Seventeen years ago, yes it really was that long ago, I was busy preparing for my final semester at the University of Leicester. I started job hunting early and I lucked out by landing a graduate position at a PR firm in London before I’d even graduated.
I had always been employed while I was a student but this was my first real career-type job. I had my own desk, a new Mac computer, a new suit and a stack of my very own business cards. As you can imagine, I was completely and utterly terrified. There were what felt like a million “firsts” to navigate. My first commute. My first day at work. My first lunch with my new team. My first client meeting. My first assignment. I was constantly learning, and making mistakes, and as a result I was truly fortunate to figure out over time the foundations I needed to navigate the rest of my career.
Here are a few of the important lessons I learned.
Making or breaking your reputation
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an intern or the managing director, you will make or break your reputation based on how you choose to conduct yourself.
When coworkers roll into work late, gossip non-stop or miss deadlines it forms an impression that is tough to shift, no matter how hardworking they may be. If that type of behavior is repeated often that perception will stick.
I learned fast that your coworkers will make assumptions pretty fast on whether you can deliver, over deliver, or if you are more than likely to drop the ball. When you’re starting out there’s always room to learn, grow and improve but from the get-go it will work in your favor to foster a positive reputation. Learn fast from any mistakes and focus your energy on becoming someone who is considered smart, trustworthy, professional and highly effective when it comes to your role as it will enhance your career.
Whether you love your boss or hate your boss, workplace dynamics can be the hardest thing to handle as so much of it is out of your control. When you’re new to a role it’s even harder to figure out the people, culture and environment. If you can, spend time with someone who’s been at the company for longer than you and can help you connect the dots on how things work.
Most employers will assign you a buddy if you are new, but if they don’t ask your boss if there’s someone they recommend. When you’re new to a position, don’t make assumptions about anyone else’s role or remit. And it goes without saying, it’s always best to treat everyone with respect regardless of their seniority.
How to prep for a meeting
I remember feeling incredibly nervous the first time I had to accompany my boss to a client meeting. I had never been to one before, and aside from interviewing I had spent next to no time in boardrooms and didn’t have a clue as to how a meeting would flow or what would be expected of me.
What I soon learned is that the most effective meetings have an agenda, and reviewing that in advance gives you a framework of what to expect and what to prepare in advance. Over the past seventeen years I’ve been in countless meetings that have no agenda and seem to lack any real purpose. But I will never forget how it felt to exit my first client meeting and realize it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be.
Dealing with deadlines
I had multiple deadlines at university but I quickly learned in my first job that work deadlines are a completely different beast. They can suddenly emerge out of nowhere with next to no warning, or can accelerate suddenly. Working in PR meant one phone call or piece of breaking news could completely change your entire day. As a result, I learned to be adaptable. That was a hard lesson at first. As a student I was used to knowing in advance what was expected of me. At work that scenario was turned on its head, but, I discovered over time that I was pretty good at dealing with deadlines and that skill set would be invaluable.
Being part of a team
I found out from starting work that your job description is only one component of what you will bring to the table. The real value lies in how you can contribute to deliver great work as a team. There were times when I had to take on different responsibilities, or do things I hadn’t expected, but it was all part of getting the job done and supporting what was needed in my office in real time.
Of course, at the time I was too busy moving from day to day, trying not to get fired, to realize just what a special moment in time it was for me. When you’re busy working you don’t have the benefit of hindsight or the perspective to even know if you are headed in the right direction. But remember, if your first job is a million miles away from your dream job there are still invaluable experiences – good and bad – that will set you up for where you really want to be.
Post by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema