By Justin Doyle, Worldwide Sales Training Manager, Enterprise Business Group

Once you’ve cleared the post-graduation hurdle of entering the working world, how do you successfully find your footing within your organization?

When I finished graduate school five years ago and joined Xerox, my initial emphasis was on developing competencies in my role and integrating into the culture of the company. Today, I’m looking ahead to how I can meaningfully contribute to the company beyond my job, by building an experience base that provides a solid grounding for my personal and professional passions.

In Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker said “knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years.” Drucker’s advice is intended for seasoned knowledge workers with many years of experience, but the message is just as applicable to those of us in our first years of building career paths. I’ve found his advice couldn’t be more true, and I’ve put the following ideas into practice as I navigate my career choices:

  • Seek mentors: I’ve built an informal network of senior leaders who manage areas relevant to my current role and areas of work that I’m interested in for the future. Their knowledge can propel you to the next level of performance that’s necessary to move forward, and they can act as a sounding board when you’d like to test ideas that expand beyond the your current scope of responsibility.
  • Open the lines of communication: Feedback is essential to helping you recognize your strengths and weaknesses. When I asked for feedback from my team after a recent project, I discovered they wanted me to provide formal task lists to track progress against. I didn’t see this as a gap until I asked for feedback, and I’ve now incorporated it into my work process. Look for feedback up and down the line to gain perspective on how you can add value at all levels of your value chain. If your company conducts 360 performance reviews, ask to participate.
  • Set your own agenda: Unless you’re in a career field with a linear advancement path, no one’s going to tell you where you should be heading 5 or 10 years from now. It’s up to you to identify how you’d like to contribute to the organization in the future, and how you’ll derive happiness from your work. Ask yourself what you excel at and love to do, and how that matches with the organization’s strategy and structure.

Seriously asking yourself these questions and weighing them with the feedback from reviews might lead to surprising results. For example, if you’re an engineer with great team building skills, you might find yourself looking to careers that play to those skills, like HR or project management. And hopefully, if you built the right network through mentorships, the right opportunities will be there for you when you’re ready!