has taken on a variety of roles and responsibilities in the first 5 years of their career. For this reason, it is important to continuously seek opportunities to build your skill sets. Many companies offer the ability for employees to move around to different positions or projects within the company. This is beneficial to employers because it helps them train and retain talent for the long haul. If you begin to find yourself reaching a learning plateau at your job it is important to talk with your management to challenge you with new responsibilities. If you cannot find opportunities to expand within your company, you may have to jump ship and find new companies to work for. From personal experience, I have found that sometimes stepping into a different job role often provided new challenges and experiences equivalent to 3 years of experience compared to sticking with the same job responsibilities.