5 Challenges You Will Face During Your First Job
(And How to Deal With Them)
Post-grad life has easily been the most stressful part of my existence thus far.
After graduating in May 2014, I found myself propelled into the work place, without thought as to how drastically different it would be from school. Whilst internships are an essential (and, arguably, the most valuable) part of learning about the working world, there are certain challenges you will face during your professional life that no one can prepare you for. No matter what you’ve learned previously and how much experience you have in your career artillery, things are going to happen; and I guarantee that some of these will pop up at the most inconvenient, stress-inducing times.
I’m currently at my first “grown up” job after graduating – and there are challenges and questions that I have faced here that I’ve never faced before. But who are we as career women if these instances don’t set foot in our (professionally heeled) paths?
Below are five foes you will likely encounter in your first job – and tips on how to overcome them and make a smooth transition from college to career:
First Job Foe #1: Knowing how to “politely interrupt”
I know how nerve-wracking it can be, especially when starting out, to interrupt anyone for anything at all. I always ask myself, “Can it wait?” If the answer is no, the power of a knock and the words “excuse me?” can do wonders. But: do not knock, say excuse me, and apologise before going into a spiral of words that has nothing to do with what you are saying. Many women (myself included) have a tendency to apologise for making themselves known or for taking a few minutes of someone’s time. Don’t! Show that you deserve the time and attention, and get to the point immediately, asking for exactly what needs to be done. Being direct will show that you can communicate effectively.
(One caveat to the above is if you interrupt a conversation, when apologising before continuing is always appropriate.)
First Job Foe #2: Being afraid to ask too many questions
This is the biggest mistake you can make when you start a new job. Ask as many questions as you need. Whatever it may be, you will never learn if you don’t step up and ask. Also know that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and don’t start your question by assuming so. Please, take the phrase “I know this is a stupid question, but…” out of the formula. I asked the person who trained me for her position at least a few hundred questions, and that’s being kind. The biggest asset is to write down every question and answer; creating a master guide at the start of each position is the best way to keep yourself organised and informed.
First Job Foe #3: What to do if _________ isn’t in today
Ah, the person you need to talk to, for a report, isn’t in today. You need to finish that report as soon as possible, and the one coworker you need to talk to is out. Vacation? A sick day? Who knows? You just start to fall into panic mode.
This has happened to me a few times, and the best solution is to go to the person’s second-in-command. If there isn’t a linear structure to the business, go to whomever they work with most closely. Thankfully, because of the good ol’ interweb, even those on vacation have access to emails throughout their time off. However, in the most urgent cases, you will have to do something that everyone is afraid of doing during their first position: telling someone to wait. Be as transparent as possible, and end on an apology for the delay. If it’s possible, send them what is already done or give them a brief update (bullet points are your friend in emails!). This shows that progress has been made and you’re not doing the deadly sin of the work place: making up excuses.
First Job Foe #4: What to do if you have to take a day off
During one of the first few weeks at my current company, the following happened, all within ten minutes: I figured out I woke up late, I darted to my car to find that it wouldn’t turn on, and spilled coffee down an entire cream-colored sweater when getting out of said car. When it hit 9:30 and I couldn’t find a way to get my car started or get to work, I was on the verge of tears before I called in. Thankfully, I got the reassuring message I’m going to share with you now: we are human, and stuff happens. Trains get delayed, cars break down, alarm clocks don’t go off, and technology just fails us constantly (I’m only half kidding). Email your Human Resources Manager and let them know, and include your boss/team on the email. Try and get work emails from home, and have someone send you any necessary files if you don’t have access from your home computer. Just as technology can fail us once in awhile, at least it helps us out in major ways, too.
First Job Foe #5: The difficult coworker
For many of us it’s inevitable that, at some point during our careers, we will come up against a colleague we don’t see eye to eye with. The best practice in the workplace is to keep calm and make sure nothing is said that can get you in trouble. As silly as something may seem to you, your reaction might come across the wrong way to someone else. Review the best practices for your office, and keep yourself in check. Think about what you’re saying at all times. If you have the slightest feeling that something will offend someone, it’s better left unsaid (and/or dealt with through formal channels, such as HR).