Approximately one year ago, I wrote an article that focused on how to determine which corporate culture best suited a young professional’s personality and career aspirations. Today, that article is no longer relevant, at least not in the same way. While jobs are still available and companies still need to hire talented people, the declining stock market, reduced consumer confidence, 9/11 attacks, and subsequent war have had a negative effect on the overall job market and have added a much needed dose of humility on the workforce.

Today, young professionals are less greedy in their demands, more realistic of their career prospects, have a better perspective on life, and have an entirely new outlook altogether. Nonetheless, employment remains an important aspect of one’s life and there are some timeless factors one should never forget. Whether you’re looking for a job, struggling to get ahead in your current one, or considering a career switch, here are some time-tested adages.

Words to live by

When looking for employment, be open-minded

A common mistake is pigeonholing yourself by conducting a very narrow search in terms of job description, level, salary, and employer. You should make a list of what you have to offer and where your strengths lie, and then determine whether a fit exists between you, your background and skill, and the job in question.

A career is not homogeneous; it’s a succession of seemingly unrelated steps

Your father may have worked for one company all his life, but this is definitely not the norm these days. Employees switch jobs and career paths often. One of the main champions of the dot-com economy, analyst Henry Blodget, used to be a journalist and then swerved into analysis work.

He would have been “just another analyst” had he focused on his analytical skills. What made him a raging bull amongst his peers was his intricate knowledge and understanding of the world of journalism and media. When reporters called on analysts, they were looking for a quote that would ultimately sell newspapers. Blodget understood this and leveraged his skills admirably. The rest is history.

Enjoy each phase because the next one will be different

Once upon a time, mothers suffered from doctor envy, then it was lawyer envy, and then it was Wall Street envy. Today, mothers realize that the job market may have one sexy field at any given time, but when their sons and daughters rush to join this industry, the excess supply of talent drives wages and benefits down. Add to this a general meltdown in the industry, and demand evaporates.

But mothers are not alone as their offspring become envious and jealous, and wanting what your neighbor has is even more venomous in one’s career. If you want to be a photographer but are currently a writer, exceed at your position as a writer and hone your photography skills simultaneously. Before you know it, you will become more valuable than your competition.

You’re almost there…

Learn as much as you can, ask questions and absorb everything

There is such a thing as information overload, but this doesn’t have to be a drawback given you can assess data. Make sure that you know how to differentiate critical data from the rest and you will be very resourceful to your colleagues. Saying that all children are like sponges is a fallacy; some children are like sponges and the same applies to adults. It may be nice to know everything, but you only need to know some things; understand what fits into each category and you will be a sponge for life.

Knowledge is the tip of the iceberg; you only see a limited part of the big picture

If you enter a profession and assume you have all the answers, then your input will never be sought after because your colleagues and superiors will think your opinion is poor and misguided. When dealing with a problem, you must understand the underlying variables, research each one and determine what role each plays in the larger picture. Within the organization, you will encounter people with varying degrees of knowledge and areas of expertise. Each person has a comparative advantage and this is the area you should focus on when interacting with them.

Understand yourself and your limitations

Even Superman has kryptonite keeping him up at night, and so you should never pretend you can walk on water. Have you ever heard the saying, “there are no problems, only solutions”? This can be applied to weaknesses and threats as these negative factors can be transformed into strengths and opportunities. The key is to find out what your own demons are and lay out a game plan to address each one. If you do this at every job and from one job to another, then you will be primed for a leadership position before you know it.

Fill the gaps in the organization

One person can only do so much, but if the company is small enough and the organizational structure is flat, then the sky is the limit in terms of your input and value to the operation. Conversely, make sure not to step on anyone’s toes.

Get what it takes…

Build your dream house

Imagine building a house with your bare hands. Would you not be proud to see the finished product? In smaller and younger businesses, everyone plays a role in the building of a house. Depending on your personality, some like to build the foundation, some prefer to lay the bricks, and still others opt to paint the doors.

Which people do you think are most integral to the DNA of the house? To avoid building a house on quicksand, make sure to leave the window dressing to others and take care of the foundation and pillars yourself if you are the founder. If you are not the founder, then you may want to play a part in each step.

Be versatile and remain independent of others

This one is self-explanatory but many people forget about it. At some companies, rolling up your sleeves to get your hands dirty is a sin. But these days, young professionals need a perfect balance of sales experience, financial acumen and technical know-how if they wish to become valuable. So what are you waiting for? Roll up your sleeves.

Understand your organization

If you know what is going on at various levels of the company and across numerous functions within it, then you will anticipate everything and avoid the company from imploding and eliminating wealth.

Play fair but play to win

No one likes to lose; not in sports, chasing women, and especially not in business. Having the right attitude is important, and the right attitude is the perfect balance between a thirst to win and a desire to be fair. Balance these two forces and you will lead your team to victory.

Everyone is replaceable

No one is untouchable and no one is irreplaceable. With that in mind, make sure to plan for the future, keep your options open, remember that people do unconventional things for money, and keep your ego in check.

Very much like relationships, employment is a revolving door. You may believe that you have found what you have always searched for, but you can never anticipate what the other party is thinking.

Enjoy each and every step of your adventure but keep one thing in mind: the shortest distance between two points, such as the beginning of your career and retirement, may be a straight line but that’s usually not the most interesting one, so hit the cruise control button and enjoy the scenic route.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at