I used to be just like you. My first full-time job was working with attorneys, a very particular brand of people, and I learned a lot of inconvenient truths the hard way.
Let's be real: The economy has stunted the American Dream. 30 is the new barista. Some of us went back to school out of unemployment and fear our skills weren't enough to make it in this market. Some of us lost our jobs. Some of us, who were just entering the workforce, were now competing with 40+ sometimes for the same job. I think we can all agree that in 20 years, when this period is explained in history books, it's going to be one of economic chaos.
|See? Even professionals suffer problems at work.|
To the newbies, the ones searching for a better corporate culture and those who are just looking to catch a break, here's my tips:
1. FU: It stands for "Follow Up." When I first started working, I often had to process my boss's notes and enter them into her calendar. I was baffled, as it often said "FU Sarah Smith," "FU Mike Jones," and such for sales calls. I couldn't think "FU" meant anything besides Fuck You, and couldn't understand why my boss was such an angry bitch... FU means Follow Up. Stop giggling.
2. No News is Often the Best News: In legal culture, and I'm sure in many other professions, the best response you can often get from an email or project is absolute silence. I didn't understand why my work was going unappreciated and was often worried I was going to get fired. Not the case. When I did bad, boy did I hear an earful.
*Author's Note: I think this is a shitty was to conduct business and when I managed people I did not operate this way. I just want people to know that some do still work like this, so don't think all your efforts are failures*
3. Do Not Pay Cash for Business Expenses. Or Worry about Submitting Receipts: Working in sales, you often leave the office and cater to potential clients. Or annoying clients that require a lot of your time. If you find yourself paying for parking, picking up the tab, ordering items for events, or occurring expenses because you are working, do not pay cash. And do NOT worry that you are spending "too much money" if you are doing what's expected of your job description. Chances are you're being much more frugal than some of your coworkers. Try to use a company card as much as possible, or keep all your receipts. If expenses are a problem, you will hear about it. Do not pay your own money for things that benefit the company you work for. No one else does, and doing so and being afraid of asserting this trait may make you look too green to be taken seriously.
4. Your Boss Wants to Be The Last Person to Arrive at the Office: No one is going to come out and say thing, but get to work before your boss. Get to work before your manager. Office politics suck, but this is a game I will play. While you are trying to get your foot in the door and make a good impression, get to work a little early. The sight of you, already at work, can do wonders for your perceived worth. Also--something just for you--being alone in the office can be a great way for you to calm yourself. Take the time to finish a coffee, plan out your day, whatever your ritual is.
5. Plan Out Your Day: This seems like the biggest pain in the ass at 9am, but make a rough timeline of how you'll spend your business day can take some of the stress and anxiety off of your mind. It also helps you move on from tasks, as spending all day answering emails (unless that's your job) isn't productive. Consider guessing how you'll spend each hour of the day. I used to hate this idea, but I use it today, and it makes me feel much more calm and accomplished as I watch myself move on from tasks.
- 9am-10am: Answering emails sent during off-work hours, Sending emails necessary for today, creating today's plan, searching calendar for day's appointment/tasks
- 10am-11am: Whatever project you're working on.
- 11am-12pm: Sales Calls
- 12pm-1pm: LUNCH!
- 1pm-2pm: Trying to not fall asleep after lunch... Project / Meetings/ etc
- 4:30pm-5pm: FU important emails, leave non-essential emails for next day, add an important tasks to your calendar.
6. Not Everything Is Immediate. And It Makes You Look Weak: Everyone is demanding of your time, right? And someone asks you a question via email, so you should answer in complete detail, right? WRONG. A lot of office politics revolves around making you look powerful.
So, to be powerful, examine how "powerful" people act: They are straight to the point. They value their time. They will find an empty spot in their schedule for you, not immediately at that second.
Playing this annoying game will help you. Your time, your thoughts and YOU are important. While there will be times you do need to help your boss out immediately, as you ease into your new position, realize that you are an asset. When you speak to people, if they need something from you, it's ok to schedule it for a time that isn't that second. This will A.) Let them know you have other work-related things going on, as your work is profitable and important to the company; and B.) You will feel a lot calmer, as not being pulled in a million different directions and never getting your own work done, because you're too busy doing stuff for others.
I used to be the biggest victim of this ploy. Every day at work was a fire drill, something terribly important needed to be done IMMEDIATELY. But, what I didn't know at first--until I was yelled at--was that my own tasks were still expected to be completed. I'd work overtime, or I would try to work at hyperspeed to complete everything. I was stressed, sad and I didn't know how others were doing so well while I was clearly drowning.
Others were saying "No, I cannot do that right now, but I am available at 2pm to help you/talk about it." I was running around, not valuing my own time. You are important, holding people off until you finish your own work, or delegate your tasks is what separates professionals from entry-level associates. You will grow into this mindset, but the sooner you learn it, the better.
|Do not let this make you devalue yourself at work.|
If your boss wants you in the office 9-5, wants to give up feedback about your work every hour, has you in his office to talk about details, wants you to print/run errands... you are an employee. And as an employee, they own you their half of the the roughly 15% income tax you'll be paying in Social Security and Medicare, as well as unemployment insurance to the state you live in, and other benefits such as health care.
Know your worth. Do not let employers take advantage of you because the economy took a hit and they think you are desperate for a job. As an IC, you will make less money, because you have to pay the full amount of taxes without corporate supplement, will not be eligible for unemployment if you are terminated and will have to get your own insurance. Be smart and not afraid to tell them no if you feel your rights are being violated.
That's my two cents. Good luck to the newbies out there. And also to the people re-entering the workforce, too. This year I had to move on from a position, so I understand the strife and stress that comes along with the interview process.
I'd love to hear your suggestions and stories! Please feel free to comment.
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