Hays UK jobs and employment blog


The five career lessons I wish I had learned earlier

By Jenna Alexander, National Head of Internal Recruitment

Do you ever look back on the early days of your career and wish you could apply what you now know? It definitely happens to me.

Starting out in your career can often feel like a never-ending learning curve. Relentless pressure to get our foot onto the next rung of the ladder (often pressure that’s only self-applied) can make it confusing to know where to even start.

Here, I want to save you some of the potential bruises by sharing some of the blunders of my early career, and the invaluable lessons they returned for me.

Lesson #1: Shouting doesn’t always get you heard

Early on in my career, I was constantly trying to prove myself. A tough exterior just seemed like the right way to be. I believed that this ruthless attitude was necessary in order to be noticed, and ultimately would help me get that promotion I wanted. However, it soon became clear that this approach lacks any substance or value. I’ve realised that aggressiveness is often someone trying to mask a lack of confidence. More so, this behaviour can be interpreted as having a negative attitude, which can isolate you from potential key stakeholders. My advice here is simple – you don’t need to change your personality to get ahead. In fact, being authentic among your colleagues can often propel you further in your career, as your peers will feel they can trust and relate to you.

Lesson #2: Questions don’t make you look stupid

We can all relate to this one – really wanting to ask a basic question but worrying that it’ll make you look incompetent. This is very natural but a fear you must resist. As I’ve progressed, I’ve found that the most effective and diligent employees ask the most questions. Fearing the perception of ‘not knowing’ is not as bad as actually lacking the information, so a good employee will swallow their concern and make sure they know. You should care more about getting the facts right and doing a good job in the long run.

Lesson #3: A culture of knowledge-sharing is priceless

The more people who benefit from your information and ideas, the closer you get to a true culture of knowledge sharing. There comes a point in any ambitious person’s career where they want to be seen as indispensable, where keeping information to yourself feels like holding on to the power. But if you think about it, if everyone is doing the same thing, how can anyone learn and progress?

Sharing knowledge comes in many forms… from putting forward ideas during meetings, to running a training session with your team. This can only lead to team success, which in turn reflects well on you in the future.

Lesson #4: Not all the leaders are at the top

Never assume that it’s only those in senior roles who are leaders in your business. Leadership is a quality rather than a skill. It’s totally possible to demonstrate this trait early in your career, so why wait until you are a leader through longevity of service when you can start right now?

During the early days of my career, I met a few senior people who didn’t necessarily have leadership skills but held positions of power – these people mostly sat in their offices giving orders rather than understanding their workforce.

I learned to seek out leaders who were not in senior positions yet, and was inspired by how they did it. Positivity, praise, solution-finding and a cool head are all superb leadership qualities – and none of them involve being at the top of the ladder.

Lesson #5: Your boss wants to see you working smarter, not longer

I began my career assuming that the more hours I put in, the more I would impress the boss. The problem was, I would always hit a brick wall after a long day and not actually get much done by the end.

What I have learnt over the years is that productivity is what impresses, and you are more productive with a fresh, clear and rested mind. Get some exercise, engage with people outside of your work, take some time out and go back to the office with your batteries recharged.

When you think about it, all of these lessons boil down to being honest and true to yourself. Don’t use insubstantial swagger and bravado to get ahead. Actually, look at the areas where you need to develop and the questions you need to ask in order to be ready for that promotion. Don’t be scared to show vulnerability by sharing your ideas for the business or even just taking a step back to recharge the batteries.

Learn these lessons earlier than I did, and get a head start in your meteoric rise to career success.

If you are looking for support with your employment needs please contact your local office.


Diversity in the workplace

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Report 2021

In this year’s report, we investigate if conversations about ED&I are leading to meaningful change and making a real difference to people’s working lives.


Hays Thrive

Free staff diversity training

Sign up to Hays Thrive so your team can benefit from our Diversity & Inclusion package – as well as dozens more free training courses.

Sign up now


My Learning

My Learning

My Learning is your portal for free training courses to support you throughout your career and get you market-ready for your next job search.


Job search

Search for a job

Looking for a new role? Search here for your ideal job or get in touch with one of our expert consultants.


Register a job

Register a vacancy

Have a vacancy? Fill in your details here.


Contact us

Find your nearest Hays office

Hays has offices across the whole of the UK. Contact us to discuss your employment needs.