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Congratulations, you have landed your first job. Now the real work begins.
Offices can be complex places for the uninitiated. How do you make an impression from day one? And stay focused on your own goals while working for someone else?
Luckily, expert advice on what to do — and what not to do — is on hand.
Jennifer Zhao, assistant director at the career centre of Shanghai-based business school CEIBS; Deborah Sayagh, a private banker at Investec; and Pip Jamieson, founder and chief executive of networking site The Dots, share their top tips on how to approach working life.
1. Be patient and eager to learn
“You are not going to love all of the tasks given to you — that is just the reality of work,” says Ms Jamieson. At the music channel MTV where she once worked, she was told to create a database of Spice Girls fan sites, which she says was “the most boring job I have ever done”. Yet jumping on tasks with a positive attitude meant she was quickly trusted with more challenging work.
“I was also guilty of thinking that I knew it all when I first started out — it took a while before I realised how little I actually knew,” Ms Jamieson says.
This highlights the importance of curiosity, she adds. “Ask questions, go to events, and devour books and podcasts about your topic of work,” she says, “and ask for feedback — even if it is negative, it will help you grow faster.”
Eager is good, overbearing is not.
Ms Sayagh has practical advice on how to ask questions without taking up too much of someone’s time: “Write your questions down and ask them at a more appropriate moment.” If you hear people use technical terms you do not understand, take a note of them and look them up later, she says.
2. Ask for help
Networking is the first step to making allies and learning more about a workplace. “Speak to people in operations, marketing, sales, and the staff in the canteen,” Ms Sayagh says.
Finding a mentor or professional role model will help outline possible next steps and how to get there, says Ms Zhao.
“Ask that person what impresses them,” she says, “and observe what they do to impress others.”
Ms Jamieson has what she calls a “portfolio” of mentors, who are experts on things like raising capital, leadership or design. “It is much easier to work through a problem with someone who has already been there, done that, than trying to muddle through on your own,” she says. “Just remember that it is important to trust your own gut.”
3. Start preparing for your next move
Set out what you want to achieve in your career longer term, not just in your current role. Ms Sayagh’s advice is to focus on laying a good foundation and learning as much as possible before “trying to smash the lights out”.
Take any opportunity to gain exposure in front of colleagues, says Ms Zhao. Explore chances to develop new skills and seek out opportunities to help make or influence big decisions.
4. Manage relationships and avoid making enemies
Ms Jamieson stresses the importance of seeing things from other people’s perspective “when coming into conflict with someone at work”. At the same time, accept that you might not always get along with everyone in the office.
“Amazingly, when you do this, a critic can turn into an ally.” She warns that one should never burn bridges nor make enemies. “They can last a lifetime.”
Ms Sayagh, meanwhile, cautions against getting “drunk with colleagues — there are other ways to team-build”.
To avoid conflict, Ms Zhao says it is important to figure out early what your manager expects from you. “Make a special effort to understand your direct boss — if you are working towards different goals, chances are the way you measure success will also differ.”
5. Do not place too much weight on financial rewards
“One mistake a lot of young professionals make is to prioritise financial reward” over and above their longer-term career goals, Ms Zhao says. “Identifying a career path and pursuing it will set you on a faster and higher trajectory.”
Ms Jamieson agrees. She left a well-paid job as an economist to pursue her dream of working in the creative industries.
By chasing opportunity rather than money, she says she found her ikigai. “It is a Japanese concept of that magic place that combines what I love, what I am good at, what the world needs and what I get paid for. When you reach that point, work does not really feel like work.”
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