Here’s a piece of wisdom that most employers and career counselors won’t tell you outright as you step into your first entry level job: Doing that job—even doing it well—can actually be a hazard to your long term career prospects.
More specifically, the hazard lies in jumping up to do as you’re told and then checking out when your assigned duties are complete. If you fulfil your job description and faithfully execute the commands of your boss, and then go back to playing games online, your future may be in more trouble than you recognize. Here are a few reasons to keep yourself busy when you haven’t specifically been handed any tasks.
You’re still in school…sort of.
You won’t keep this job forever. This place, your desk, and your current boss will all be in your rearview mirror within about five years, and probably much sooner than that. But while you’re here, you have a unique opportunity to learn volumes of information about this business model and how your industry works. Take advantage of this golden moment to pack your head with information and pack your timeline with life experience; at this stage, questions of all kinds are encouraged, and mistakes are typically tolerated—but that may not be true ten years down the road. Ask for new projects, ask for feedback, and ask for exposure to other departments. Don’t do it as an obedient servant of the company; do it to give yourself a career advantage that can last for decades.
Impressing your boss can’t hurt.
You don’t need to stay late or complete work without getting paid (think twice before answering work emails at midnight). And apple polishing to impress your current boss may land you a nice letter of reference but not much more over the long run. So don’t go too far and don’t compromise your dignity… But do recognize the value of a friendly face in the industry and a positive relationship built on trust. A nod of approval from your current boss won’t transform the ladder of success into an escalator. But it certainly won’t hold you back.
Invest now, collect later.
A few extra miles, a few long nights, a few stressful peak seasons, and a few run-ins with utter burnout won’t cost as much now as they might later on. So face these challenges head-on while you’re young, ambitious, and able. If you have extra energy in your tank, dedicate it to your job. Years from now, other priorities may pull your attention away. But right now, if you can, do.