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Golden Guide Career Advice: Drive Your Career Forward

Golden Guide Career Advice: Drive Your Career Forward

Lydia Lazar

illustration of woman seated at desk with computer

Golden Tip No. 29: Be Punctual, Prepared and Present

Golden Guide Career Advice is a series from the AMA in partnership with Lydia Lazar, author of Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People. A new tip in the series will be posted each Tuesday—all tips are available here.

Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Employers notice staff members who are eager to do their jobs well and often offer special opportunities to those who arrive to the office early. While there, be present. Listen actively and show that you’re getting the point when talking with someone.

The most successful people seem to have an effortless trajectory to their career arcs, but when you talk with them, they will often express surprise at how their professional lives worked out. They will frame their narratives positively and usually express awe at how lucky they’ve been. Certainly a measure of luck is involved, but it’s also likely that they’ve worked hard and prepared themselves carefully for moments of opportunity.

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Aside from being hard-working, punctual, prepared and present, what else can you do to drive your career forward?

Catch the Luck

It’s absolutely true that chance encounters have a way of changing your life. You never know who you’ll meet in an elevator, at the gym or at an alumni event. The key to catching luck in these chance encounters is to be open-minded, easygoing and friendly, and to follow up appropriately.

Be Authentic and Relatable

Many people are naturally ingratiating, capable of winning favor of seemingly anyone. If it seems calculating, ingratiating behavior can be seen as sycophantic, which describes a person who praises powerful people to get their approval—definitely not a positive trait! Your goal is to be authentic and relatable; you want people to like you for who you are, not for what you say to them that makes them feel good or powerful.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. Successful people don’t necessarily make fewer mistakes, though that may be a part of why they are successful. Rather, successful people learn from their mistakes and don’t make the same ones twice. Mistakes are a natural part of risk-taking and learning from mistakes is a crucial part of developing as a professional. However, mistakes are not the same as “failures.” The business media may talk about sequential entrepreneurs “failing fast,” but with respect to your career, I urge you to avoid the word failure as it can turn into poisonous self-talk.

Don’t forget the Roman philosopher Seneca’s advice that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” so prepare yourself to be lucky!


Dean Lazar's Golden Guide

For more career tips, read Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People, available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Lydia Lazar is founder and president of LHL Consulting. She is the former associate dean for recruitment and career services at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and previously, dean of international law and policy overseeing international student admissions (LLM) at Chicago-Kent College of Law.