You’re first permanent job can be daunting. I was 20 when I landed my first permanent job. I had done promotions throughout high school and some admin work for corporates while I was putting myself through University, but I had never had an 08h00-17h00 before. One of the corporates I was doing admin for really loved my organisation skills and offered me a full-time job starting the following Monday, AND it was to work on the Coca-Cola World Cup campaign in 2010. I jumped at the opportunity without fully knowing what I was getting myself into. I wish someone had given me some advice before starting my first job.
This is the rude awakening I wish someone had given me.
1. Never miss a deadline
Just like when you were in school / university / living at home you never miss a deadline. When your mom asked you to do something, you did it, NOW. The organisational skills that you learned in the past will be invaluable to you now as you embark on your career journey. This prior learning will need to be applied to your work tasks on a daily basis.
- Arrive at work on time, even if your colleagues and managers don’t.
- Meet your deadlines and manage expectations when you cannot.
Understand that there is hierarchy in an organisation for a reason and it all starts with you. If you miss a deadline, your manager misses a deadline, which means their boss misses a deadline. Which means that the client isn’t happy. That is never a good spot to be in. Always meet your deadlines. Understand that your role within the organisation is just as important as your managers, it is just a different role.
2. Be proactive
Ask questions when you need to, but think things through before. Don’t ask questions for the sake of it. Wanting to learn is a great quality, but so is taking initiative. If you don’t understand what is expected of you, gather your thoughts and then ask all your questions upfront. If you understand what is being asked of you, go and get the job done. Don’t pester your manager for help with every small decision. Take initiative. Once you’ve completed your tasks, make your managers day and ask “What should I do next?” Every manager loves to hear those 5 little words. It shows that you’re done with your work, are trustworthy and reliable and are ready for more responsibility. One of the best qualities you can have as a new asset to the organisation is the “hit the ground running” attitude. You’ll have time to relax once you’ve established yourself in your career, but right now it’s time to take initiative.
Fitting in to a company culture these days is just as important as having the right skillset to perform your duties. Certain skills can be taught but an employee who doesn’t fit in with a company’s corporate culture can become toxic. When you first start at a new company, try to never eat lunch alone. Use this as an opportunity to meet new people that you work with. Try attend social gatherings and get involved, it’s good for your colleagues to get to know you on a personal level and outside of a working environment. It is important however, to still remember that you are with your colleagues and anything you say or do, can change the way they perceive you in a professional manner.
4. How to avoid reaching burnout
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race, trying to move up a rung in the corporate ladder when you’re first starting out. This ‘I can do it all’ attitude can eventually lead to burnout, which means you end up doing your job poorly. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s not fun. I wish someone told me this earlier on in my career. Understand your body and when you’re not performing at your optimal level. When you feel you’re reaching burnout, apply for some leave and take time out for yourself. Don’t try push through and wait until you’re burnt out to take action. Prevention is better than cure. It takes a lot longer to recover from burnout once it’s happened, this is something you can prevent from happening. While you need a great attitude to get ahead, understand that your productivity and creativity will suffer when you’re burnt out and that is more career limiting, as you will be creating a legacy of poor work productivity in the process.
5. Don’t spend too much time at the water cooler
Never get dragged into water cooler talk. No good will come of it and this can be a career limiting move. Spending time at the water cooler gossiping to colleagues about other people that you work with will always look worse on you, than it does on them. This gossip always gets back to the person you’re talking about. Whether it happens now, or 6 months from here. Never think you are in a position to assess your managers productivity as you do not have the foresight over their workload, the way they have over yours. This is a sure way to get you into hot water. You report into them because you have not managed to master doing your job yet (you are still learning), so you are in no way to assess theirs and talking about this to other colleagues is a sure way to head towards a formal grievance being processed against you. Your reputation is one of your biggest assets and something people spend their entire careers building. The better you make your manager look, the more they will push for your career development, but if you are trying to discredit them while they are trying to assist you on your career path this makes for a very difficult working environment for everyone involved. It is also distracting for all involved, which affects productivity and which again affects the client. Don’t do it.
6. Attitude is everything
This point ties in with corporate culture. A strong work ethic and a great attitude are important when you’re faced with work you don’t actually want to do. When you do the sh*t work and you do it well, then you get to do the kind of work you want to do (ice-cream). My manager calls this the ice-cream to sh*t ratio. Unfortunately, you will never work at a job where 100% of the work you do is ice-cream (the stuff you like working on). In the beginning it will be 90% sh*t and 10% ice-cream, this ratio will slowly balance out the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, but there will always be sh*t work that you don’t want to do. Your managers have been there. They understand where you are and more importantly, what it takes to climb up the ladder. They want you to succeed, so learn from them.
You’ll need to start off at the bottom. Accept your newbie status and the work that comes with It. I was naïve about the working world when I was offered my first job. I had all these great, new, innovative ideas that I was going to bring with me. Unfortunately, when you first start at a job no one really wants to hear your brilliant ideas (especially when you have no working experience). You will need to master the basic functions of your role, and you’ll need to do that for a while before you’re given any real responsibility. This means you need to show off your dedication, work ethic, and good attitude towards a new task.
Happy New Year and good luck in your career! This is an exciting time of your life, May 2018 be your year!