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8 tips for Black professionals starting their career journey

The Best Advice for Black Professionals Starting Their Career Journey

Many businesses say they're committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), but the statistics show Black professionals still don't receive equal consideration for their talents and skills. According to McKinsey & Company, the median wage for Black professionals in the United States is around 30% less than for white workers. The overrepresentation of Black employees in low-paying service roles and their underrepresentation in leadership jobs offer some examples. The company's research shows it's harder for Black employees to advance from entry-level positions naturally, but one shouldn't lose hope. The following advice for Black professionals starting their career journey can lead them to success. 

Look beyond the job title

Focusing on obtaining a specific job title is a common way of kick-starting your career, but you can find a suitable role in other ways. Rather than zeroing in on a particular title, think about what you want in your career. Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • What issues do I want to address?
  • What challenges excite me?
  • What lifestyle do I enjoy?
  • What type of company do I want to work for in my career?

When you have a clearer picture of your ideal role, you are more likely to obtain a position that engages and fulfills you. Remember that companies aren't just interviewing you; you're interviewing them. With more companies focused on DEIB initiatives than ever, you have some leverage to find the best role, even when it's early in your career.

Always behave professionally, no matter what others do

If you see your colleagues slacking off on social media or skipping out early on Friday afternoons, it can be tempting to think that the company accepts these minor indiscretions. However, it's a sad truth that Black professionals often get scrutinized twice as closely as their peers in the workplace. Consider a 2020 Duke University study, which found people viewed Black women with natural hair as less competent and professional than both their white peers and Black women with straightened hair.

This study demonstrates that often Black professionals are disadvantaged simply due to their appearance. Just because people turn a blind eye to your colleagues bending the rules, you can't assume they'll do the same for you. Behaving professionally at all times is the best way to ensure you maintain your reputation and get noticed for the positive contributions you make to your employer when opportunities for advancement within the company arise.

Join an employee resource group for Black professionals

Employee resource groups are voluntary communities of professionals with a common characteristic, such as the color of their skin, in an organization. These groups can help you feel supported, informed, and less isolated as you embark on your career. If your workplace doesn't already have an employee resource group for Black professionals, speak to your supervisor about starting one.

Network with all types of people

Networking with a diverse range of people can help you learn essential professional development skills and advance your career. While you may have a natural affinity with other Black professionals, who can relate to many of your experiences, different people's professional journeys can give you new perspectives on your career outlook and responsibilities. Try to surround yourself with people at all levels of your organization from different walks of life. 

To expand your professional network, you could:

  • Upload a resume to CareerBuilder to connect with people outside your organization who offer new opportunities.
  • Go to seminars and conferences in your industry.
  • Shake up your lunchtime routine, such as eating in the cafeteria rather than at your desk.
  • Attend after-work functions and mingle with people outside your team.
  • Sign up to 100,000 Careers, a partnership between CareerBuilder and iHeartRadio's Black Information Network, which connects Black job seekers with employers and provides one-on-one coaching.
“While you may work harder to break down the barriers you face, you can achieve the career goals you set for yourself with determination and effort.”

Get a mentor

A mentor is a trusted individual who can help guide you through your career. You can ask anyone more experienced in your network or employee resource group to become your mentor. Meeting with this individual regularly and discussing your professional life can help you navigate the challenges you face in your job and advance your career. As you progress to more senior positions, be on the lookout for people just starting in their careers whom you can assist in the same way your mentor helps you with your career ambitions.

Obtain at least one well-respected educational degree

Professional behavior and good connections may only get you so far. Educational qualifications help you get the rest of the way toward achieving your professional goals. Having at least one well-respected degree can help you secure an entry-level role. 

When you're ready to advance, earning another well-recognized degree can help you take your career to the next level. Being a little overqualified can leave no doubt that you know your stuff and are competent enough to take the next steps on your career path. Many universities now offer online courses which help you balance your studies with a full-time career.

Pay attention to how people act

The old saying that actions speak louder than words is often true in business. Many companies promote their commitment to DEIB, but some only pay lip service to these ideas. How you get treated may be much more telling than what someone says to you.

Imagine you ask for a promotion, and your supervisor says you need more time to be ready to advance to a higher-level position. You may need more experience behind you or get told no for various reasons. You can respond by spending more time at the company and taking on more complex duties while getting certified in your spare time. If you see others getting promoted while you remain in the same role, despite your best efforts, moving on to a company that recognizes your commitment to continued professional development may be in the best interests of your career.

Be yourself

If you've ever felt that nagging feeling that you're a fraud who doesn't measure up and doesn't deserve opportunities, you're not alone. Studies show Black individuals are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. These feelings can sabotage you professionally, making you feel like you shouldn't share your opinions with others or accept challenges. However, you'll have much greater success if you're comfortable with your differences and be yourself. Overcoming imposter syndrome and being your authentic self can be challenging, but the following tips can help you:

  • List your accomplishments and best qualities, and refer to this list when you're struggling with self-doubt.
  • Challenge negative thoughts with positive self-talk.
  • Own your contributions and achievements.
  • Accept that your mistakes make you human, and learn from your missteps so that you can understand and correct them in the future.

Don't let the statistics discourage you. While you may work harder to break down the barriers you face, you can achieve the career goals you set for yourself with determination and effort. Then you'll have some advice to share with the next generation of Black professionals.

Related reading: Top tips for Black professionals