The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to succeed in your first job

A first job can be pretty terrifying - there's so much to do and learn, and often it can be hard to figure out how exactly to navigate this. Today's post will cover some tips that Brittany Macon, one of my best friends (and bias aside, an incredibly talented and intelligent young woman who will be graduating from Vanderbilt law school this May) and I put together after consulting with others who've had many 'first jobs', and drawing a little bit from our own experiences.

Brittany presented a few of these tips to juniors and seniors at Sewanee during the 2017 Beyond the Gates weekend, and we thought it would be helpful to share these with the rest of you too!

1) Network. Especially during your first few weeks, and even before you join if possible, make sure to network with and talk to the people you'll be working with. It can seem intimidating to reach out initially, but it will be worth it. Building on relationships will help you be more successful at work - and these relationships, be they with mentors, sponsors or peers, can be valuable assets even after you leave the company.

Talk to people who've done what you're doing before. They know what it's like, and can be tremendous resources once you're on the job. You will be helpful to them too! Remember - relationships go both ways, and you need to approach all relationships also keeping in mind how you can help them.

2) Dress the part. Impressions do matter, and sometimes the way you present yourself can help you feel a certain way too! So whether it's a law firm, a hospital, or a construction company, find out whether or not there is a dress code, and plan ahead. 

3) Be aware of your presence. Your gravitas and your body language can go a huge way in how others perceive you and your ability to do your job - and how you perceive yourself! Think of pitching to clients or presenting to the leadership at your office. Someone who seems more confident will automatically demand more attention (even if they actually are not that confident - fake it till you make it!) 

It may seem like there is a lot to learn when it comes to establishing presence, so here are a few simple things to keep in mind - posture, gestures and how you speak. Sometimes, just being aware of how you present yourself can help. There are tonnes of resources available online to help you think about body language and presence. This TED talk by Amy Cuddy is always a good starting point. Do you have any other resources? Please share them in the comments!

4) Reach out for help when you need it. A new job can be intimidating, and you might feel a pressure to succeed and figure out everything by yourself. Don't succumb to this! Remember, there are many resources available to you, and there is no harm in reaching out for help when you need it. You might end up wasting company time and money if you mess something up after spending a lot of time doing something the wrong way, when a simple question could have guided you in the right direction. 

5) Underpromise and overdeliver. This was great advice given to me by someone when I was about to start, and it makes a lot of sense! Managing expectations is something that you will pick up along the way, and these two simple actions will definitely help.

6) Plan ahead. Use the end of the week (or day) to plan for what you want to achieve the next week (or day). You'll thank yourself for it - and so will those you work with!

7) Plan your time. Emails, phone calls and meetings are an unavoidable part of our work day, but can be huge distractions that cause us to lose productivity. Here is a great article on Forbes that talks about the cost of these distractions. The earlier you figure out a system for dealing with these, the more productive you will be. Here are a few tips that others have used:

-Block a specific time in your calendar that is solely for work. During this time, avoid scheduling meetings, do not check emails, and turn your phone notifications off.

-Set a maximum amount of time for meetings.

-Pick specific times during the day for checking and answering emails.

-Use clear subject lines and succinct communication when emailing.

8) Understand your company. Yes, you know what your job entails, and how your department works - but how much do you know about the company? Understand exactly how and why your company works, how the different departments work in sync, and how your work helps the machine run.

Not only will this help you realise how much value your work has, but it will also help you in terms of growth opportunities. Silos do not work, and companies will be more likely to advance employees who understand the larger context of the company and can look toward the future of the company itself.

9) Take initiative. Yes, volunteering to plan the next office retreat can mean hours that you could have been sleeping instead, but participating in office and team building initiatives will help show that you are more than just your job - you are a member of the company. So take the chance to participate in office initiatives and trainings - take on new projects, and never turn down an opportunity to learn.

10) Avoid office gossip. In some sectors more than others, there can be a tendency for groups of people within an organisation to actually implicitly work against each other as office politics and egos come into play. Avoid the inclination to participate in office gossip - your reputation will thank you for it eventually.

11) Learn to say no. This can be hard to do, especially when you're the newbie, but understand that there is a difference in turning something down because you just cannot be bothered, and turning something down because you don't have the capacity to do it, and if you said yes, you wouldn't be able to give it your 101%. In line with number 5 above, people will respect the fact that you will not take on something that you cannot fully devote yourself to, and they will appreciate your work on the projects that you do take on. 

12) Manage your energy. It can seem attractive to put in fifteen hours of work a day, seven days a week, but the fact is that you will probably be less productive in those hours than someone who spent less time but more energy on their work. Learn to manage your energy, both at and outside of work - and this includes getting enough sleep and exercise. Don't neglect your hobbies, and make sure that you are also keeping up with your network outside of work.

Are there any other tips that you have used in your careers? Please do share with us in the comments below!


Anonymous said...

Great tips! I think these could also apply to success at ANY job, not just your first.

Unknown said...

Practical tips that resonate

Paul Bridson said...

Last tip: be Roshni,Walia - the perfect young lady. 'nuff said!

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