Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Things I Wish I Knew.....

My First Job(s)

Recently some conversations about "new" workers, i.e. young kids fresh out of college, and even to some extent the whole of 20 somethings, got me thinking about my career, the path I've taken, and the things I wish I had known when I started working.

But first let me start with my history.  I grew up in a divorced, middle class home.  Both of my parents worked, and both of my parents had spent their entire careers at the same companies they started with.  Money was tight, but my mother sacrificed a lot to ensure my sister and I had everything we needed, which a few extra things here and there.  So as a teenager, the choice to work was based 100% on my desire to purchase things that I wanted.  If I wanted the name brand jeans, then I had to save up.  If I wanted to go to the movies, it meant working a few extra hours.  At 16 I had 3 (yep that's right, 3, actually 4 if you count the random babysitting jobs I would pick up) jobs.  I worked at the library shelving books a few hours a week.  I spent every afternoon at a local law office filing and retrieving court documents or doing research. And I spent a few evenings each week working at a local pizza place.  I was busy.  But those early jobs instilled me a few lessons that have paid me back 10 fold as an adult.  So without further delay, here are the few things I wish I had known (or in some cases kids these days should know) about my first adult job.

1) You are the low man on the totem pole.  Acting like you're not will only create a bigger problem for yourself.  I thought I was hot stuff at my first job - I knew what I was doing and everyone should listen to me.  After all, I had a degree in management.  Looking back I can't believe how stupid I was and I can also see the drama I created with my poor attitude.  Being humble and understanding that, yes, you may have a lot to give, but you also have a lot to learn really is key to starting your career off on the right foot.  Plus - no one wants to work with a "know-it-all," so just don't be that person!

2) Being on time is important!  Thankfully this one was I never really had to learn, but I see it so often it's worth the mention.  While I'm not advocating the old advice of showing before everyone else and leaving after everyone else (unless you have enough work to keep you busy) being on-time or even a few minutes early shows you have respect for your employer and fellow employees.  And yes, I hear your whining all the way over here, "but so-and-so always shows up 5 minutes late, or takes an extra 10 minutes on lunch, and no one says a thing to them."  Well guess what - here's the truth - if you notice, your boss probably does too.  As does the other people they work with.  Sometimes those things are overlooked because they've worked late or are on call or maybe they've made other arrangements.  Either way, don't assume anything and trust that if they are truly slacking, sometime is taking note.  And when the opportunity arises to assign a special project or give someone a chance, it will always be those employees who have proven their dedication that will get the chance.

3) You are NEVER, let me repeat that, NEVER too good, above, senior, whatever, to do the basic things.  Part of the key to my success, is that I was always willing to help out, regardless of whether or not is was part of my job.  Sometimes that meant running errands, making copies or even, yes, unclogging the toilet in the shared bathroom.  Gross, yes.  But I quickly earned a solid reputation that I was dependable, reliable, and willing to get the job done.  I was rewarded through earning the respect of senior management and in return given responsibilities and access to information that most in my position would not have been given.  Even now, when it comes down to handling the little stuff, I'll step in and do it.  I've stuff envelopes, cut fliers, stuck stamps, and a host of other "low level" tasks more times than I can count.  But I do so willingly because when you work in an office environment, helping out each other only helps everyone in the long run.  Plus you catch a lot more flies with honey than you do vinegar.

4) Last, but certainly not least, don't be afraid to ask for help when you don't know the answer or need help.  You're young - no boss of yours will expect you to know everything.  So admitting you don't know or need help isn't a sign of weakness.  In fact, it's truly a sign of strength.  It shows that you care enough to want to do the task the correct way, the first time.  But, and this is a big one, it's not enough to say "I don't know." Those that get ahead are the ones that say "I'm not really sure, but I'll do some research and see what I can find out" and then go do it.  And if after that, you still need help, ask!  The exception to this is if you've been instructed multiple times and have failed to listen.  Instructions should only have to be given twice at most.  If you're not getting something, asking during the training.  And keep asking until you understand it.  Don't just assume you'll figure it out later.  Because often you won't, and when you have to ask for the 3rd or 4th time, you're boss will start to wonder whether you're just dense or lazy.

Which brings me to my last tip....

5) ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a pen and note pad with you.  I don't care if you're popping in for an update, taking a training course, or simply walking around to socialize.  Carry a notebook - big or little doesn't matter - with a working pen with you.  Just trust me on this!

So there you have it.  What about you?  What are the things you wish either you knew or that your new employees knew when they started working?  Anything I forgot here?

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