I have taken my first step on the career ladder, how should I conduct myself?


The unemployment rate in South Africa is currently about 25%[1]. Appreciate the opportunity that you have; one that at least three other South Africans do not. You have probably worked hard to get to where you are but don’t stop now. You have your whole career ahead of you and with some careful thought and action, you can be a star:

  • Be self-aware: If you know what your talents are and you can identify opportunities to use these, you are likely to be very successful. You will also manage better if you know what your weaknesses are and can find ways to mitigate these in the workplace. Use techniques like a SWOT analysis to identify what you are good at and where you need to develop. But remember that you can’t stop there; you need to find ways to leverage your strengths and opportunities and ways to mitigate your weaknesses and threats.
  • Understand the business that you work for: Working successfully in an organisation includes understanding the organisation and its people, including employees and customers. Knowing the product line and how it fulfils a need is just as important as ordering more toner for the printer. If you do not understand your company's mission and vision, you will not know how best to support its various functions. The same goes for people — knowing employees' roles, where they fit into the big picture, and how they operate will help you deal most efficiently and effectively within the organisation. The more you know about how the company works and what people are doing to build business, fulfil customer requests, meet deadlines, and otherwise perform their duties, the more successful you'll be in creating and sustaining an environment that fosters success.

  • Actively build your personal brand: How and when you behave reflects on you as a professional. Your appearance, actions and words affect how others perceive you. Start by dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. It will serve as a daily reminder that opportunities exist for you. These opportunities will come to you if you also focus on your words and actions. Be positive, action-oriented and treat all people in the manner that you would wish to be treated. The more people that like and respect you, the bigger your chance of success.
  • Commit to small increments of improvement every single day: The world’s fastest computers are capable of quadrillions (one thousand million millions) of calculations per second yet the human brain is capable of more. Your mind is built for greatness: constantly challenge yourself to learn something new or do something better. Think creatively and innovatively and reflect on your learning at the end of every day. If you write down what you have learnt and reflect on it, you will be amazed at what you have learnt over time!
  • Manage your finances carefully: you now have a regular income and, with that, access to credit. Be disciplined about drafting a personal budget for expenses and incidentals and sticking to it. Resist the temptation to seek instant rewards and avoid credit as much as possible. If you don’t fully understand credit or store card interest, you can get advice online or from financial advisers at your bank. Make sure that you regularly include an amount for savings, what starts as a non-negotiable monthly “expense” soon adds up to a holiday fund or enough for the deposit on a home.

[1] Joana Taborda. (2013). SOUTH AFRICA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE UP TO 25.2% IN Q1 2013. Available: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/unemployment-rate. Last accessed 1 June 2013.

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