I landed my first job while I was still in college. It was at a pharmaceutical company, and the idea of analysing drugs and chemicals every day for the rest of my life was exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Since then I have worked in various roles in several different industries—journalism, quality assurance, marketing and public relations—in three cities across three continents. These days I am combining my passion for storytelling with my love for community engagement in the not-for-profit sector.
Well-meaning friends and colleagues continue to point out that it takes years to get up to speed in a new career. However, a life of job-hopping has taught me a thing or two about transition and adaptability.
And while I am grateful for all the advice I have received from supervisors, managers and co-workers in every role and industry that I have worked in, here are five things I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out:
1. Show off what you know and acknowledge what you don’t
When you are new in a job or industry everyone just assumes that you know nothing. So instead of being embarrassed by this, learn to embrace it. Accept that you are still learning and ask relevant questions that will help you understand the work culture better.
Seek advice from your more experienced colleagues, and don’t try to pretend you know something when you don’t.
On the other hand, if you have an essential skill that will help you do your job better, do not hesitate to showcase it and use it to your advantage.
2. People have only as much confidence in you as you have in yourself
While it would be ideal if workplaces were full of sympathetic co-workers who support you while you are at your most vulnerable, the truth is that you won’t be taken seriously unless you have your game face on in stressful situations.
You may be great at what you do but if you let nervousness or self-doubt come in the way—while pitching a great idea or trying to convince your boss why you need to be given more responsibility, for example—you will not be able to make others feel confident in your ability to do a great job.
While embarking on a new career or industry, self-confidence is the difference between who thrives and who gets left behind.
3. Be there early—but don’t stay too late
When you are the new kid on the block, you are often expected to work longer. Many new employees don’t even take lunch breaks during their first few weeks, for fear of looking like a shirker.
While sometimes there is no option but to put in extra time—especially if there is an important project you are working on or if a deadline is looming large—it is important to not let this become part of your daily routine. If you are burning the midnight oil almost every day you are setting yourself up for a poor work-life balance.
At the same time, getting to the office earlier than your boss and co-workers not only creates a favourable impression but also ensures that you begin your day with a clear and productive mind.
4. You may hate your boss even though you love your job
Having a difficult or unreasonable manager seems to be the number one reason most people quit jobs they love, but this is not the only way to handle the situation.
While you may be a wonderful employee, it is helpful to evaluate the reasons why you can’t deal with your horrible boss even if it is just to rule out your own involvement.
Figure out what it is about your manager that you hate and determine if there is anything you can change or address to improve the situation. Also, you could consider altering the way you react to his or her behaviour, so you don’t end up escalating matters.
5. Quitting because you hate your colleagues is not a guarantee that you will be happy at your next job
Working with a manager or a colleague you don’t like is not an easy situation to navigate. But what is the alternative—leaving your dream job and hoping that you will end up working with someone better elsewhere?
The fact remains that there will always be people at work that you can’t stand. And learning to get along with them—or to do your job well in spite of them—is a valuable lesson in patience and professionalism.