The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today?” is written by Sue Townsen, national managing partner of HR, diversity and corporate responsibility at KPMG.
In a competitive market, many students consider themselves lucky to secure a job upon graduation. But the learning doesn’t stop once you graduate. To be successful, it’s critical for 20-somethings to continue being “students” of the organizations they work for, especially in the first few months and years on the job. What does the company do? Who are their clients? How does a particular department support the larger organization? By engaging with experienced team members and conducting your own research, you’ll gain confidence to ask smarter, more strategic questions when given the opportunity.
New hires are often bombarded with information. It’s easy to get bogged down during the first few months on the job, but learning the technical skills necessary to make valuable contributions to the team should be your primary focus. While it may seem obvious, taking the time to develop expertise at this stage will have long-term benefits, making yourself more marketable in the future. Developing business acumen at an early stage in one’s career also is important. Young employees should ask themselves: How do my actions help the business succeed? What additional skills, education or training do I need to better support the business strategy of company? Understanding the business of business at a young age will pay immediate dividends.
Additionally, starting a new job is intimidating, especially if that new job happens to be your first. To ease the transition, build relationships early and often. Many companies have existing networks in place that can be tapped into as a starting point. Employee resource groups provide likeminded individuals the opportunity to grow and meet people outside of their existing teams. These groups also help employees establish mentoring relationships and afford the opportunity to identify potential sponsors. Engaging with people inside and outside the organization is always a win-win.
And lastly, don’t be afraid to stand out. When I have the opportunity to speak in front of a group of new hires, I can tell right away who is excited to be there and who is not. I cannot express how important it is for young employees to have a fantastic, positive attitude the minute they set foot in the door. Leaders will take notice: Do you come to work with enthusiasm? Do you ask for projects outside of your scope of responsibility? Do you seek to collaborate with your peers? Take risks and accept that while you may make mistakes, the key is to fail fast and learn from missteps. In business, just like in school, knowledge, networking, and a positive attitude are what will set young employees apart from their peers.