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  • Sat, 9, Jun, 2018 - 5:00:AM

Things I would tell my younger self about starting out in the workforce

Imagine yourself finishing {insert relevant high school/university/graduate course etc} and you’re about to enter the workforce. You’re feeling pumped about the new pathway that’s opening up in front of you. You’ve purchased your work-appropriate wardrobe/uniform, you’ve packed your lunchbox, and you’re ready to make friends with the new kids at your proverbial workplace sandpit.

I’ve put together a ‘starting-out-in-the-workplace’ list of the ten things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that I hope will help you too.

1. Write. Everything. Down. No matter what your new role is, I can guarantee you that getting into the habit of having a small notebook and a pen with you and writing yourself a To-Do note whenever ANYBODY asks you to do something will save you from any embarrassing ‘I totally forgot to do that’ moments in the long run. If you’re not a paper & pen kind of person, there are plenty of apps out there to help keep you organised.

2. Keep your mouth shut. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of getting involved in workplace politics, backstabbing other workmates, or gossiping. Stay out of it. Getting caught up in office dramas will not help your career reputation in the long run. And telling workplace secrets would be in breach of your employment contract at most companies.

3. Listen and learn. I’m the first one to admit that when I first started out in the workplace, I thought I knew EVERYTHING. (Turns out I didn’t ... funny that!) Feeling like an egg by trying to outsmart or out-manoeuvre your senior manager is not the best way to get that glowing end-of-year review.

4. Don’t be afraid to be heard. I know. I’m basically contradicting my previous point. But there’s a difference between being a know-it-all who doesn’t listen, and being a wallflower that’s afraid to offer an opinion. When you’re first starting out, it can be really daunting to try and speak up in a roomful of people that seem to have eons more experience than you. But if you can clearly and logically present a case for your suggestion, then back yourself.

5. Say yes to everything and then figure out how to do it. There’s a fine line between taking on more than you can chew, and taking on something that will challenge you to grow in your role. Identifying the latter is one of the best ways to get yourself recognised by those higher up, and gives you the added bonus of adding to your skillset.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For some reason, many of us are notoriously terrible at asking for help when we’re not coping. And as much as we would all love to be superstar employees that can juggle 20,000 simultaneous tasks and deliverables, we’re human and we can’t always do it all. Work out a plan for what you can manage to complete, and ask your manager for assistance with the rest. If it’s your manager that has dumped an unrealistic workload on you, go to a HR person or the person your manager answers to for help. Be professional, explain the areas that you feel you can manage by yourself, and ask for more realistic deadlines or assistance with the rest.

7. Don’t over-share your personal life. There’s a reason it’s called a personal life, and that’s because it’s personal. Regaling your workmates with your weekend party antics might seem like a good way to make new friends in the shared office kitchen, but generally speaking it’s not. Keeping your relationship woes, family battles and friendship dramas private is a good rule of thumb. Your boss isn’t paying you to share a play-by-play account with the whole office of how your sister’s husband is a loser. Keep that one for coffee with friends on the weekend.

8. Don’t let your employer take the piss. Despite your boss telling you that she doesn’t know what she would do without you when you agree to stay back late night after night to help with those last minute reports, at some point, you need to know when someone is taking the piss. Sure, there will be occasions when you have to pull together to finish a big project or pitch, but constantly asking you to work above and beyond your contracted hours is taking advantage of your good nature. Make sure you keep a record of extra work you’re asked to do that seems unreasonable if you’re not being paid extra to do it. If there are any issues down the track, you’ve got a record of the hours you’ve put in to either argue for a pay rise, a bonus or a promotion (remember my first point?! Write. It. Down.)

9. Don’t put up with harassment in any way, shape or form. This is a difficult one for many young women just starting out in a new job, especially when there is an imbalance of power. You might not feel you can say anything, or you might not even be sure that the behaviour you are experiencing is appropriate or not. But if you feel uncomfortable and wary around a workmate or senior person because of the way they are acting towards you, you should talk to someone you trust, and put together a plan to ensure you feel safe in your workplace. Harassment, whether physical or mental, is NEVER okay.

10. Find a mentor. I can’t stress this enough. Look for someone in your field of work that you aspire to be in ten or twenty years time. Lobby them to share their thoughts and experience with you. It may not even be someone in your immediate workplace, but someone who is in the same industry. Ask them to spare you thirty minutes a fortnight or a month, and use that time to pick their brain about what they have experienced themselves. Believe it or not, most people love the opportunity to help someone up the ladder.

And finally, my last piece of advice I would give my younger self?

You’ve got this.

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  • Young Women /
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