It’s graduation time, and gazillions of students are done with college and soon will enter the workplace. So this blog is intended for all of you new grads. This is the most succinct career advice I can give. It’s about 500 words, only a few minutes of your time. Give it a read.
The simplest, most powerful way to understand your career is this: you are hired to solve problems.
Level 1 is you show up to work.
Once you get there, you do stuff. You check your email, you attend meetings, you give answers to your boss’s questions. Basically, you show up. At best, you are passively involved in solving problems.
Recent college grads spend a year or two in Level 1. Young workers don’t have the authority or experience to do much more. If you want to have a successful career, work hard to get the heck out of this level. Level 1 workers get fired quickly.
If the economy is good and you keep your job, your daily tasks may be miserable or meaningless. Jaded people have incorrectly theorized that all jobs are this bad. They’re wrong! Keep reading.
Level 2 is when you realize that you are not paid to show up, but you are paid to aggressively solve problems.
You were not hired to check email, attend meetings, or refill your coffee. You are hired to SOLVE PROBLEMS.
Do not assume it’s someone else’s responsibility to solve a problem. If it in any way involves you, then you need to solve the problem. Take the initiative. Be the person that says, “This is broken, and I’m going to fix this.”
Do not wait to be assigned a problem. Do not hesitate to lead a difficult project. Have the courage to solve the problems that everyone is ignoring. This is where your career will become exhilarating.
“The more complex the problem you solve, the more awesome your career.”
Level 3 is when you realize the problems you are paid to solve are often hidden from view.
These are the kinds of problems that don’t show up in your inbox. To say it another way, these problems are not obvious.
Let’s say after a couple of years into your career, you are promoted to lead a small team of 3 people. You are having trouble meeting deadlines. So you help each person work more efficiently, you keep them focused. But it’s not enough. So you meet with your boss and ask for a new position to open so you can hire another person. Or you ask for a change of scope in the project, or for more time. (Read more about the project management triangle.)
But don’t wait until you manage a team to ascend to Level 3. Simply look further into the future. Look at your Google Calendar. Review your team’s action plan for this calendar year. The future is always “hidden from view,” so for every work day, begin with the end in mind.
(I made a video relevant for Level 3 workers: “Ask the Hard Questions.”)
Level 4 is when you realize that the problems you should be solving aren’t even within your building.
Your real problem isn’t even that your competitor is getting stronger. The real problem is that you are losing touch with your customers. Your company is making the same thing that you made yesterday, but people’s needs have changed. Customers have new problems, and your solution isn’t working anymore.
If you are a Level 4 worker who is frustrated with your company because they don’t get it, then it’s time for you to leave. It doesn’t matter that you are too young (or too old). Find the company that understands. Or, maybe it’s time for you to make what people want–start your own company. Bring other people with you! Go and make the company where you want to work. ◾️
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