10 Early Career Best Practices Everyone Should Follow
7 min read

10 Early Career Best Practices Everyone Should Follow

Avoid mistakes, wasted time and unforced errors using these early career best practices that compound into massive gains later in your career.
10 Early Career Best Practices Everyone Should Follow

Most lists of early career best practices are packed to the brim with bad, generic and stale advice. Either that or they focus only on advice that applies to a small percentage of professionals.

In other words, they’re lists of career tips and not best practices.

Best practices should be principles that can be followed by everyone, whether you’re climbing the consulting, legal, investment banking, startup or corporate career ladder.

In today’s post, I’m going to cover the essential best practices to follow as you navigate the early stages of your career and look to set yourself up for great and sustained success.

1. Show your dedication

Your bosses, colleagues and peers notice if you regularly come into the office at 10am and leave at 4pm. As much as some people try to pretend this isn’t true anymore, there is (and has always been) a baseline expectation you need to meet to signal your dedication.

But this isn’t just about dedication to your employer and colleagues. It’s about dedication to yourself. Make an investment in your career and life in its early stages, while you can. Life gets busier over time as you start entering serious relationships and think about a family. No one who ends up being successful talks about work-life balance in their 20’s.

Best practice: Set your own standard for the minimum level of time commitment and effort you will hold yourself to, and then make sure you stick to it. Your dedication will be noticed.

2. Constantly seek out new learning curves

The early stages of your career aren’t about maximizing salary, they are about putting yourself in a position to maximize your salary later in your career. When it actually matters.

Think about it: at the top levels the range of salaries for people with 1-3 years experience is between $75k and $150k. The range of salaries for professionals with 20-30 years experience is anywhere from $250k to $20m. You want to be optimizing for that 20-30 year period.

The best way to do that is to seek out as many steep learning curves as possible early in your career. It’s that feeling when you’re on a new project that you know nothing about, and you have to level up on the subject matter and skills really quickly. This experience is invaluable. The combination of the learning curves is essentially the product you’re selling later in your career.

Make sure you are prioritizing that early in your career.

Best practice: Use your early career to maximize learning opportunities by finding projects that make you feel uncomfortable, but where the experience is valuable to your field.

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3. Prioritize who you work with over pay

Increasing your compensation from $75k to $100k will not be impactful on your life. While the methodology might be slightly flawed, there is logic in the many studies that show your quality of life doesn’t drastically change when you earn over $75k.

One of the best ways to find opportunities to learn and improve is to work with a manager who will teach you and help you grow. The good managers will help you find learning curves, encourage you through them and nurture your career in ways you can’t do yourself.

Imagine taking two similar people, but have one work the first 3 years of their career with a great manager, and one with a bad manager. Believe me, the difference is worth millions of dollars over the course of your career.

Best practice: Seek out good managers to work with and learn from, even if it comes at a cost to short-term progression or working on sexy projects with bad managers.

4. Live in the detail, know your numbers

At the highest levels, organizations are driven by narratives, not facts. So executives focus on stories and explanations. But at the other end of organizations, there are still people doing the work that sits behind all these conversations. And the work needs to hold together.

Separate yourself from the pack by having an intimate understanding of every number to a question that might be asked about a presentation or during a meeting. This will build your brand as a “trusted pair of hands” who is analytics and a go-to person. This is who you want to be, the trusted advisor when it comes to the work behind the narratives.

Best practice: When you’re responsible for a piece of work, spend the extra time to become intimately familiar with the numbers and brush up on the key numbers before every meeting so that they are fresh in your mind.

5. Master useful tools

At the early stages of your work life, for each chosen profession there are obvious skills that you can learn that will travel with you throughout your career. Identify these skills early and put in the time to master them.

For example, in consulting it’s general mastery of Excel and PowerPoint. In investment banking it’s financial modeling and valuations. Building mastery of the key tools and skills in your chosen profession is like finding a cheat code. It will make your work easier, and it will make you stand out amongst your peers. Plus, you’ll always know how to check the quality of your work as you progress in your career past the point of doing the grunt work.

Best practice: Identify and then master the key tools and skills in your profession, so that you can do your work quickly and correctly, and impress others with your ability.

6. Learn how to communicate

In a professional environment, you will have many different stakeholders. They will all need a different communication style. For example, communicating with executives is different from communicating with your peers. You will also need to communicate in different formats, for example meetings, emails and documents.

Speaking with clarity and conviction is valuable. Structuring thoughtful documents is important. Writing brief and clear emails is very useful. Matching your communication style to the audience is one of the great superpowers of successful professionals.

Luckily, communication is a learned skill. Some people don’t realize this and think that communication skills are innate. Either you have them or don’t. This is not true. I have seen many professionals improve their communication drastically over time. Some starting from a really low base. So don’t let complacency take hold, make sure that you actively work on your communication skills across all stakeholder types and formats.

Best practice: Go above and beyond to become great at all the forms of communication you need to excel in your chosen profession.

7. Practice structured thinking

Bringing structure to your work is a godsend for managers and executives. You don’t want to be known as the person who communicates or presents work with no structure. Work that lacks structure is hard to understand and interpret and it reflects poorly on you.

The best way to enforce structure is to use frameworks. Every profession has their go-to frameworks, whether they be matrices or driver trees. You need to go off and map all of these out and then spend time practicing with them. Structure creates a logical flow to your work that makes it easier to consume, understand and then make decisions from.

Best practice: Learn and master all the frameworks that do the heavy lifting for your profession, and make sure you put them into practice at every opportunity.

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8. Sell yourself, sell your work

This one feels a bit icky for most people. Most people don’t like self-promotion. But it’s not enough to just do great work. You need to make sure the right people also know it was you who created the work and delivered it competently.

This is what creates your reputation, and attracts the right people and projects to you. So make sure you spend time advertising your work, ask your manager to sell your work, and look for opportunities to include your work in forums that expand its reach.

Best practice: Take all the available opportunities to market your work inside your organization, and make sure you accept all credit graciously.

9. Play the politics

Every organization has certain individuals that carry more weight than others. These people are the high leverage people you want to prioritize. You can do great work, but you need “champions” to vouch for you, they help you get promoted because people listen to them.

If you’re going to impress someone, it may as well be the person who can make things happen for you. It’s the same amount of energy to impress an influential person as it is to impress someone with less influence. So you’ll get a better return on your energy spent with these powerful people.

Best practice: Map out the powerful people in your organization and prioritize spending your time building strong relationships with them.

10. Always make your boss look good

Your boss has ambitions and dreams too. Just like you they want to get promoted and grow their career. So the pro tip is: always make them look good, and never make them look bad.

Pretty simple. Making your boss look good is how you look good. If they are moving up, they will get more influence and you will move up with them.

Best practice: Mentally equate your bosses career and success with your own, treat them like your customer and focus your effort on making them successful.

Final Thoughts

Best practices can help you avoid a lot of wasted time and unforced errors.

If I read this post at the beginning of my career, I would’ve avoided so many mistakes. My career trajectory would have been fundamentally different, and small gains early in your career compound into really big gains later in your career.

The modern workplace is a cut throat environment. To make it you need to be on top of your game. You need all your actions to be as impactful as possible. If you want to find ways to 10x your impact, you should sign up for free and I’ll show you how.

I have interviewed 500+ professionals, surveyed thousands more, and I am always probing for their best tips, tricks and hacks to get ahead. There are five that stand out above the rest and you can get them right now by joining my free email list. You won’t find these ideas anywhere else.