[Career Advice] Early Career FAQ

Random Observation/Comment #435: Although careers are never cookie-cut, we should reflect often on our lessons learned, growing skill sets, and overall professional branding.


After contributing as a panelist for an event, I’ve been getting asked more questions about my early career path.  It’s not really a secret, it’s just a strategy.

Q: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting working?

The most valuable thing I’ve learned gets bundled into “Work Experience.” It means many different things to different people, but to me, it’s my own reflection on my successes and failures in multiple project life cycles.  For example, if you’ve gone through a production release, you get a whole checklist of items that you’ll need to make sure gets done before doing your next release.  These things become automatic because you’ve dealt with these situations and learned from them.

In a way, the biggest lessons learned is paying attention to my lessons learned and improving my process and skillset after each triumph or disappointment. I try not to get lost in the mundane and keep things interesting/challenging by staying involved and engaged with as many things as possible.

Q: What do you see as the greatest strength of the TA program (full-time rotation program for recent graduates)?

I love the camaraderie and teamwork that forms between TAs. Because we all started with similar credentials, expectations, and ambitions, I felt we all had something to share about our experiences in different groups. I was able to tell my peers about being a FID front office BA, while others gave me insight on other roles I didn’t even know existed within the firm.

From there, I was able to more easily understand the whole firm rather than doing all the research myself.  The network is certainly invaluable and you’ll find that moving between companies is very similar to transferring between schools – it certainly helps to have that comfort zone when dealing with difficult decisions.

Q: What advice would you give to current TAs?

There are plenty, but my main 3 are:

  1. Keep yourself a valuable asset – Whether you’re a programmer or a business analyst, never stop learning. Proactively stay up-to-date with technology and continue to analyze your set of skills. If you think you’re lacking somewhere, take an online class (coursera is free) , read a tech book (safaribooks is free), and talk to your idols (everyone is happy and open to have coffee).
  2. Be transparent with your manager – it’s important for your manager to know your goals and aspirations. They can only help you as much as you tell them, so make sure you continue to have bi-weekly meetings with them. Talk about your career goals and if you’d like to take on more responsibility, ask for it. There are plenty of side projects and you’d be surprised at how much work is around working between groups.
  3. Know how to maintain relationships – Career relationships do not need the same nurturing as high school ones do, but you never want to show up and ask for something. There’s a finesse to staying in touch and being genuine about knowing one another. Obviously, no one can see everyone they know all the time or else it’s unsustainable. It’s always a good idea to put something in your calendar to contact either by email or separate message one of your colleagues to see how they’re doing.  At higher positions, it’s all about networking to get your foot in the door.

Q: What skills and attributes are most important for young professionals today?

I’ve written about this extensively, but here are the common themes I’ve found millennials aren’t focusing enough on:

  1. Communications – effective communication is key to being in any career. You need to know how to convey ideas in a convincing manner, but also know how to represent your projects to fit the audience listening.
  2. Read quickly and digest information thoroughly – we are constantly being bombarded by information so we need to be able to retain the right facts and analyze them so they can be discussed later on. Forming your own opinion about it and commenting in a sophisticated manner makes people take your opinions more seriously.
  3. Ask questions – you can always ask questions and it’s a key technique to show your engagement to a project. Always ask the right questions and know when things should be taken offline for further research.
  4. Writing – telling a story quickly is important, but so is business and technical writing. Be able to express ideas professionally and summarize content quickly so communication is more effective.
  5. Taking the initiative – Challenge yourself with new things and do something different. At work, if you’re able to take ownership of a feature or task, your manager and team will give you more respect.

~See Lemons Keep Growing