Lessons for a JMO Starting a Business Career – Part 1

In July I celebrated my10th anniversary in a business career and all 10 years with Cameron-Brooks.  I am currently at our August 2009 Career Conference in Charlotte, NC and it is my 51st Conference as a Cameron-Brooks employee.  The 10 years have gone by quickly and I remember my first year  very well.  It was a challenging transitioning from the Army to the civilian business sector and especially to a company with such high standards and expectations as Cameron-Brooks.  I had to adapt to a new culture and thought process,  new responsibilities, leaders and peers, as well as learn as much as I could about my company, our clients, candidates and industry.  Even though I did have some challenges in my first year, I successfully launched my career and  am now a major contributor to the success of our company.  I want to share what I did well that first year to hopefully help other JMOs make that transition.

This blog post will be the first of a few concerning lessons for JMOs in successfully launching a business career.  I will continue to share other lessons in future posts with the same title as this posting “Lessons for a JMO Starting a Business Career.” Just check back  for Parts 2, 3 and more.

Lesson 1:  Be a student.

Right away I recognized I did not know much about the complexities of my company and our business and in order to add value and make contributions, I would have to be a “sponge.” 

I listened a lot.  I listened to conversations that René had with companies and Roger had with candidates.  I listened to interaction among Cameron-Brooks team members.  I listened at the meetings.  I was an interactive listener and not just passive.  I followed up with questions, took notes, and clarified points.  I also created opportunities to listen more.  I asked other Cameron-Brooks members to have breakfast with me,  quizzed them on their jobs and responsibilities, and asked what I could be doing better and where I could add value.  I requested to spend a week traveling with Roger Cameron recruiting, when I observed and againtook notes while he interviewed prospective JMO candidates.  Now, I did speak up at times to offer my opinion and insight, I was not just a “wall flower,” but I certainly had the attitude of “listen and learn” more than talk and try to prove what I knew. 

When I write things down instead of trying to commit to memory, I am much more likely to remember and learn.  I immediately purchased a notebook and took it wherever I went.  In my notebook, I wrote down new concepts I learned, questions I had for other team members, phrases I heard René Brooks and Roger Cameron use, and any “aha” moments where I was able to connect pieces of our business together.  I reviewed this notebook every week.  I likened it to taking notes in a class and then studying them at the end of the week to prepare for the next week’s classes.  I still carry a notebook with me and add notes, ideas and new lessons.  If you are starting a new job or career, I highly encourage this.  Also, I know this made an impression with my boss René Brooks and the other Cameron-Brooks team members because they saw that I valued and recognized their experience and knowledge by taking notes.

I continued to read business books and periodicals.  My father-in-law was an Orthopedic Surgeon and I was always amazed at how he would come home after a long day (often starting before 6:00 a.m. and ending after 6:00 p.m.) and spend his evening reading medical journals.  Even though he was smart (still is even though retired), a great surgeon, and getting near retirement, he never stopped reading.  He set a great example for me.  I read as many business books as I could.  I read books on leadership, since that’s a focus area for Cameron-Brooks; but I also read about new business ideas our companies were implementing such as Six Sigma, Lean, Strategic Selling, Toyota Production Method and more.  I stayed current with business trends reading the Wall Street Journal and FORTUNE Magazine.  Reading significantly increased my knowledge allowing me to better interact with Cameron-Brooks clients, educate our candidates, and use the concepts and implement new ideas at Cameron-Brooks.

I also read annual reports.  Yes, they can be dry and pretty factual but I wanted to know as much about our clients and their industries as possible.  Cameron-Brooks doesn’t have an annual report as a private company, but I sure studied our statistics at the end of the year to identify trends and understand the business.  If you want to be a future top leader in your company, start reading the annual report and get a big picture of what’s happening in your organization.  I also recommend reading your competitors’ and customers’ annual reports.  Even though your first few jobs may not have a strategic impact, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start immediately thinking and viewing your organization from a strategic perspective. 

I learned the history of my company and I encourage others to do the same.  Even as a small company, Cameron-Brooks has a rich history filled with overcoming obstacles, succeeding in recessions, successes and setbacks.  Why do we study history in school?  I am pretty sure it’s to learn lessons from the past and be able to apply them to the future.  That is the exact same reason you should learn your company’s history.  It’s easier to learn from the past than make mistakes today and have to relearn them.  I asked, and still ask questions of René Brooks, Roger Cameron and Mary Lou White -who have been with the company the longest – about how they handled certain situations, what the company was like during the 1991 recession, Gulf War I, and the dot com boom of the late 1990’s.  It’s great to have a perspective of where the company has been, because it also helps me understand the possibilities for the future.

Continue to check back at the blog for more lessons to come.

 Joel Junker