- Embrace networking – Stephanie
When I was a fresh-faced graduate, I thought my network was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. To me, networking was just a bunch of people handing out business cards and pretending to be interested in each other’s lives. But luckily, I had a wise former internship manager, let’s call her Katy, who showed me the light and even helped me land my dream job.And how did I get that dream job, you ask? Well, after my internship ended, I started working at a new organization and eventually ran into Katy at a conference. I was convinced she wouldn’t remember me but, to my surprise, she greeted me with a hug and pushed me to stay in touch. She became a great mentor and friend over the years, always quick to offer career advice and support. And when a job opened up on her team, I was really excited about the opportunity to work with her directly again.
Thanks to Katy, I learned that networking is not as scary as I thought it was – it’s more like a reunion with people who you actually want to see again. So, the moral of the story is this – don’t let your network be like that old box of baking soda in the back of your fridge that you forgot about. Keep it fresh, keep it fun, and who knows, you might just end up with a new job or a new friend!
- No Excuses, Only Solutions – Lydia
I remember the first time I saw the office of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in 2015. I was just a State Chair at the time and was interning with the Leadership Institute. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered this massive organization supporting so many chapters and students across the US was the result of only a handful of staff working in a tiny office. Kind of like the little alien in Men in Black operating the copier machine. Needless to say, when I ended up joining their national team, the bar was set pretty high.
I asked my supervisor how I could go above and beyond and make the most out of this opportunity as a young professional. I was told, “No excuses, only solutions.” Harsh right? Every time I say it I feel like I’m in the military getting my tail chewed by a drill sergeant.
At first, I thought this was just a ploy to get me to work hard, but throughout my career, I have found myself saying it again and again. After all, it applies to so many situations. If you make a mistake, it’s best to explain the circumstances and come up with a plan to fix it – no excuses, only solutions. If you didn’t meet a goal, understand why and create a new path forward – no excuses, only solutions. It’s a reminder to keep moving forward and stay focused on the goal. At YAL it helped me grow my region, expand my responsibilities, and most importantly, learn that success is earned. Those who are successful in their careers don’t play the blame game or waste time arguing about what went wrong. They accept challenges for what they are, learn from misfortune, and move ahead. No excuses, only solutions.
- Learn to say “I don’t know” – Katelynn
“I don’t know; I’ll have to figure that out,” a Senior Attorney I borderline idolized replied when asked a question about one of her cases at a litigation meeting, the monthly meeting that every single attorney in our organization attended. For me, a brand-new baby attorney fresh out of law school, the litigation meeting was a high-pressure situation where I always tried to seem my smartest and most prepared. If someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, I would fumble around saying things that kind of made some sense but not really, all while sweating buckets and wishing I could disappear into the floor. Saying “I don’t know” in that meeting simply didn’t seem like a viable option.So when I heard this brilliant attorney I admired utter the phrase with stolid indifference, you can imagine how thoroughly my jaw muscles lost all tension. That experience changed me. I learned in that moment that only smart, confident people casually make saying “I don’t know” a regular part of their vocabularies. It’s the really clueless people who act like they know everything.
Now, I go around my daily life freely uttering “I don’t know” because I often don’t. Try playing a round of trivia with me and you’ll see. (Just yesterday, I couldn’t think of a single song by Bryan Adams.) Yet I consider myself to have found a good amount of professional success and that’s because when I don’t know something, I admit it immediately and then cheerfully find the answer.
Here’s the secret: that’s what every single professional does. It’s OK not to know everything. It’s never OK to pretend that you do.
- Be open to new career paths – Claire
If I had followed the career path I charted in my early 20s, I’d probably be miserable or serving burgers at Chotchkies after being fired repeatedly. Thankfully, I encountered someone far wiser than I who helped alter my path.Following graduate school, I interviewed for a policy job with the late, great John Berthoud at National Taxpayers Union. After a delightful conversation, John looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t think this role is right for you.” He encouraged me to explore roles that would leverage my other skills and experience. For anyone who remembers John, you know how artfully and honestly he delivered this news. But the takeaway was clear: stop applying for policy jobs, you cotton-headed ninny muggins.
I had spent the last two years getting an MPP and dreaming of a job in tax policy, and now John was really harshing my vibe. But he was 100% right. And thanks to John, I took a step back and started exploring non-policy roles in the policy world.
I ended up landing a job in talent development, which, to no one’s surprise, was a much better fit for my skills and experience. That sharp turn in my career helped get me to where I am today.
We all want to believe we have a good perspective on our own skills and abilities, but sometimes it’s other people who actually have a more objective point of view of what we bring to the table.
- Ask why – Katy
When you’re a student, life is pretty straightforward: read the books to understand the subject, master the equations to get the answer, research the topic to write your paper. Every class and every assignment eventually leads you to a degree.And then, bam! You land your first “real” job and suddenly life isn’t full of assignments anymore. It’s full of random tasks and responsibilities, some of which don’t make a lot of sense.
For instance, in my first big girl job, I was responsible for a lot of database upkeep. It wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world and it felt pretty pointless. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. But I never stopped to ask my boss (or myself!), “Why am I doing this?” And unlike in college, it wasn’t at all clear to me why doing this was important.
Many years later, I landed at Talent Market. On my first day, I was told why tracking things in our database was important (for us, our clients, our candidates, and the liberty movement as a whole). Without this data, we couldn’t do what we do. It all made perfect sense.
And then it hit me. Had I been told this or thought to ask “why is this important?” in my first job many years prior, I would have approached things very differently. I would have done a better job putting information into the database back then. And I would have been able to make suggestions to improve our process and advance our mission. (I notice this donor moved to Florida and we’re doing a seminar there next month…maybe we can connect with her there? Should we pull a list every month of students who moved recently and then tell them about new opportunities in their area? I notice one of our key partners just got a job at a new organization we’ve been trying to connect with; let’s use this as an opportunity to build a relationship there!)
By asking “why,” I could have moved from being a data-pushing, mindless assignment finisher to someone who saw the big picture, understood the purpose, and did more to advance the organization’s mission…and probably my own career!