The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Graham Hill, executive vice president of global business development & strategy at KBR, has answered the question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job?
I was around 27 when I was asked to take on an assignment in Russia. Despite the adverse conditions, I agreed to go—much to the surprise of management and my friends, who thought I was quite mad about taking on such a difficult assignment.
Because the project didn’t pan out, I didn’t end up going. But at the next assignment opportunity, my manager remembered I had volunteered to go to Russia and offered me the new assignment first. Located in Seoul, South Korea, the project was tough, but it was a life- and career-defining moment for me. It provided me with a lifetime of experience, both personal and professional. Still today, I meet customers and partners who are amazed by my experiences and knowledge of Korea.
That job taught me to remove the word “no” from my vocabulary altogether. It’s especially important to do this when you’re young and trying to build your profile. When young people joining new firms, they have to fight to establish themselves as added-value resources amidst many experienced personnel already at the company.
It’s is a constant challenge for managers to resource teams, projects, offices, and task forces, especially when employees are unrealistic about their availability and salary. New, young recruits can serve themselves well throughout their careers by volunteering for challenging assignments and being “easy to manage” from the moment they arrive at their first job. Getting a reputation for being high maintenance will eventually take its toll on your career, so establishing an easy-to-manage profile from the outset is one of the best things that new recruits can do.
Over the years, the reputation I have built up from the outset—being easy to manage—has stayed with me and led to many opportunities. Of course, opportunity is merely one part—taking advantage of opportunity and making the most of it is the second and equally important part. But it all starts with a willingness to take on challenges and work outside of your comfort zone, thereby stretching yourself and finding new depths to your character. “Start right and stay true” is what I’ve learned and is the best advice I could give to a young person starting out in his or her career.
Read all responses to the Fortune 500 Insider question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job?
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