Your first day @work is not that different from your first day @college

Late last month, The New York Times shared advice for incoming college freshman from 25 upperclassmen and recent grads. As I read the article, I noted a parallel in the seven topics offered for new students, and folks in their first months @work – from the first internship through every career transition.

“Freshman year is a chance to redefine yourself, to challenge assumptions, to lay the foundation for the rest of your life.”

The first day of work is also a chance to redefine yourself, challenge assumptions and begin to lay the foundation of your career.

Let’s examine the list of seven, and test their application to the workplace.

“Extend yourself”  You are the ‘newbie’ @work. You’re not expected to have all the answers on day one. Ask questions.  Explore the world beyond your cubicle. Find ‘community spaces’ where folks gather, and mingle.

“Do the work”  In college, this is basically showing up for class, @work it’s consistently engaging in projects. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer to participate in assignments that will stretch your talents.

“Understand the system and work it”  Every workplace has its unique culture, values and traditions. If you did your research before you started your new job, you should have an inkling of what to expect. Once you are on payroll, take some time to observe how folks communicate, how priorities are set, where the budget dollars are allocated, and who is making the decisions. Align yourself with the energized vs. the disgruntled.

“Be yourself”  Hopefully you selected a workplace that is a ‘fit’ with your values and talents. If the recruitment process was straightforward, being the ‘authentic’ you will contribute to your success.

You will change as part of a new work community, just as you evolved throughout your college years in an environment that fostered success, creativity, and diversity.  Check in periodically with friends outside your workplace to ensure you’re growing vs. losing your essential essence.

“Tend to yourself”, “Your grade in one class does not define you”  These tidbits of advice applied to work fall into the categories of work/life balance and recovering from failure. It’s very easy to be consumed by the work in the beginning. You’re learning new concepts, meeting new people, struggling to make deadlines, and communicating in a new workplace language. If you’re not spending time outside of work socializing, contributing to your community or maintaining a fitness routine; your work will eventually suffer.

When you do make a mistake, your career isn’t over. The upper strata of success is populated with folks who have recovered from both minor and major workplace calamity.

“Develop people skills”  Without solid communication skills, every day at work will be a challenge. Our work culture has traditionally rewarded the extrovert, but new research has shown the introvert is an equal partner in the success of any organization.

In college you may have been able to get an ‘A’ as an individual, rarely leaving your room, thinking great thoughts and rarely interacting with the campus community. @work you have to deal with people. You may be the most brilliant innovator, but at some point you have to explain your product to a client.

All of us can improve our communication skills and it’s to an organization’s advantage to support you in this effort. Find out if there are skill development programs available through your employer or professional association. Be proactive on this one.

 “Don’t get stuck” Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Entering college you may have thought you would be the next Bill Gates, when a Freshman Seminar introduced you to the wonderful world of philosophy. Tangents open up @work as well. Entering an organization for the first time, you cannot imagine the variety of opportunities that are available. You may be in a meeting with a client and realize the work his/her organization is doing is a better fit for you skills. Be open when an alternative is presented. There is no perfect career path, just one that is unique to you.

One more – always share what you learn with colleagues. Knowledge is power. Shared information can be transformative.

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