Beginning a career

Virtual coffee with an intern  2021-07-20

Beginning a career

How I began my career: at the end of 1st year university, I took my schoolwork drawings, and simply walked in an office and asked if they wanted help. Looking back 48 years afterwards, I guess the office supervisor was surprised and impressed with my initiative and courage. My second opportunity was after 2nd year university, I looked up all architects’ addresses, took my drawings and walked in the offices one by one.

Through 48 years, there was only one factor in starting and building my career: self initiative. 

Through my career, the most challenging part is myself — my ignorance, my huge effort to learn, and make myself better. The payback of benefit was almost never immediate, and may be years afterwards. It is worthy.

Key qualities that help a career

There are important concerns in the mind of every business owner, important enough to affect the owner’s business survival, even before one talks about business success. Yet strangely, no business owner will tell employees explicitly the important concerns, and strangely, all business owners will only quietly observe whether an employee, without being told, will meet up the owner’s silent concerns.

Maybe it is not strange an owner is silent, that it is really about an employee’s self initiative, not about being told.

If an employee meets up the owner’s silent concerns, there are two typical owner reactions: 1) the owner breaks silence, and lets the employee know the gratitude, 2) the employee’s promotion to higher responsibility is ensured. On the other hand, if an employee fails to sense the owner’s concerns, there is no advance, for the business or the employee.

I list 6 important concerns typically in a business owner’s mind:

Know the critical needs of the profession I am in

Most employees only know the routines of their jobs, but in this article we do not discuss routines and mediocrity, but what helps a career.

The critical needs of a profession are not the same as the routine of a profession; routines keep the daily life of a profession, but critical needs keep the survival and success of a profession. Survival and success are only earned by personal experience and insights, and a person needs to immerse truly and deeply in his/her profession to earn knowledge of survival and success.

There are 2 critical needs that apply to ANY and ALL professions, regardless high brow or low key profession. If you can meet up the 2 needs, your personal career success is also ensured.

One is MAKE MONEY. It does not matter if your profession is artistic, or anything else, or even if your profession is a charity, behind the art or the charity or anything else, is the need of money to survive. The employee who proves he/she earns money for his/her profession, regardless whether he/she is a junior/senior employee, this employee is valuable indeed.

One is INDISPUTABLE QUALITY. Many people claim that their work is good, and many works seem to border between good and merely common, but we have experienced work that is beyond any dispute, IT IS GOOD.

There are examples of indisputable quality in Beethoven’s music, the architecture of Mies van der Rohe and Luis Barragan, Levi’s jeans, Coca-cola, and work from many common people. The employee, regardless junior or senior, who shows indisputable quality in his/her work, will be rewarded fully, in his/her career and life.

Able to solve critical problems

A business is like a person, like a person who may fall ill in a sudden illness or long term illness, a business may experience a sudden emergency, or suffer from some long term problems. A business’ emergency or long term problem is not the same as the business’ daily routine work. Daily routine work is managed by common employees, but in an emergency or chronic problem, the person who comes out and solves the business’ problems at critical moments will demonstrate that he/she is special and valuable, and worthy of his/her career.

I once attended a co-ordination meeting at construction site, for a residential construction project the size of a town, walking distance 2 hours end to end, with its own town square, the whole town designed and built all together at once. In that co-ordination meeting, the main agenda was lighting design, and we were to see the presentation on lighting for the town square, and decide on the lighting installation, while the town square construction was meanwhile going full speed on site. The presenter from the lighting design consultant was a young girl, and it was apparent that she not only presented the design in the meeting, but she had prepared the impressive and complex computer rendering scenes, and had designed the lighting arrangements herself. The supervisor from the lighting design consultant sat by her to supplement quick answers to critical questions, and at the end of the meeting, the design proposal was passed for lighting installation to proceed. The lighting design was to last 50 years, the vetting was not taken lightly, and the young girl who carried enormous responsibility and pressure passed examinations of design, computer work, presentation, and hard questioning, in one meeting. The developer no doubt approved of and appreciated the young girl, as did the girl’s office supervisor.

Good relation with supervisor and colleagues

In a work place, relation between colleagues is normally genial, because colleagues have a common goal to work towards, and being genial and therefore cooperative helps to achieve good work. Unfortunately, there are exceptions; in my 40 year career I have encountered people who are jealous, people who are brutal, people who might not be straight. These encounters are not with the majority of people, but they are not rare.

Through experience, I have established rules of conduct with colleagues and supervisors that I follow:

1) I find that the rules of conduct must not be broken under ANY circumstance, there is never any circumstance that warrants breaking the rules. On the other hand, breaking the rules of conduct ALWAYS brings negative consequences.

