Jennifer Wyatt Sargent of Wyatt Sargent & Associates Ltd shares her advice for young employees starting out in the workforce.
This article is written specifically for youngsters who are starting work for the first time. Boring? Maybe. However, after I had spoken to a few people, written the article and read it through, I realised that I do so wish someone had said these things to me all those years ago when I was starting out.
You are entering the real world now. It’s a world where you will be cut some slack because of your youth and inexperience, but where eventually you will be expected to conform to the way your employer likes things to be done (turn up on time, not spend all day on your smart phone, dress appropriately, be polite to your colleagues and to customers regardless of how irritating they seem to you), and where your performance and behaviour will define your place in the organisation.
These are the pearls of wisdom people wish to share with you. You can take them to heart and smooth your pathway through the minefield of being a new employee, or you can learn the hard way. It’s up to you.
Collect Experiences: You never know what doors will open up to you when you say yes to something that seems random or, more likely in your first roles, boring. Having a variety of experiences helps you to build a toolbox of transferable skills (skills you can take with you to other jobs and even other professions), and improve your ability to speak and relate to people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
You Don’t Know It All: You will never know it all. Never assume your qualification gives you the gift of knowing what you don’t know. Be humble, listen to your more experienced colleagues, and be willing to learn from them. If you think you know it all you will get in the way of your own learning and development. Keep your ears open and be curious.
Learn How To Communicate And Persuade: As a new and junior employee, you are unlikely to be making important decisions. But if you want to give advice to the person who is, you will find it’s not enough to be right – you will risk alienating them. Learn how to communicate that advice in a way that is understandable, relevant and meaningful. If your advice is ignored, remember that the person is more senior than you and probably has relevant knowledge and experience to draw on that makes your advice less useful. If that is the case, learn from that person. Work on your communication and persuasion skills throughout your working life.
Learn About Your Employer’s Business: Read magazines, browse the web, read the business section of the newspaper. Understand that your CEO rarely knows and hears everything that’s going on in the company. Rather it’s the cleaners, receptionist, cafeteria staff and admin team who are the recipients of such information. Be nice to them. They’ll tell you things that managers seldom know and that can be so useful in solving problems.
Everyone Has Clients/Customers: If you work in a shop, reception or call centre, you know who your customers are. If you work in an office, then anyone who asks you to do something (e.g. the coffee run, set up a room for a meeting) is your customer. If you are part of a team and you contribute to that team in some way (e.g. entering data), then your team is your customer as their work depends on you entering that data accurately and in a timely manner. Whether they are at the top of the food chain or the bottom, everyone deserves respect and understanding. There is a saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” In your case it’s “Happy customer, happy life.” Believe me, an unhappy customer can make your life very miserable indeed.
Make Sure You Understand: For example, there’s a problem. Always remember it’s very likely that people in your organisation have already tried to fix the problem before it was given to you. So if you think the answer is simple or obvious, then you probably don’t actually understand the problem. As you gain more experience, you will learn to be very suspicious of any solution from a junior that begins with the words “It’s easy, just do…” Avoid coming to a conclusion too quickly – make sure you are fixing the right problem. Investigate further to ensure you really understand it and then you can tell them how to fix it.
Learn To Laugh At Yourself: You will never run out of material.
Be Happy To Share Your Own Experiences: One day you will be the knowledgeable employee advising the newbie.
Whether you take our advice or not is up to you. But I do have one more gem that I sincerely urge you to consider. If you ever find yourself in a job that you hate, sit quietly and evaluate what is wrong. If there is something you can do about it, do it. If not – resign. Setting the alarm and getting up five or six days a week to go to a job you hate is unbearable. You deserve better, so find yourself a job where you really look forward to getting up in the morning.
Jennifer Wyatt Sargent can be contacted at Wyatt Sargent & Associates Ltd.