Joining the workforce for the first time can be a bit of a surprise. If you have just finished college, school or university and are starting your new job, here are some tips on how work is different to what you have experienced up to now.
Leaving full-time education is an exciting (and sometimes sad) time. You are leaving a world where you know all the rules and entering the new world of work. When you enter this new world of work, it will not always be clear what is expected of you and you may struggle to understand the rules, especially because none of them are written down anywhere. This is because those who have work experience don’t really consider these rules anymore, they just seem obvious to them.
You can learn these rules by trial and error or by watching colleagues or, you can carry on reading and get ahead of the game.
Find out how your job fits into the bigger picture
When new people are hired by a company, they are not always shown how their specific role helps the company as a whole. When you come in as a new person, you are very focused on what you do, and because you are learning it for the first time, it is hard to see a bigger picture. If you can understand the bigger picture you may be able to be more effective in your role.
Understanding how your role fits into the bigger picture will also help you find more meaning in your work, because you know why what you do matters, even if it seems you are a tiny cog in a big machine. You are more likely to be satisfied and engaged in your job and, remember, you spend a lot of your life at work so being happy there is very important.
You are the only one who cares about your career
The truth of it is that companies exist to make money or serve a specific cause: it is not their mission to think about how they can best serve an employee’s career. Sometimes, that could mean working out how you want to grow in your career and identifying how you will progress. Remember you are leaving a very structured environment with specific guidance on how to succeed and this will not be the case when you start working. You will need to put your own structure in place.
It’s up to you to work it out
When you are in full-time education, you are given a syllabus of readings, assignments, and exam dates. You know exactly what you are supposed to do by which date, and you have a person who tells you what you need to learn, and who points you in the right direction. This doesn’t always happen at work.
One of the best things you can do is find out which people know how to do the things you need to know and build a good relationship with them. You will not have someone sitting with you all the time showing you what to do. You will be expected to complete your tasks on time and accurately. Therefore, having friends you can go to who can support your learning will help you work out how to do your job well.
Your employer does not have to consider your interests
This one is perhaps the most difficult to get your head around, but apart from what is required by law and what’s stated on your employment contract, your employer doesn’t owe you anything. As an employee, your job is to bring value to the company, and at times, that might mean putting their needs ahead of yours.
In school, you are looked after by the system and your interests are taken into account all the time. In work, you are the worker and the company’s interests are more important and they will want to see how you can help the company succeed.
Feedback may not be regular
Full-time education feedback is structured in a such a way that immediate feedback is built into the grading system. But in the workplace, you are not graded on everything you do and so you will not know how well you are doing all the time. Not knowing how good or bad you are doing you job can be a bit of a surprise to begin with.
To find out how you are doing you may need to ask for feedback. Picking the right time is important and asking the right questions. If you ask after every task “Am I doing ok?” you may not get the best response. It is far better to ask your manager how well you did at a specific task and ask how you could do better next time. This will give you a clear idea of your manager’s expectations and show that you are looking for feedback to improve.
You are there to do your job
This might seem obvious, but often new people have a desire to go “above and beyond” what’s required and this can result in having too much to do and compromising the work that they were employed for in the first place.
You may be good at lots of things but when you first start a new job, you need to focus on your tasks. Sometimes, you will like to take on extra responsibilities to be helpful and not realise how much work it will be. Then, you find yourself not being able to complete your own job and your boss may begin to consider if you are the right person for the role. So, it is nice to be helpful but try to hold back until you have your own work under control.
It is important to ask questions during the interview process and talk to other employees to find out what it is really like to work at the company before you start. It is essential to really understand your role, what that entails, and whether it aligns with your priorities in life. Good luck!