When I started working many, many years ago I thought I knew how to work in an office, but had to get reminded I was a newb. I wish I could have avoided some uncomfortable conversations I had back then, but we all need to learn the hard way from time-to-time. Below are a few things that came to mind as I was thinking about this and some amazing co-workers added some good ones below.
While this is not an exhaustive list and far from the only list out there I hope it will help those looking to break into a the digital workplace. Many of these concepts are applicable to anyone entering the workforce. However, the ideas represented below are coming from an agency mindset. My hope is that perhaps this will help you as you begin your journey.
- Kiss School Good-bye: The easy days of school are gone. Expectations are higher and you will be expected to deliver. Professors are easy to schmooze, clients are not. You aren’t going to be able to talk your way out of underperforming. Know this and you can avoid unnecessary stumbles as you start your career.
- Set Goals: I had no idea what a goal was outside of hockey and soccer. Career goals meant nothing to me when I started. Some people have grand visions of being a CEO of a Fortune 100 company one day. Good for them. But for those of us with less lofty aspirations consider something you want to get out of this job in the next few months. It could be something like learning a particular technique in Illustrator or perhaps giving a presentation to a client. Your manager can help you here, but keep them attainable and realistic so you can get your feet under you.
- Be Early: Don’t show up late to meetings. You aren’t important enough to get a pass. If you are expected to be in the meeting by 8:30am, you need to be situated in the meeting room by 8:29. Being situated means you have everything you need to start the meeting (drink, paper, presentation, projector, etc.).There is no harm in being first to a meeting, but there is quite a bit of negative attention you bring on yourself if you show up late, unprepared, flustered, distracted, etc.
- Bring Paper and a Pencil/Pen: Keep laptops/devices closed unless needed. Take notes, even if you are not responsible. The more notes you take the better you get at picking out the key points during a discussion.
- Questions: Client meetings aren’t always the best time to bring up questions. Listen, learn, write down the questions and ask your team during a break if they are worth bringing up. During team meetings you should ask questions so you can learn. Your team will get annoyed if they have to answer the same things multiple times or have to show you how to do something over and over. However, if you learn your team will appreciate you more.
- Team work: This is crucial. You are expected to be tight with your team. That means joking, listening, caring and communicating with them is important. If you need to leave early or stay late, let them know. If you have a weird circumstance that means you need to work from home let them know. These are not trivial things, they are important so everyone knows what to expect from you.
- Downtime: From time-to-time you will find that you have downtime. This could lead to boredom, but this time is more precious than gold. Why? You get to learn outside of a project. You have to seize these moments every chance you get. 1) Tell other teams and see if you can provide some support. 2) Listen in on pitches or other meetings and imagine how you would solve the problem. 3) Find things to learn with the tools you use or want to use. 4) Revisit some old work that you want to refine and make better. Don’t waste it!
- Mentor: If you haven’t found someone that can mentor you yet, find them. In fact find two or three people you can learn from. Ask them to spend time with you periodically. This could be weekly or monthly, but respect their time. You should find someone in a higher position than yourself that is doing amazing things that will offer an opportunity to help you grow. Your mentors will change over time as you grow so feel free to adjust. Mentors should not be limited to a company or industry.
- Meetings: If you want to speak to someone then it is your job to block the time on the calendar. That means you find a time that will work for you and the person(s) you would like to meet with and send them an invitation so their time will be blocked on the calendar. Especially as a junior employee you need to be respectful of the people you would like to meet with by setting up the time and making sure the meeting is an appropriate length. Do not suggest or book more than one hour unless they advise you to do otherwise.
- Be Eager: You are going to have tasks and projects that are not exciting. It’s how it goes, but you need to give those projects even more attention so you prove your value to your team and coworkers. Take these opportunities to learn. Absorb what you can in each opportunity you are given.
- Extra Hours: Plan on giving extra hours. This is part of getting your footing. It may not happen all the time, but expect to get asked and take advantage of the time. If you find you are being asked to stay late consistently bring it up with your manager because something isn’t right and they can help sort out what’s going on.
- Email, Chat, Text: Remember not everyone uses shorthand when you message them. Whichever platform you choose to use with your manager and team you need to make sure the message is clear and concise. Assume most people are scanning this message and are not going to read a 50 line message.
- Check Email/Voicemail: Perhaps you don’t like phone calls or just find email lame. Too bad, it’s still used by many people and some organizations live by it. You are responsible for knowing the contents of the email and voicemail and you can’t claim ignorance.
- Vacation: They are great when you need them, but be sure you understand the vacation policy and use it wisely. Don’t abuse the time you have off and make sure your manager and resource manager understand your request. It’s not a guarantee until it has been approved so don’t spend a bunch of money that you can’t get back in case your request is denied. Make sure you have an out of office message on during the dates you are out that communicates how long you are gone and provide the appropriate contact(s).
- Managers: Your manager should be there to help you. If you are struggling, confused, curious, burned out, tired, anxious, upset, etc. then you need to find time with them. They may direct you to other people in the organization that can better address your specific needs, but you can’t get help if you don’t ask. Your manager wants you to be successful so let them help you.
- Hours: Core hours for the company should be communicated to you. This means you need to fulfill your obligation to the company and the team by being in the office during the core hours. You may find that you need to come in early or stay late, but your team is counting on you to be available during the core hours and fulfill the duration of your 8 hour day. This means if you aren’t busy you don’t get to leave early, you are expected to use downtime wisely; see above.
- Clothes: Be sure you understand the expectations for dress in the office. Keep in mind this is not the right environment to wear revealing clothing. This applies to both men/women. What you may have worn to school or the part-time job you had in the past may not be appropriate in the office. When in doubt go conservative and ask your manager or mentor if you need additional clarification. Pay particular attention to what you wear when clients comes for a visit or you are visiting them. You want to make sure you are appropriately dressed so they feel comfortable.
Perhaps more will come from your feedback or questions.