Monday, August 29, 2011

Career Advice

My first job outside of college was working for Ford Motor Credit.  My best friend got me a job there, and it was a really big deal at the time.  Unemployment was through the roof, I needed to start my career, and just about any full time gig would have been welcomed.  I was offered a whopping $16,800 for my starting salary, and I jumped all over it.  

I started out an assistant customer service representative, which really meant that I was a bill collector.  I spent my days calling delinquent accounts, and my nights repossessing cars for overtime pay.  I learned a ton about business, personal and business credit, had way more fun at work than I should have, and was quickly promoted.  I ultimately interviewed in Detroit for a position that would groom me for a branch management leadership position, and was accepted into an exclusive, two-year training program where I literally performed every job within a branch office.  Ford was also paying for my masters degree as well, so between my work during the day and school all night and weekends, I was learning an incredible amount.  

About a year into the training, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I was knocking it out at work, and school was going great.  Prospects for my future were looking really good.  That was all until my assistant branch manager called me into his office.   

Larry was from West Virginia originally, and had come up the ranks "repoing deadbeat rednecks throughout the hills."  His still spoke with a very distinct southern drawl.  We had a good relationship, and I had learned a lot from him.  However, when I sat down across from his desk, I knew this wasn't going to be the usual conversation.  "Boy, where's that such and such of a project that I asked you to complete?" Indeed, Larry had given me a task, and it fell off my radar screen.  I confessed what had happened.  "That's what I thought," he said.  "You do a good job here, and you're on a good path, but boy, your follow up skills are horsebleep.  Absolute horsebleep.  And it is going to kill your career.  You need to figure it out, and figure it out right now."   

Up to this point, I'd always heard nothing but glowing reviews, and I took this pointed feedback like a punch to the gut.  I stammered an apology and left his office, but I immediately began mulling on his feedback.  He was, of course, absolutely right.  

I immediately began employing techniques to make improvements on my follow up and organization, and evolved as my career and technology progressed.  I still work on it to this day.  For example, I still use a Franklin Planner, and while it looks damned antiquated, it provides me an organizational method where very little ever falls through the cracks.   

I've often thought back to that day in Larry's office, and while the conversation was tough, it helped me in my career possibly more than any other piece of advice I received.  And since that time, I've actively sought out the feedback of others to see how I'm doing and what I can do better.  Those that have provided me with candid feedback have been treasured, as they've helped to push me to constantly up my game and be better.   

We all have ways in which we can improve, and when we stop doing them, we kind of start giving our employers reasons for not needing us anymore.  While these improvements certainly can come in the form of expanded training or industry learning, I'm convinced it should also come from our coworkers - peers, managers, and direct reports.  While sometimes the feedback will sting, the benefits can far outweigh the pain.   

So if you're still out there, thanks Larry.  You molded me far more than you could have thought.  

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