Dear recent college graduates,
Let me give you some advice. Not the kind of prosaic, highly patronizing advice often given on career advice websites. Not the kind of smug, vague advice given by successful veterans of the work force who feel very little sympathy for entry level employees and constantly lament the failings of the latest generations’ stupidity and lack of work ethic.
Dear RCGs, I remember oh-so-well the feeling of utter desolation that occurs between the paycheck meant exclusively for rent and the paycheck that you will live off for the month. I remember finally building up the courage to ask for some new challenges or projects only to be met with exasperated sighs and being told to be patient. I remember thinking the executives walking around the office would never take my opinion seriously. So I’m going to do you a solid, dear RCG and let you in on some insights the straight way. From one young(ish) professional to another.
1) You do not know anything. Sorry, but it’s true. Arrogance will get you nowhere. Despite what you hear about exuding confidence and taking what you want, that applies mostly when you have some serious baggage under your over-worked eyes. When a boss, potential mentor or the office know-it-all explains a concept that you’re hearing for the first or the 30th time, DO NOT nod and say, “okay” over and over again. No one will be impressed that you learn quickly, trust me. Ask as many questions as you can think of in order to express your interest. Prove you’ve retained the information given to you by being hungry for more. You’ll get more appreciative nods than if you pretend you’re a wunderkind. RCGs are valuable because they are sponges. Let the veterans wax poetic about all they’ve learned in their 10, 20, 30 years in the business and you might just learn something valuable to add to your own belt.
2) Do not run in the office. This may seem like a bizarre one, but hear me out. I used to be an office runner. I walked quickly, New York commuter-style down the halls, whipping around corners like I was soooo busy and important. Like my time was precious and every second away from my desk counted against me. It was only when I moved companies and the new assistant was constantly sprinting down the halls that this truly clicked. We are all busy. You don’t get a medal for being frazzled in a professional environment. Unless you work in the ER, your job cannot be that urgent.
3) Protect your core job. There will come a time when you will be given new responsibilities to add to your days in the office. Maybe a coworker is overwhelmed and asks you to help lighten his load. Maybe a manager has realized your potential and puts you on a new project. These are really good signs for your career, but take care to always put your core job responsibilities first. What good are you at the extras if you slack on the job you were hired to do? A director I once knew used to say that if your job is to be the stapler, you’d better be the best damn stapler there is. And if you are able to do more stimulating work on top of the stapling, that’s just a bonus. Don’t forget why you were hired.
4) Don’t compare yourself to others. If your parents are like mine, you hear legions of stories about your cousin’s neighbor’s fiancée (the same age as you, of course) who is already a VP of an investment bank or a genius entrepreneur with a promising start-up. There will be people who will get promoted ahead of you, people who manage you with questionable intelligence, and it will make you fantasize about your own sudden ascension into success. While ambition is an admirable trait, something to be defended and cultivated, you can’t expect your life story to be the same as your cousin’s neighbor’s fiancée. And why would you want to be them anyway?
That wasn’t too painful, right? If you play the entry level game right, you can get through those first few years relatively unscathed and look forward to a time when you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
Photo from the Microsoft Office Clipart Collection
Guest Author Bio
Mallory works in publishing in New York. She still abides by her four rules after six years in the work force.