I, like many other new grads, found myself in a rush to prove myself in my new job. I suffered from a bad case of imposter syndrome and wanted to demonstrate my value to both my team and company immediately. Now one year wiser, here are four things I would have told myself when I first started.
Don’t try to stand out immediately.
“The quieter you become the more you are able to hear” — Rumi
No matter what you studied in school, how smart you are, how much potential you have etc. there is something you can learn from your manager/team members. In the first couple of months, you should absorb as much information about your job and workplace as you can.
This learning doesn't have to be done with a dramatic reverence for them and their knowledge simply because of their seniority. You might have the worst manager in the world and in this case, you can learn exactly who you don’t want to become.
Coming in guns blazing, ready to be CEO will only cause you to step on toes, potentially embarrass yourself, and set you back even further.
Ask as many questions as possible.
“If I do a job in 30 minutes, it’s because I spent 10 years learning how to do that in 30 minutes. You owe me for the years, not the minutes.“— Davy Greenberg
In a meeting setting, there are essentially three operation modes: Presenting information, asking a question, or listening.
If you arent listening, you should be asking questions.
In the beginning, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know anything. I would beat myself up with thoughts like “Why aren’t I learning this faster?” and “I’m so dumb why didn’t I figure that out!” I wasted time and energy suffering in silence, feeling embarrassed when I failed to consider one simple question.
How can you expect to know how to do something you’ve never done before?
If you don't know something, ask! You aren't going to absorb your manager’s knowledge by osmosis.
Personally, asking my manager questions directly was incredibly intimidating to me, so I brainstormed a workaround. Around 4 pm, I would round up all my questions from the day in an email, send it to my manager, and the next morning he would send me responses. This demonstrated to him that I was curious and proactive and helped me continue forward momentum on my tasks.
Perform every assigned task to the best of your ability, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
“Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas A. Edison
My superior asked me to write executive bios for her manager’s business trip. I was annoyed, as this is not within my job description, and wondered why couldn’t just do it, but I did it anyway.
A few weeks later she asked me to draft a slide for her to present at an executive meeting she was attending.
A few weeks later she asked me to attend a meeting as her proxy and send a summary to her afterward.
A few weeks later she asked me to draft and externally present a deck pitching a new product to a customer.
A few weeks later, she put me in charge of multiple large scale initiatives speaking directly to customers with the potential to score real monetary wins for my company.
Executing smaller tasks allowed me to slowly build confidence in my abilities while improving my skills. If I had blown off my earlier assignments, I might have never reached the point that I am at now with my relationships and responsibilities. If someone asks you to get coffee, make sure the order is perfect. If you’re drafting cold emails, make sure the grammar is immaculate. If you’re taking notes in meetings, make sure they’re formatted perfectly. You never know what small, seemingly meaningless tasks will provide you with the opportunity to do something great.
Form genuine relationships with people by being a reliable and kind co-worker.
“Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” — Ben Stein
Everyone you will work with is a human first and employee second. Forming genuine relationships with your coworkers by being both useful and kind will help your career tremendously.
No one wants to work with a soulless robot who can’t stop for 5 minutes to talk about their weekend because all they think about is work. Demonstrating your ability to complete your work at a high level is necessary, but it is equally important to show you are a valuable addition to the team and company as well.
There are some exceptions to this point depending on the company and team culture, but increasingly now, it is not enough to just be good at your job. “Soft skills” and networking many times can take you much farther than technical skills alone.
Hindsight is 20/20, but honestly, I’m not sure I would do anything differently, but I would definitely have a different mindset. Instead of thinking, “I’m doing things that don’t matter for people who don’t care,” I would think “Once I prove I’ve mastered this, then I get to do the cool stuff.” That kind of thinking would have given me more motivation and perspective to know that I won’t always be new, and the seemingly menial work would pay off.