Biggest Career Lessons of This Year

With each passing year, there’s more knowledge we can gain to get us ready for what’s ahead — and this year was no different. We’ve compiled a few important career lessons from 2019 to motivate you to continue learning and growing in your career.

1. Don’t be afraid to take risks

“Risk and reward go together. Some of my greatest career achievements came about by taking educated risks.” — Vicki Walia, chief talent and capability officer, Prudential 

You can’t move ahead in your career by staying in your comfort zone, and Vicki Walia has learned that firsthand in her career. By taking risks at every step of the way, she’s learned that to be successful in doing so, you have to be strategic with the risks you choose. She explains

“There are times and places for risks, and the only person who can decide when the time is right to take a risk is you. I once received an offer for a position that I believed lacked long-term security from a company that was a major player in a volatile industry. Despite this uncertainty, I knew it was the right chapter of my life to take a chance — this was an opportunity in the short term to propel myself toward my career goals, and I was committed to making it work.”

Cartoon of a masked superhero woman in a business suit, flying through the air

Image source: Getty Images.

Instead of avoiding risks altogether, get smart about the ones you take and the ones you let pass by. To do so, get clear on where you want to go and what you want your career to look like. Then ask yourself: Will this potentially risky move/project/opportunity get me closer to that?

2. Focus on growth — not just compensation

“The learning experiences will pay for themselves over the course of your career.” — Charles Teague, founder and CEO, Lose It!

Compensation is not the only currency in the modern workplace. It’s becoming easier to find companies that provide growth opportunities for their employees, where you’re able to further hone your skill set — on the company dime — while also meeting new people and becoming a stronger candidate for other opportunities.

Remember, however, that focusing on growth when job searching is a long-term strategy: “The compensation improvement won’t be immediate, but it will amortize across the rest of your career and far outpace the money today,” says Teague.

If you’re looking for growth opportunities, you need to take an active role in the interview. Ask about what the company offers employees, and what you can expect in terms of growth and learning in the role you’ve applied for. You should also do your own homework and read through their careers pages; if there are learning programs in place, they’ll be mentioned there, too.

3. Enjoy the journey toward your purpose

“When you’re doing what you enjoy, then you don’t really view it as work. I used to say in the White House, I would pay to do this. They don’t have to give me a dime.” — Valerie Jarrett, lawyer, former CEO, board member and founder of the United States of Women and When We All Vote

Doing what you love can be hard when you have to pay the bills — it’s easier, and may seem smarter, to take a job to get a paycheck than to pursue something that allows you to work with purpose. But Jarrett didn’t simply arrive at the job of a lifetime at the snap of her fingers. She was on a winding road to get there, and the many other places she’s been in her career. 

“I did a lot of, as I call them zigzags and I didn’t realize as I was zigging and zagging … because I was always afraid, I didn’t appreciate that with that fear comes exhilaration and a sense of adventure,” says Jarrett.

Remember that every career step you take is leading you on a path that can either get you closer to or further from a career of purpose. With intention and dedication, you can get there — but don’t forget to enjoy the excitement of the ups and downs along the way.

4. Turn your weaknesses into strengths

“I would encourage women in tech looking to grow in their careers to identify their strengths and focus more of their time and energy on how they can hone their strengths to turn them into superpowers and less energy on improving their areas of weakness.” — Annie Pearl, SVP product and design, Glassdoor

There are so many ways to build your skill set in our modern world, from taking online courses to watching webinars. Use these tools to turn areas of weakness into strengths. More importantly, leverage the strengths you already have to grow in your career. Pearl says: “We all have areas of growth we shouldn’t ignore, but I believe you can drive a step function change in career growth and effectiveness through figuring out how to best leverage your strengths to your advantage.”

If you don’t know your strengths, turn to your co-workers and friends. A fun exercise is to ask five to 10 close friends the first thing that comes to mind when they think of you. Use this as a jumping-off point for discovering what makes you stand out, which is a unique and inherent strength that you can leverage.

5. Give video resumes a try

Video resumes are highly effective at highlighting certain skills and strengths that standard written resumes can’t fully convey.” — Conrad Benz, digital media specialist and resume expert, Resume Genius

Traditional resumes are far from a thing of the past, but submitting a video resume can help you stand out from the rest. Not only does this medium allow you to showcase strengths and skills in a way that other mediums can’t, but “it conveys your personality in a way that no written resume can,” says Benz. This is valuable when applying for jobs that require top-tier communication skills or even interpersonal skills. Think: sales jobs, account management, or customer experience. 

However, don’t go out of your way to create a video resume just yet. Benz explains that those who are applying for jobs like back-end engineer or accountant likely won’t see any benefits when using a video resume to get the interview.

6. Don’t be afraid to change careers — but be patient

“Making a career change is largely an exercise in resilience.” — Sarah Vermunt, founder, Careergasm

The secret ingredient in a successful career change is patience, because it will take time and resilience to get from where you are to where you want to go. For example, as you step into a completely new position, you may struggle to keep up, but remember: The challenges will pass, explains Vermunt“Tasks you could do in a flash a year from now will take you several hours or days. It’s because of the learning curve, and (I’m sorry to say) it’s pretty much unavoidable. Luckily, it’s temporary.”

What’s more, you may not get it right the first time. What you thought was going to be the perfect job may be far from a good fit. Again, remember to have patience. “Getting it wrong on the first (or second or third) try is pretty much par for the course, whether you’re building a business or making a career change to a new industry. The key is to keep tweaking and keep trying until you get it right,” says Vermunt.

In the end, you’ll look back on your rocky transition with gratitude — making a career change isn’t easy, but if you’re happier and more fulfilled, it’s always worth it.


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