I Wish I Knew What I Know Now: First-Jobber Mistakes

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Workplace in no different than any other place. Say in college, we’re trying to fit in — to stand out. We’re trying to find our cliques — our safety net, or if I may borrow Cristina Yang’s infamous quotes: Our Person. We’re trying to do our best to contribute — to show that we’re capable. In fact, this what happened throughout all the phases in our life. We’re trying to give (and get?) meanings on everything we do.

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I made mistakes as a fresh grad, so did my friends and co-workers. I really wish someone told me beforehand but sometimes you just gotta learn the hard way. No. I don’t and won’t post any advice because I am also still learning. But here I summarize all things I’ve learned thru both self-experience and observation during my career, on key mistakes some fresh grads tend to do. Here’s the list.

Leave the arrogance back at college. It’s unnecessary to be smug about your GPA and your achievement(s) during college years. Yes, completing university is a great accomplishment but it doesn’t mean that you’ve learned everything. I hate to break this one for you, nobody wants to know about your GPA, your scholarship, or your awesome friends, my dear. As a fresh graduate, you still have countless things to learn. Start as a blank canvas. Trust me, arrogance gets you nowhere — at any level.

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Slow down and take a bite of a humble pie. This thing is, pretty much, related with the first point. Yes, you should be confident enough when looking for a job. Believe in your capabilities as an individual but never be arrogant. It takes a while and is a process to adapt into any new environment. The truth is, you’ll impress your supervisor more by learning the ins and outs of your job duties and department first. No one ever appreciates the overeager new employee who thinks he can solve all the problems and know everything before even really understanding how things work.

You could never go wrong by asking questions. If you don’t understand something, it’s important that you ask for clarification. Put it this way: your employer already knows you’re inexperienced yet you were hired. As a fresh graduate, your employer does not expect you to know everything immediately but they do expect you to ask questions that will help you understand your tasks.

Initiative is good, but don’t over-do it. Playing dumb is never a good idea. If you know what you’re doing and can complete tasks well, it shows that you have a lot of skill and will truly impress your boss and co-workers. As long as you’re confident in the accuracy of your knowledge, use that to your advantage. It’s not an “either-or” situation between initiative and humility. You can have and do both.

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Be nice. I know different people have different style in adapting and adjusting to new friends and colleagues. As an INTJ, it’s always a struggle for me to start at new place to even say hi to someone. But I know that it’s important to make an effort. Not only will it make your day a lot easier, but you never know when you might need someone’s help with a task. Work can feel like a work if you don’t have anyone to talk to while there. Make the effort to reach out. Who knows they might become friends, allies, and even tutors.

It’s okay to not feel okay. And it’s also okay to take a break. When you are new, you have this urge to show everyone that you’re good enough. Plus, in your professional life, there is little room for deadline extensions. It is best you get organised and learn to manage your time. Figure out ways to boost your productivity and pace yourself accordingly. But it’s also okay to take a break. You can tell your boss that you need a quick break when you’re flustered with the tasks. Most of the bosses are nice as they’re also human (shocker!). I know some aren’t — but there’s only few of them. As long as you’re not taking advantage of the leniency, it’s alright to tell your boss you need a few moments to keep your mind off from the work.

Be Punctual. No one is going to give you a prize just for showing up. You’re supposed to be on time and ready to work. Give yourself a good moment to take a breath and prep yourself before big presentation or client meetings. There will always be traffic and you can always predict. No excuse for tardiness. You know the sayings: be punctual compliment the achievements of others.

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It is not cool to be known as a no-call, no-show. A no-call, no-show is an instance when an employee doesn’t get prior approval for missing a day off and then simply doesn’t show up or call in. In some cases, there’s a good excuse, such as sickness or accident. However, in most cases, a no-show will raise attention from leadership. It is true that employees need some time off every once in a while and that’s fine — but doing it in a way that disrupts the flow of business is not.

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Suck it up. But also, it’s okay to move on. Chances are, your first professional job is not going to be exactly what you had in mind. Even if your first job isn’t necessarily your dream job, don’t dismiss it as a waste of time. Think instead about the new experiences you’re gaining. However, if you’re not happy with what you’re doing after few months you’re working there, maybe it’s time to move on. There’s such thing as gratitude shaming. Lisa Lewis mentioned it’s like when you had a studio apartment but really wanted a one bedroom, but knew not everyone can even afford a studio. Go for it as the longer you feel that way, it will minimise your desire for more challenge, appreciation, and impact.