This is the second part in the early career professionals series. The first part can be read here. I recommend you read that first for continuity.
This post talks about ‘work’ and how early career professionals navigate their careers often.
Part 3 in this series deals with building interpersonal relationships.
We will begin with a story because I think it will illuminate the way for the point I want to make through this article.
During my first job, we had an intern with 3 years of work experience under his belt from a top 5 B-School join our team. The intern was asked to do some amount of research and share his findings after a market study. Here are a few things that happened:
From the organization perspective, this is what was offered:
a) My boss insisted that he put in 2X the normal effort and outdo himself to make a mark as the organization had high expectations from the kind of talent that studies at the particular B-School.
b) A PPI/PPO was offered as the deal from the experience.
c) I was assigned as his project buddy who checked in with him every day and he had mid-internship reviews with my manager and an end review with the head of the department.
d) He was allowed to travel the length and breadth of the country on company expense with local managers to guide him and all creature comforts.
How it went:
a) The student was tardy (I know you will say that it is not the timings but the work that matters). He took it easy.
b) He did not submit a weekly report or check-in frequently, almost upset that he was assigned a buddy who was not even an MBA.
c) He dived into the project only at the last moment after my manager sounded the alarm bell for presentation to the department head.
d) His presentation was good (after all he was intelligent and credible). He used a lot of sophisticated tools for analysis and spoke well on the appointed day.
How his post-internship review was:
a) He was affronted that he was only given exposure to one department and not the entire organization. My manager explained that a 2-month window cannot give you an industry experience only a trailer. He had never expressed any expectations earlier to move out of this team to either us or HR.
b) He agreed to a PPI with my manager but on HR confirmation, called me and said that he was never interested in our industry and wanted to be a consultant!
c) He expected me to carry this to the manager instead of discussing this directly.
d) He had to submit his final presentation with the feedback given from the head of the department, he submitted it a week after the deadline.
Now you will say that this is not a good example because there could be interns who deal with the entire experience positively, prove their mettle and show up.
However, this story is not to diss this one intern but to draw the challenges of an early career professional:
Discomfort with authority:
The difference between an early careers professional and a typical fresher is that the former steps into a typical managerial white-collar and has a certain understanding/expectation of what the corporate world should offer him. This is why these young folks struggle with authority or expect authority or management to meet their standards (they are often aghast that processes are bureaucratic or managers are not as savvy as they expected them to be). They also want to report to the highest person in the hierarchy or get a shortcut view to leadership. Organizations also compensate for this hunger by namesake programs like ‘A Day with the CEO.’ So if you are a young stage professional who is constantly underwhelmed by their boss - I hate to break this to you - unless your boss is a toxic human being - every boss will need to be managed up. That applies if they are a grade up, three grades up or the chief. Over a period of time, most early stage professionals learn but there will invariably be job-hoppers whose primary challenge will be ‘issues with the boss or culture’ that they never took the initiative to have a conversation about!
This is a trap we are all after. Whether it is hierarchy or a cool brand name on our CV. Now there is no problem with seeking a top job at a top firm in a happening city at a great pay with great colleagues and growth perspectives (that is the dream and we all must strive to achieve them). Prestige pressures are agnostic across career stages - early, middle, senior, professionals all want better optics on their CV. However, this manifests differently for early stage professionals:
(a) Choosing a mediocre role at the beginning of your career at a top brand. Uh-oh. Now you are stuck because you have poor transferable skills and your peers just had 3X learning in the same period (the guy in this case did not end up in management consulting or at a MBB after ditching the opportunity).
(b) Developing low self-esteem due to being more intensively in touch with your peers. When you are young, you don’t think of your race as an individualistic pursuit. Your salary is evaluated against your batch median. Your working hours pitted against that cousin who manages to attend every wedding in the family. So on and so forth.
(c) Leaving too soon or expecting to be handed top projects at the beginning of your career without having demonstrated success. Often in a prestigious brand, there is enough competition of incredible talent for plum projects. Expecting them to land in your lap because of your intelligence is inane. No one recognizes talent in an organization. Talent is displayed with success, credibility and dividends for the business.
Working for yourself, not for work:
Academic life teaches us frameworks and not dodging bullets in reality. So, it is common that early-career professionals who have invested so much time, money and effort in their CA, MBA, CFA, PGDM degrees want to demonstrate their abilities. Yet, while they have the tools - they often don’t have the grit to tie this for a business purpose. For instance, you may complain about bureaucratic processes but have you analyzed why they exist or built layer over layer over a period of time.
This might be a slightly controversial opinion but a recent exposure to academic life instills a certain sense of idealism in purpose and interpersonal interactions that real-time business with its complexities does not factor in for. Early career professionals might believe that they should be heard by virtue of a designation (area sales manager) or intellectual knowledge (passed their CA in one attempt or are competent data scientist) but real life is incredibly complex and needs to be played by the year.
Playing the short game badly for the long game: Young people are more clearly ambitious than before. It is apparent in the efforts they make in their personal branding, making a good impression at work and intensely working to deliver results. Yet, they don’t always factor how fleeting coffee catch ups can work out better than being a keyboard ninja. Similarly being honest about expectations can save the organization time and cost.
Every time I speak to a student as part of my mentoring program, I am amazed at their desire to be on the fast-track. They want it all. They just don’t want a life. I try and explain that unless you have a particular track as an investment banker - you should not be working disproportionate hours frequently. This advice often falls on deaf ears and meets incredible resistance. While work, growth and learning is a priority in your first five years at work. They cannot come at the cost of health and emotional issues. Recently, someone who I had advised a year ago to better approach work-life integration came back to me burnt out asking for leads for a job. I really wanted to say ‘I told you so’ but resisted the temptation because he was so overwrought.
Read part 3 here to understand how the biggest differentiator for an early careers professional to move up and above is their people skills.
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