The Millennial’s Guide to Work
When I entered the world of work four years ago, I had no idea what I was in for.
The transition from school to work is something no one really prepares you for. We spend our entire childhoods in an academic environment that prioritizes test scores and individuality, so most of us are in for a rude awakening when it’s finally time to enter the workforce as young adults.
My parents didn’t have traditional office jobs when I was growing up, so there wasn’t really anyone (aside from the internet) that I could ask those basic work-related questions to when starting out. Inevitably, my first few months of work were pretty tough — staring at a computer screen all day, being terrified of phone calls and anyone with more authority than me (so everyone), and generally not knowing what was going on. To be fair, these things still make me anxious but it has definitely gotten better! It may not have seemed that way to an outsider, but on the inside I was always slightly panicked and trying to find my footing. Oh, how I longed for one of those atrocious scoring rubrics they used to hand out for English class essays! Unfortunately, they don’t make those for scoring yourself agains professional social skills — something I was desperately lacking in.
Suffice to say, my first few months at work definitely had some awkward moments. It’s a lot to take in! It wasn’t until a few months later once I had found my work friend group, where some wonderful women took me under their wing and were willing to impart their wisdom and experience with me, that I started to get into the groove of all things work.
Now four years and three office jobs later, I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I also feel like I’m at a point where I understand the basics. And the basics are really important — having a good foundation for how to carry out your work to get ahead, will set you up for a successful rest of your career. No matter if you stay in an office job or not (I certainly don’t plan on it, but that’s for another post), these basics will serve you for the rest of your life. That is, unless you decide to retire early or become a housewife — in which case, power to ya!
So if you are soon to be entering the working world, or are switching jobs and have forgotten what it’s like to be the new kid on the block, here is some practical advice to get you feeling more confident in your workplace.
The first month of a new job is for you to listen and learn. Thankfully, no one will expect too much from you.
It may then take you another 6–12 months to fully understand the ins and outs of your role and how it fits in with the rest of the company. Organisations are complex!
In meetings and on calls, don’t talk just to talk. Only speak when you have something of value to add.
Don’t be afraid to get your work noticed. Being an introvert and someone who doesn’t like having the spotlight on me, I still struggle with this a lot. But you are only doing yourself a disservice if you don’t toot your own horn once in a while. And there are ways to do it without feeling like you’re a humblebrag (eg. get someone else to toot that horn for you!)
Carve out a niche for yourself, so you are “known” for something at work. Even if it’s something small, it will make you more memorable and indispensable to others.
For every new project you work on, ask what the bigger picture is and how it fits into the company’s strategy. At the beginning of your career, you will most likely do a lot of menial (aka boring!) work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at the bigger value of the work you do.
Think like a boss, not a worker. See things from the company’s point of view, not how it affects you personally.
Study your chosen industry and see the progression steps needed to make it to the position you want to be in. Jobs don’t come with a roadmap, you have to figure it out on your own. Is there anyone at your company whose job you eventually want? Study them closely!
Use your energy sparingly, and only strike when it really counts. Most of the work that is assigned to you isn’t actually that important — it’s the roles and responsibilities that aren’t on your job description that often count the most when it comes to getting ahead.
We love the office drama but sometimes it pays to stand back and see how things play out. This isn’t high school, and office politics can have real consequences, so be careful.
Question the motives of everyone and everything. Spot the hidden agenda and people’s motives. Trust me, there is almost always a hidden agenda to all decisions that get made at work. It won’t necessarily be anything bad, but at the end of the day people are just looking out for themselves.
Keep a record of everything and never throw stuff out or delete it. Emails, documents, files — keep them all, just in case. I’m a serial de-clutterer but trust me, this is good practice.
Most people spend far too much time doing their job. You need to get your head up from time to time and look around you.
It is just a job. You have to learn to switch it off, relax, not take it so seriously, enjoy it more and put things into perspective
No matter how new and different everything feels at the beginning, just know that you will get used to it and things will get better. Every new year of school eases you into things, whereas work usually throws you into the fire — once you get through the first few weeks and find some good work friends, it will all be business as usual.
Wouldn’t it be great if in the future, high schools and universities did more to give students a crash-course on the working world. But until then, some experiences will have to be learned the hard way — through good old-fashioned trial and error. So good luck!