5 Confessions from a First-Time-Jobber: What I Wish I Knew
1. “I have no idea how I’m doing; It must not be great. I’m definitely getting fired.” Sometimes, we get in our own way.
Despite my internships and work experience, upon entering my first job I immediately experienced a massive learning curve. I had to start from scratch: learn my company’s industry, the ins-and-outs of my role, my teammates’ expectations, the expected pace of my work output, the company’s internal structure, common business practices like ‘quarters’ and ‘revenue projections’ and ‘weekly recaps’… I didn’t know if I was progressing well or falling behind. I was, and still am, my own worst critic. Sometimes, I’d let my self-criticism and doubt get in the way of reaching my full potential. I made a lot of silly, small mistakes.
I was not fired, despite my very convincing belief it would happen.
I was viewed as an asset. I was someone people could depend on and was putting in the work. I was learning and improving all the time, even though I made the standard ‘green’ mistakes that most young professionals make: typos in an email, getting my calendar mixed up, treating things like a fire drill instead of giving initiatives proper care and time, etc…
I shifted my focus to my team instead of calling my mom every day at 5:30 pm to frantically ask: What if I get fired? Where will I live? Will anyone else ever hire me? I requested weekly meetings with my manager and personally addressed my areas for improvement. I asked for candid feedback on what I was doing well and what I could improve upon and for actionable advice on ways I could start improving.
Thus, my advice to you is to stay engaged with your team and have an open dialogue regarding your performance. Do not let your self doubt and fears turn you into a stress tumbleweed. Talk to your team, show you care, be self-aware and you will do great.
2. “The world is calling. Am I supposed to answer??” We don’t have to do it all to make a difference during our time here.
I thought I was supposed to save the world. I thought the goal was to follow my ‘passions’, aka yoga, and travel the globe.
You won’t necessarily wake up starry-eyed every Monday morning to go to work and that is okay. I disagree with most of the ‘millennial’ stereotypes, that we’re coddled or lazy in the workforce, but I do think we’ve been wired to expect that our work and passion should be one in the same. Yes, that’s the ultimate goal, but getting there is not always rainbows and sunshine, especially when we’re still learning and growing. We can’t ask for the world or expect to save it in any major way if we don’t have the skills and experience to back it up. Help yourself first by gaining as much experience as possible, then go and help others. Like most things in life, remember what matters. At work, what matters is that you are learning, that you share the same moral compass of your company and that you are contributing positively. Over time you’ll apply your learned skill sets to your passion, which may not be your first job, and that’s okay.
3. “Should we be talking about this here…?”
I thought politics at work were like raisins in my trail mix: they’re in the bag, but I always avoid them.
Nope. Remember: there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at your company that you may be oblivious to. There are a lot of players on the court with varying levels of impact and influence points. Take the time to get to know your individual colleagues, from the receptionist to the CEO and everyone in between. This way, you’ll get a clearer image of the company’s make-up and you’ll see just how many personalities can co-exist within one building. Avoid presenting with your emotions on your sleeve by staying poised, professional and level-headed. Be mindful of yourself, your surroundings and the influence you may have on others. You don’t need to join the political or other “hot topic” games per se, but you do need to be aware of the need to accommodate others, their beliefs and understand that we are all wired differently.
4. “I feel like I don’t have enough to do…” I wanted to expand my role with new initiatives. Little did I know, all I had to do was ask.
Once you’ve proven your value and it’s been at least 90 days, be vocal if there are areas outside your role that interest you. Companies encourage cross-promotion and hires, it’s better than losing a valued employee. Plus, if you have a great manager, they will want to nurture your growth and areas of interest. Maybe you ask to shadow a different role for a day, or increase your cross-functional project load so you can better understand how other teams fit into your company’s equation. Just ask; You might be surprised.
5. “I can’t do this anymore.” Wait! How long have you been thinking this? Have you considered everything?
Sometimes I wanted to jump ship, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Don’t jump ship during a storm. Storms always pass.
The difficult thing about your first role is you can’t be sure which storms are normal or how long they’re going to last. If the ‘storm’ is an abusive manager, address it head-on by either getting the heck out, or get a new manager. For most, the ‘storms’ look like quarters where you don’t like what you’re working on, or your company is going through an acquisition, or perhaps you are overworked due to crazy growth and you feel unappreciated. Perhaps the ‘storm’ is a 3% raise rather than the 10% you wanted, or budgetary restrictions that make your job immensely difficult.
Storms are worth noting and they’re often why people leave their jobs. Still, first-time employees often jump too soon. The storm passes and the sun comes out. All companies will have storms at some point, so think about whether this is one you can, or should, ride out. Talk to friends, family and your company directly. You never know, someone may throw you a life jacket and you’ll be forever thankful. Set some dates to check-in with yourself. For example, 1 month or 3 months after a storm starts ask yourself: Is it improving? Has it passed? Or, do you need to have a frank conversation with your company and start exploring the market? Sometimes it’s better to hang on than jump ship; The grass isn’t always greener and storms will brew anywhere you work.