2) The most important rule is that my work must be indisputably superior. It is why I come to work, to start with. It also follows that against truly superior work, all negative relations at work do not have consequence.

3) I speak ill of no one — no one.

4) I will be friendly and supportive to all colleagues and supervisors.

I find that when these rules are followed with no exception,

1) No negative relation has ever damaged my career in 40 years.

2) Many years afterwards, people will have a memory of my friendliness and support, it is the only memory that will remain in our lives.

Learn and know general life

The 3 attributes above (know the critical needs of the profession I am in, able to solve critical problems, good relations with supervisor and colleagues) will greatly build an employee’s career, and many people eager for career advance will see these attributes as the focus of their training. But there is a 4th attribute that a great majority of people ignore — sometimes wilfully choose to ignore, many times think it is not important. The 4th attribute is to learn and know general life.

It is staggeringly astonishing how we as humans are incomprehensive about the very life we are living, and we are just as unaware that all of us have come to this life here for one thing most important of all — to learn from this life. There is no exception, for a queen, a prime minister, every common person, we come to learn from this life.

In the context of career building, it is great if we know the critical needs of the profession we are in, are able to solve critical problems, have good relations with supervisor and colleagues. But when these three circumstances pose great difficulties, perhaps life is telling us, to fall back on general life. If our understanding of general life provides us with help and answers, more often they are the reliable and correct help and answers. If we still find no solution to our career difficulties, then life is really telling us, our career situation is a calling for us to learn more about life. Which that is our ultimate purpose in this life, in fact.

A more detailed explanation of learning from our life is written in the article “Individual, groups, institutions, world”, under the section “Near side, far side”, in this website.

Excellent knowledge of my field

In a well-known war movie, a battle front army battalion urgently requests logistics support, or else the fight will fail. The supporting army lists all kinds of difficulties. The brigadier general requesting support angrily retorts, “Except try, can you?”

We are hired to do a good job, hopefully, excellent job. Most of us do not naturally have excellent knowledge of the profession we come into, many of us have other reasons why we come to a profession.

But the people possessing excellent knowledge of their field are the people giving vital life and brightness to the profession, many of them do not previously have excellent knowledge, but have persevered to learn.

Excellent knowledge includes not only academic learning from school, but far richer knowledge of the profession on the ground.

In the end, it is excellent knowledge that produces excellent products for society. Society and society people will appreciate the contribution, the workers who give excellence towards the contribution are rewarded not merely in momentary income, but their subsequent lives are uplifted in incomparable value.

Excellent computer graphics

We communicate through eyes, mouth and ears; our 2 most important communication paths are audio and visual. Of audio and visual communications, visual communication is so present and important in our lives that we accept it automatically like breathing.

Computer visuals are so present and important in our era that we accept them without conscious examination — online newspapers, online videos, emails, computer business presentations, professional computer drawings. It becomes an unavoidable consequence that computer graphic skills become critical in many professions.

Numerous computer graphics software, from simple to very complex, demand knowledge how to use, and for a professional already laden with main professional work, this is only an added burden. But in the present era, not only knowing computer graphics but be excellent in computer graphics has become critical for professional survival and success.

Many professionals hire and rely on computer assistants. But I advise that you rely on your own excellent computer skills — and therefore your own painful training — if you want your career (and life) to excel.

Connecting to professionals

The very first way of connecting to professionals is our ability in the profession being indisputably good. If our ability in the profession is indisputably good, connection occurs naturally and connection becomes a non-topic. But not many of us are indisputably good professionally, at least when we start.

Failing that, the second way in connecting to professionals is our pre-belonging to a social group. Pre-belonging to a social group may be we have parents or school friends or society we belong to who can help us. In our modern age we are taught that every person is given a chance only by his/her individual merit. Alas, in the career field, having a right social background DOES give us the advantage we much need in our career.

Human groups are as old as the beginning of humans, to protect and exclude. The 20th century psychologist Sigmund Freud laughed at modern civilization for trying to challenge human tribal character. Unfortunately, human tribal characters will always be, however hard modern democracy tries to deny the instinct. In the context of career, the right social background is often necessary for our success, it is also the reason that “glass ceiling” is well known in our society.

But nothing can stop a person to advance him/herself, if a person possesses enough calling. This is why, we also know innumerable stories of persons challenging stubborn social norms and succeeds. (Then we are back to “learning from general life”, mentioned above.)

When we lack social connection, which happens to many of us, the third connection is the standard public job search platform, which today often can be found through the internet. Then it is a classical path of us writing, sending our resume, and finally job interviews. For most of us, this third path of standard ad-search, resume sending and subsequent job interview is our overwhelmingly proven and reliable life saver.

Writing a resume and preparing for a job interview are covered in the articles “An attractive resume” and “A successful job interview” in this website.