Starting your first ‘proper job’ is one of the defining moments of life. We spend our childhood and young adulthood willing away the years so that we can reach the promised land of the grownups: a place where money, respect, and power await. We dream of long business lunches, after-work cocktails, fast-track promotions. The world is our oyster.
For most of us, the rose-tinted spectacles get knocked off pretty quickly. When I started my first job as a trainee sales rep, the realities of working life came crashing down on day three: my first day on the job after some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants training.
As I trudged around supermarkets attempting to engage bored shift managers, ruining my fancy suit scrabbling around in the warehouse, I wondered what on earth I’d let myself in for.
But my despair didn’t last long. A few months in, I was lucky enough to find a mentor who offered me advice that they don’t teach you at school or university. This guidance helped me to navigate the world of employment like a pro and over the years I became more and more enlightened about the way things work at work.
Here are the seven things I wish I’d known before my first day on the job.
- Everyone feels like an imposter - even the top executives.
- You have to earn respect at first.
- Lean on your experienced colleagues.
- Learn how to manage your stress levels before a burnout.
- Don’t go in if you have a bug.
- Learn about who you are.
- Play the game.
As the most junior of employees, it’s normal to feel like everyone knows what they’re doing apart from you. But the truth is, most people live in constant fear of being exposed as inadequate, even when the rest of the world thinks they’re great.
This is what’s known as imposter syndrome: the inability to accept your accomplishments. Understanding that this is common - even at the highest levels of an organisation - helped me to overcome my own self-doubt.
As a newbie to the world of work, you are an unknown quantity to your superiors and more experienced colleagues. The only way to prove your worth and earn respect is by working hard and exceeding expectations.
If you want to be treated as an equal, dig in and show what you’re made of.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t understand something or simply asking for advice. Your more experienced colleagues will be happy to help - and as a bonus, approaching them for support will boost their ego.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they’re stupid. Knowledge is power.
Working full-time will be like nothing you’ve experienced before. Long hours, personal responsibility and demanding targets can be stressful for anyone, especially someone new to work.
Learn to listen to your body, understand when you are feeling stressed or anxious and gather some tools to help you manage this. Practice mindfulness, get enough sleep and look after your physical health with good food and exercise.
If you are sick, stay at home. You might want to prove you can ‘brave it out’, but your colleagues won’t appreciate you coughing and sneezing all over them.
Holding down a job will teach you more about yourself than you ever thought possible: about your personality, your abilities and your areas for development.
This point is often ignored or even denied at work, but office politics are a fact of life. You don’t have to be ruthlessly underhand like Frank Underwood or Harvey Spectre to get ahead, but having an awareness of how things work and how things get done is crucial if you have aspirations. The unfair truth is that talent alone can only get you so far.
Your first job is an opportunity to learn more about who you really are, what you want in life, and what you’re willing to do to get it. Treat this time as an extension of your past learning experiences: soak everything up, be consciously aware of what goes on, and be willing to take risks.