Groundwork: Three Steps To Preparing Your Character
Step #1 Determine Your Personal Purpose
The most important question we will ever ask is why: Why am I here? Why do I exist? Why was I created? Asking lots of why questions leads us to our life’s calling. Understanding our calling is critical to finding a career that gives our work life meaning. Without a calling, a job is just work. When we find a calling, it engages the core of our being and drives us to fulfill our goals and dreams.
A personal purpose informs every single major decision we make in life, including career choice and where we choose to work. Ultimately, it is likely to impact other decisions too, such as who our mate will be if we marry, how we serve others, who we worship, how we parent, and what kind of friend we are to the people around us.
Step #2 Develop a Personal Mission
A second element in developing our character is determining our mission. If purpose answers the why question, then mission answers the what question. What do we want to accomplish during our lifetime? What meaningful goals do we want to set for ourselves and achieve?
Once we discover our personal mission, we are more likely to achieve it by writing it down, measuring our progress, celebrating milestones along the way, and recalibrating when we get off course. Mission statements help keep us focused on the goals we want to achieve in life. Without a clear mission, it is easy to get distracted and chase the means to an end instead of the result we truly desire.
Step #3 Choose Your Personal Core Values
The final characteristic needed to help develop our character is a set of personal core values. These values define the beliefs we hold most dear and articulate them in a way that can be demonstrated by our behavior. For instance, if we believe in the importance of serving others, then service might become a personal core value. We demonstrate this value by the behavior of serving others in our lives and by extending a spirit of service to people we don’t even know. Our character becomes known by the behaviors that reflect our deepest beliefs that we articulate as our core values.
Some of our values are engrained in us early in life because we see them communicated and exhibited by the influential people in our lives. Parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, and pastors help us form our values long before we can articulate them. They are formed through stories, lessons, and demonstrated behaviors.
Don’t Give Up When You Don’t Know What to Do
Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do. For others, it is confusing and frustrating as they try to determine their purpose and mission. Sometimes, circumstances derail us from what we thought would be our life purpose and we have to discover a new one.
Many people experience uncertainty when determining what to do as a career, and some even experience it multiple times during a career. Sometimes the change is internally driven, and sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control. During the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a skyrocketing unemployment rate, some people had to switch careers and find new vocations due to near elimination of jobs in certain sectors of the workforce.
The most important thing to do in times of career uncertainty is to keep going. Get started in something, and keep searching to find the work you were made to do. If you keep doing the next thing, you will eventually find the right thing.
Don’t Forget The Basics
You have probably heard about them a thousand times over, but it bears repeating. Here are some important reminders for preparing for early work opportunities or first jobs:
#1 Don’t just choose a job.
Choose a person for whom you really desire to work. You are choosing to associate yourself with a company and its people—be sure it is a match to you. This is the place where your résumé begins. Are you proud of the product or service?
#2 Apply, apply, apply.
For a first job, you may have to apply for many jobs just to land one interview. If it is a place you really desire to work and you are turned down, apply again. It’s not unusual to submit ten to fifteen applications to get one interview. Persistence can be an attractive quality to a potential employer.
#3 Prepare for the interview.
If you have no work experience, be prepared to talk about any responsibility you have assumed in the past. Highlight volunteer work, babysitting, lawn mowing, and even lemonade-stand experience. Share any experience you have had fundraising for school or community projects as well. You will want to highlight anything that demonstrates your initiative and drive. Be sure that you talk about not only what you did but also why you did it. Your potential employer may be interested to know what motivates you.
#4 Be yourself.
During the interview, answer questions in a way that helps the potential employer get to know you. Prepare for the talking points you want to communicate during the interview, and use opportunities to share those as questions are asked. Practice with someone else before the interview so you can get comfortable answering the questions. Always end the interview by thanking the interviewer and asking when you should expect to hear about next steps.
#5 Be grateful.
Be grateful to someone who will give you a chance. Hiring someone with no experience is a big risk. Not only does that company have to teach you the job, sometimes they also have to teach you how to work. You make it much easier for them when you show up on time or early, dressed appropriately and ready to work. That not only helps you keep your job, but it also allows your new boss to focus on developing you in your job rather than wondering if you will work out at all.
#6 Think forward.
Recognize that every day of your first job is a stepping-stone to the rest of your career. Grow relationships. Do more than is asked. Be positive, and learn something new every day.
Finding a Job
A lot of us grossly underestimate the power of perspective in job search. If you try to stand in the employer’s shoes and see the world through their eyes even before you send your resume, you tremendously increase your chances of success.
