There are some macro trends that point to – and plenty of writers screaming about – America’s decline. That might be the case, but here you are, and you need to get a job and start your career. I deal with a lot of young people who are trying to get their start in Washington. Given that it’s commencement season and graduates are heading out the door and into the real world, I thought I would pass along my observations from 30-plus years in this town.
1. Take almost any job. If you are any good, responsibility and authority will flow your way.
2. Think of your first two jobs as more school. Take it on faith that you have a lot to learn. You are never more vulnerable than when you don’t know what you don’t know. Work to learn. Figure out how to get by without much money. Just about everybody in Washington spent some time sleeping on someone else’s couch when they first came to town. After 18 months in your first job, be on the lookout for a better one.
3. Be the first one at work every day. You probably won’t be the smartest, luckiest or the most well-connected at your job, but you can be the first one there; the one who is never late. Bosses will notice. It is totally in your hands.
4. Be thorough and detail-oriented. Success is mostly a product of discipline and thoroughness, not a function of IQ. Honesty, reliability and dependability are more important than brilliance in most jobs.
5. Dress better and be neater than your peers. Malcolm X said, “In order to get something you had to look as though you already had something.” First impressions matter – if for no other reason than because most bosses don’t have time to act on much else.
6. Ask for more work. If you are any good, you will get it. Money and better opportunities will follow. This is also a way to attract mentors who will give you more responsibility and promote you around town. Regarding mentors: Remember, you need to recruit them; don’t count on them finding you.
When I was trying to get my start in Washington I did some of these things better than others. I wish I had done them all. Work hard and get lucky; there is no substitute for either.
Follow Ed on Twitter: @EdRogersDC