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. Diane Frisch, senior vice president of human resources at Ingredion Incorporated, has answered the question: What can 20-somethings do to set themselves up for success?
Work hard and you’ll get ahead. It sounds cliché, but it’s not. It’s a fundamental tenet of success that hasn’t changed over the years. It was true when I started my career in the ‘70s and is still true today.
Young professionals who work diligently, ask questions, bring ideas to the table, and produce results will get noticed. Give your absolute best to each assignment, even the ones that bore you to death. Be a team player even if you don’t like your colleagues. You don’t need to be friends with everyone you work with, but professional cooperation is essential. And act like a sponge—soak up the experiences and learn all you can.
Successful companies invest in talented employees, so show them you’re worth the investment. Early in my career, I was in a program that exposed young professionals to a variety of HR functions before assigning them to a permanent job. I wrote a recruiting manual, created a severance policy, developed and analyzed employee engagement surveys, and evaluated compensation schemes. I worked on every assignment as if my career depended on it, and I got noticed. At the end of the program I was able to choose my next job because I worked hard and delivered results.
Professional success usually requires personal sacrifice. So early on you need to make decisions. How important is your career? What are you willing to do to succeed? Are you willing to miss happy hour with friends or travel to a remote location over the weekend?
Your next opportunity could be in another city or state, and you might have to relocate—away from a supportive family. I’m from New York and moved to Iowa to advance my career. It was difficult for me to leave, but after 30 years, I consider myself a Midwesterner. Plus, with today’s technology, you can connect via Skype or FaceTime. So if you have an opportunity that requires relocation, grab it. And, if it’s in another country, that’s even better. International experience makes you more marketable in our global world.
Choose your early jobs carefully. The first few companies you work for can shape your career and professional values. Look for an employer that has a reputation for developing and promoting employees. And if you’re in a bad situation, make the best of it. Adversity is a great teacher, and it forces you to be creative. One company I worked for was in a low-margin business, and we couldn’t give employees raises. To boost morale, I implemented half-day Fridays, which wasn’t a common practice in the 1980s.
Finally, the brightest and most capable won’t succeed if they can’t build relationships. Support your colleagues. Seek out managers who are in positions to invest in you. And, at any stage of your career, spend time with people you can learn from, both on and off the job.