Understand what the hiring manager and the organization are looking for in new employees. In addition to searching online and learning about the company, seek out people you know who either currently work for the company or have worked there in the past. Ask your sources what to expect in the interview and what important qualities a successful candidate will possess. I have repeatedly seen candidates excel at this type of networking and boost their opportunities.
Most employers look for people with strong character. They want to select talent whose character matches the organization.
- A heart for service
- A sense of personal purpose
- An ability to be a team player
- A set of personal core values
All employers look for competency. The following are some of the competency traits
- Lifelong learners
- Role-specific skills
- Clear communication
All employers look for chemistry that matches the team. There are several indicators
- Resiliency and agility
The decision to work for an organization belongs to you as much as to the organization. They are making a choice about who they want to select, but you have a choice as well. Before your interviewing process concludes, be sure to interview your future boss to make sure that person possesses the character, competency, and chemistry to be a good leader for you. It is likely that you will change bosses often in an organization, but getting off to a good start and setting a path for your future often depends on the person who brings you into the organization.
Owning the First Ninety Days
Regardless of how casual a work environment is, there are still important unwritten rules to follow. In the first ninety days, pay attention to the behaviors of others to discern what is acceptable and what is not in your organization. There are a few personal boundaries that should be adopted regardless of where you work or your role.
- Never Ever Talk Badly about the Boss, Your Teammates, Your Clients, or Your Organization
- Don’t Wait to Be Told What to Do
- Own Your Mistakes
- Work Harder Than Anyone Else
- Be the First to Arrive and the Last to Leave
The list goes on. There’re many things you can get right in your new job.
The point is the first ninety days of any new job are critical. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and that is exactly what the first ninety days are—a first impression. Once you have mastered the first ninety days, you are ready to start investing in other practices and habits that will help you keep your job and grow your career
Six Keys to Developing Your Career
Intelligence, physical ability, and talent are certainly factors that contribute to success, but one of the biggest keys to success is determining to be all in on your career, including your development. It’s the intersection where attitude trumps aptitude.
#1 Find a Mentor
Within some organizations, mentors are assigned. That may or may not be the best opportunity for you.
Often, the best mentor is from outside your organization and can be from a different industry or generation. An outside viewpoint is often the most valuable perspective
Choosing someone from a different organization allows for unbiased input and opens the door for you to be more forthright in the conversation. The downside of that choice is that sometimes they do not understand the culture you are trying to navigate.
Volunteer service contributes more to growing our careers than an added category to the résumé. The real value of volunteering is learning new skills and building new relationships.
#3 Serve on Boards
Serving on nonprofit boards is another excellent way to develop yourself outside of your job. It offers the same benefits as volunteering, but also allows you to participate in decision making for an organization.
#4 Respond to Change
Change is inevitable, and the question we must ask ourselves when faced with change is, Do I react or do I respond to change? The answer will determine if we grow in seasons of change or if we get stuck.
#5 Craft an “Elevator Speech”
You have seen it in the movies or perhaps even lived it in your job. A young associate is on the elevator at the office. As she is scrolling through her phone, riding to her floor, the doors open and someone joins her. She finally looks up and realizes she is on the elevator with one of the C-suite members of the organization. In this brief one-minute-or-less ride on the elevator, she has the opportunity for visibility with one of the most senior members of her company. When he says “What’s up?” the only words to come out of her mouth are “Not much.”
At some point, you will get on the elevator and there will be a member of senior leadership in the company riding with you. You will have about sixty seconds to leave a meaningful impression. They will ask you how it’s going. You want to say something besides “great.” Be prepared to share one thing you are working on and how it’s helping the company. Your answer might sound like this: “I just finished preparing the rollout for XYZ technology, and I think it will make our response to customers much faster.” You may want to say something that leaves the door open for future conversation, such as “I am on my way to Omaha to meet with a potential client who is really interested in our distribution capability. I will let you know how it goes.” These responses will make a strong impression, and the leader in the elevator might remember you when new opportunities arise. Of course, change up your answer to match something you are currently managing. In the days of working virtually, this exchange might be over a Zoom call or on Slack, but the principles of how to respond still apply.
#6 Pursue Role Changes and Job Rotations
Look for organizations that support your learning and development goals as you pursue different roles, jobs, and organizations. At the same time, take responsibility for your own development and growth by investing in yourself and using the resources available to you. Self-development is one of the worthiest investments we can make to help us grow our careers.