22 Big League Career Tips You Don’t Hear Every Day

By Ben Carpenter
One basic requirement for performing an outstanding job is to handle all your work-related tasks, large or small, in a timely manner.

Recent college graduates and young professionals must navigate the “big leagues” in an economy as unforgiving as any in history. Still struggling to emerge from the long shadow of the Great Recession, today’s job market is incredibly tough and exhausting. And once they have secured a position, most are caught unawares by the demanding and often cutthroat environment in which they find themselves.

Here, I share 22 bite-sized pieces of advice that will help any employee, regardless of age, experience level, or industry, survive (and even have fun) in the big leagues:


#1  Do What You’re Good At, Not What You Love

Much of the career advice that’s doled out these days encourages young people to “follow their dreams” and “feed their passion.” Doing what makes you happy is all well and good, but first and foremost, you should seek out a career that you’re good at.


#2  Try Out Different Fields When You’re Young

For most people, it generally takes at least a few tries to find the best field, company, and/or position from which to build a career. Your rookie years—when you’re young and before you have children—are the ideal time to aggressively seek out the best match for your personality and talents.


#3  Always Ask Yourself, What’s My Edge?

In other words, what makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition?


#4  Think of Your Boss and Your Company Before Yourself

When you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting your boss’s wants and needs ahead of your own.


#5  Be Creative and Bold

Long gone are the days of being handed a job just because you have a diploma. There are millions of job seekers with the same qualifications as you, so if you want to receive one of a limited number of opportunities, you’ll need to stand out.


#6  Comfort and Success Rarely Go Hand in Hand

At some point, you will have to decide which is more important: sticking with the familiarity of the status quo or taking a chance on reaching the next rung of the ladder. Opportunity won’t find you within your comfort zone.


#7  Stay in the Driver’s Seat of Your Career

Remember, life is short, and the same opportunities rarely come twice. Don’t agree to just “go along for the ride,” especially when your own goals and potential for success are at stake. Take an active hand in charting your course forward.


#8  Don’t Agree to Anything You Don’t Fully Understand

Once you do have your foot in the door, you’ll likely want to impress your colleagues and higher-ups at every turn. And in an attempt to avoid looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, you may be tempted to feign understanding and nod your head, even though you really have no clue what’s going on. Don’t.


#9  When You’re Upset, Choose to Look Forward, Not Back

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and move forward.

#10  Learn to Appreciate Diverse Work Styles

No matter what the situation is, always try to seek out and utilize your team’s talents, even if you don’t understand their methods. You can never be sure you have the best answer until you’ve heard all viewpoints.


#11  Know When to Overlook Selfish Advice

Look after your own career interests. Nobody else is going to do it for you.


#12  Own Your Mistakes

No matter how much you know or how hard you try, you are going to make mistakes as you pursue your career. The question is, how will you handle them? If you’re a hardworking, valued employee, when you do own up to your mistakes, your confession will be viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness, by your coworkers.  Plus, you’ll be in a position to learn and improve.


#13  Be a Good Steward of the “Little” Things

For example, always proofread your emails for errors before pressing “send.” Don’t leave voicemails unanswered at the end of the day. Keep your desk and computer files organized.


#14  If You Want to be a Leader, Act Like One

If your goal is to be at the forefront of your field’s innovation and growth, you may feel discouraged when your first job is composed of tasks a trained monkey could do. But don’t succumb to the I’ll never get there from here or the What I do in this position doesn’t matter line of thinking. Instead, get a head start developing the leadership qualities you’ll need in the future.


#15  Do What You Say You’re Going to Do, When You Say You’re Going to Do It

One basic requirement for doing an outstanding job is to handle all your work-related tasks, large or small, in a timely manner. If your job is to get a report done by Friday, get it done by Friday. If HR asks you to fill out a form today, do it promptly.


#16  Don’t Let Anyone Have Anything Negative to Say About You

Over the course of your career, you’ll encounter individuals whose opinions you think don’t matter, and whose actions you think won’t impact you. You may also believe that your own position gives you license to dispense with politeness and consideration in certain situations. Beware: Those assumptions could get you into big trouble.


#17  Don’t Complain About Your Job to Your Coworkers

There will be plenty of things you don’t like about your first (and second, and fifth) job. But complaining about them around the water cooler—even if you have a very sympathetic audience—is never a good idea.


#18  A Single Act Can Ruin Your Great Reputation

I had a client called “Hoops.” Friendly and accommodating, Hoops taught me a lot about the bond market and achieved an impressive level of personal success. However, one bad decision—not disclosing a sales arrangement to his firm—knocked him out of the game forever. What might have been a negotiated discount was now an illegal kickback. Hoops never recovered.


#19  Don’t Pick Fights You Can’t Win

Fighting in the office is a bad idea, period. It makes people unhappy and unproductive, and is a huge waste of time and energy. Nevertheless, serious office disputes are a fact of life for many people at some point during their careers. If you ever feel the pressing need to take on a coworker, do so only if you know with certainty you will win.


#20  Don’t Badmouth Your Coworkers

Never say anything negative about anybody in your office. That’s right. Don’t vent about your boss in the break room. Don’t gripe about your coworker with the rest of the team. Don’t even make fun of John’s crazy tie, unless he’s right there laughing with you.


#21  Live Within Your Means

Maybe you think that your personal finances (whether they’re good or bad) won’t impact your life in the workplace. That’s wishful thinking, especially if you’re struggling to stay solvent. It can be difficult to check personal stressors at the office door, meaning that if you’re worried about money, your anxiety might impact your focus, your performance, and even the values you apply to your work.


#22  Don’t Forget to Have Fun

If you want to succeed, you’ll need to put your nose to the grindstone. Just don’t forget to remove it every once in awhile. While work should certainly be a priority, it’s also important to have fun and disengage every once in awhile. The fuller and more satisfying your life is in general, the more effective you’ll be at work.

Make no mistake: When you become responsible for yourself and you are being paid to do a job, you are in the big leagues. When you live and work by a code that’s shaped by values, integrity, dedication, and a true team spirit, you will set yourself apart from the rookies in a way that gets you hired, recognized, and promoted. HBM


Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00). He began his career as a commercial lending officer at the Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital, which, during his 22-year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital, Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, co-chief operating officer, and co-CEO. Currently Ben is the vice chairman of CRT Capital Group. Check out additional free content including excerpts, videos, and blogs at www.thebigswebsite.com.

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