How to Kick Ass at Your First Job out Of School

by Rich DeMatteo on June 15, 2010 · 5 comments

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Srinivas Rao obsesses over riding waves and turning it all into life lessons at The Skool of Life. He’s also the host and co-founder BlogcastFM, a podcast for bloggers

Two summers ago I was an MBA intern at Intuit’s Turbotax division and one of the department heads held an information session for new employees and interns. In that session I decided asked her what the key was to climbing the corporate ladder fast. I also got to sit in on a session with the CMO and asked him the same question and the answers actually were quite surprising. At the time I didn’t really understand them, but today it all makes sense.  Almost everything I“m revealing below is something I didn’t do in my first, second or third job for that matter. It took graduating from business school and 8 months of unemployment to finally understand what everybody had been telling me all along.

Focus on Today: Presence is something that I’ve become extremely committed to at this point in my life. If you are present then you are going to be at the top of your game. If your head is in the future, then you’re unlikely to do your best work today. Doing your best work today will ultimately lead to a far more successful long term career.

Don’t Worry About Your Promotion: When I spoke with current CMO of Intuit, he told me that during his time in at Proctor and Gamble in the early part of his career he spent 2 years longer in a role than he expected to. In those final 2 years he was able to witness 2 additional business cycles and enhance his knowledge significantly. Not getting that promotion early in his career actually ended up making him a much more effective leader today.

Challenge The Status Quo: This is something that some organizations won’t encourage and I personally am not a supporter of a kind of organization that doesn’t embrace people challenging the status quo. In fact if you find that you might be in an organization that doesn’t embrace this mind set, then I suggest you look for a different job. The truth is fitting in will just make you a cog in the machine and ultimately not lead to long term success. Go to the kind of organization that will value your contribution and enable you to make a difference.

Don’t be a Paycheck Player: I wrote about this extensively on Nicole Crimaldi’s blog. If you’re playing for a paycheck, you’re going to find that you will be very unfulfilled in your job and eventually it will lead to your downfall. Chose to do work that is meaningful, rewarding,  and fulfilling, and the paycheck will eventually take care of itself. It might sound counter-intuitive, but anybody who has been around for quite some time will tell you this absolutely true.

Align Yourself with High Value Players: Earlier in my career I worked at a company that got acquired by Microsoft two weeks after I left the company. I thought that was one of the biggest mistakes of my career. When I asked a coworker at that company about the acquisition he mentioned that most people who I had been friends with actually didn’t make the cut and got laid off as part of the acquisition. While these were some very intelligent people, they weren’t seen as positive influences and by association, it’s likely I wouldn’t have made the cut. Who you align yourself with can make a big difference in how you are perceived. But, be genuine about doing this or you will seem like a political player who won’t be looked up on kindly.

Be a Linchpin: At some point you’re going to have to start doing things outside of your job description. You’re going to have to do the kinds of things that only you could do and that can’t be replicated by somebody else. Essentially, you need to be a linchpin. Here’s some thoughts on how you can be a linchpin

  • Enhance Your Resume Outside of Work
  • Join and Take Leadership Roles in Industry Associations
  • Start a Blog about Your Industry and Connect with Leaders
  • Build an invaluable network of contacts that you can take with you anywhere you go 
  • Organize an Unconference and Connect Like Minded Invididuals

The power to make a tremendous impact is in your hands. It’s up to you to embrace it. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to see them in the comments.

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Joe Thurakal
Joe Thurakal

Great article. To me "focus on today" and "don't be a paycheck player" are the two biggest take aways- no coincidence that you have blogged about those separately. Thanks for sharing this advice with us.

Srinivas Rao
Srinivas Rao

Rich, I just want to say thanks for the opportunity to guest post here. When I wrote this article, I figured that your audience would gain quite a bit from it. Most of what I've learned here is really just a byproduct of age. It's funny because my blogger network is considered mainly Gen Y kids and technically I'm not actually part of Gen Y since I'm over 30. What you guys are experiencing as a generation is kind of awesome, since we are in a world ripe with opportunity for those who are willing to take it. Look forward to seeing the discussion here.