For instance, despite being interested in renewable energy, I never once tried to get input from the bank’s analysts or fund managers who were experts in that industry. They might have told me which companies they felt had the hottest prospects, or helped to introduce me to people in the field. Large global corporations may seem faceless, but they’re also filled with experts who can be a resource if you only take the time to seek them out. Don’t keep your head down. Move around.
In those first couple of years, develop transferable skills. This sounds obvious, but all too many first jobs involve grunt work that won’t translate well into other fields. I worked in a major bank but never thought to get assigned to a project that would have taught me about lending practices, a skill that would have helped me now.
Don’t just fill out spreadsheets; learn how to manage a profit-and-loss statement. Look at the processes in your company and make them more efficient. You’d be surprised how manual some work can be — streamline it for people and you’ll not only be rewarded, but gain skills that will go far in the nonprofit world.
Finally, set timelines for your next move, and do your best to stick to them. One of the most surprising things I found about entering the professional world is that there are few signposts that mark beginnings and endings; few milestones that help you know when it’s time to move on. In college there are grades, semesters and summer vacation. At work there is typically little feedback and even fewer reminders of how much time has passed. It all starts to bleed together.
This is especially true if you’re working for someone who seems to have little interest in your development. When I finally quit and told the head of my department I’d decided to move on to other things, his response was: “All right, see you later.” Not the sort of reaction you would expect from someone to whom you’d just given four years of 12-hour days. Companies often exploit their young hires, but there are good bosses and bad bosses. Which one you have can change everything.
The longer you stay in one place, the more “what ifs” life stacks up around you. Every job — even a humdrum, entry-level rung on the corporate ladder — has things it can teach you, but it doesn’t take long to master most of them. Learn what you can and move on.
Howe is a partner with
Escape the City
, a startup recruitment Web site that helps match professionals with adventurous entrepreneurial jobs.
More from On Leadership:
The five worst mistakes I made as a new grad
PHOTOS | Inspiring quotes from this year’s famous graduation speakers
The best graduation speeches you won’t even remember
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:
On Leadership: @post_lead | Editor: @lily_cunningham