Starting your first job definitely brings with it a lot of excitement but also can be a nerve wracking experience at the same time. Everyone only has one “first” and so we all start with having “never done this before”. But the smallest of things can often be the difference between being that star new analyst or a nervous disaster. From my own experience, as well as having seen and mentored others through this process, here are some tips that might help make that first job a memorable learning experience.
- Everyone was once in your shoes – While it can be overwhelming to interact with your manager and other senior colleagues at your first job, remember that they’ve all been there. Simply knowing this fact and reminding yourself of it often brings you back from being in awe of someone and humanizes them a bit more and makes that interaction much easier. So that CEO or Business Head who is at your Welcome Orientation wasn’t born at that position, she too was once in your shoes.
- No question is a dumb question – I cannot stress enough the importance of asking questions. I would rather have a junior who asks questions if they have a doubt, rather than “assume” and make mistakes. Your first few years are probably when you will get away with asking the most basic things as you’re clearly new to the job and no one is judging you for not knowing things. Trust me, if you think a question is dumb now, it will be dumber when you’re no longer as new to the job.
- Take notes – preferably in writing – A good follow up to asking questions is ensuring you take note of the answer and don’t repeat it unless absolutely warranted. The same goes with mistakes – while it is OK and often necessary to make your own mistakes, be smart enough to learn from them and not repeat them. While some of us do just well with taking a mental note, most of us don’t have the photographic memory of Mike Ross or the eidetic memory of Sheldon Cooper.
- Focus on the small things – It is very unlikely that in your first couple of years at a job, you will be assigned to handle the most critical of projects all by yourself. But this does not mean there aren’t enough opportunities to shine. The most important part of your first few years at a job is doing the small things right. Proof-read that email, double check the formulae in that excel-sheet, go over your work three times if you have to, but avoid making mistakes that can be attributed to oversight or carelessness. Attention to detail and being absolutely thorough in what seem to be menial tasks is what defines you and is your stepping stone to bigger responsibilities. As is often said, your job can often be to make your boss look good, and you do that best by taking care of the small things.
- Time is the most valuable commodity – When you are bombarded with a long list of tasks from everyone on your team, because you’re the junior-most person around, getting everything done and doing it right can be challenging. Manage your time well and prioritize. Learn to create a list of things to do at the start of the day, prioritize what’s important and cross-check this list at the end of the day to ensure you didn’t forget anything. It is easy to work long hours in your initial years, but hard work is not always about long hours but also about efficiency and time management. Finding a balance between work and life outside of work is important to not burn out too early.
- Say Yes to every opportunity but know it is OK to say No – While some of the tasks assigned to you in your first job may feel like “this is not my job”, they can often be extremely valuable to your learning curve and often also provide networking opportunities as you work with more people. But what is equally important is to learn that you don’t ALWAYS have to say Yes and you are well within your rights to politely decline something if necessary. This may be because you have too much on your plate, you don’t feel you’re adequately qualified to handle a task, or another valid reason, as long as you say No with a rational explanation.
- Learn from the people around you – While I am not a fan of advocating “networking” for the sake of networking, the best part about working in an organization or in a team is the people you work with. Most workplaces will have incredibly smart people around you with different backgrounds, expertise , experiences and perspectives. Make sure you keep an open mind and absorb all the good qualities and work ethic that you can from your colleagues. Most people that are happy with their jobs don’t necessarily love the work that they do as much as they like the people that they work with.
Beyond these basics, just be you and enjoy that first job, because there won’t be another! Remember you were hired for the job for a reason, and so all you need to aim for is bringing the best version of yourself to work everyday, and constantly work on adapting and upgrading your skills.