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CAREER & CORPORATE | 5 tips to help you thrive at your first job

It’s hard enough work to complete your qualification AND get a job. So you’d think you’ll have an easier time just working and getting paid. But unfortunately, as many of us soon learn, it’s not always the case.

In this article:

It’s a known fact that graduates and entry-level employees have a harder time adjusting in their new working environments. It’s also a known fact that an unhappy or toxic work environment can negatively affect you personally and make you lose interest in your career and personal growth. Before you know it, you’re depressed and stuck. 

These 5 tips can help you ensure you don’t just settle well into your first job, but that you thrive for as long as you’re there. 

1. Understand your role

If you’ve worked in a start-up or are working in one, then you know that it’s especially important for you to understand why you’re there, i.e. what you’re getting paid to do. Make sure you read every inch of your employment contract and fully understand your duties, preferably BEFORE you sign it.

The best thing about working in small businesses is also the worst thing about it. There’s a lot of potential to grow and progress into a higher position but sometimes they lack operational structures. This often results in you overworking to assist with a workload that has an entirely different job description. For instance, if you’re employed as a marketing officer at a growing insurance company, you may initially be asked to help with sales and advertising because of your knowledge and eventually find yourself taking on the additional role of sales consultant and advertising officer with a single pay. And yes, it’s a common chat to ‘take on additional responsibility as a way to climb up the corporate ladder’. But for now, be clear about your job description. If you handle what little responsibility your job carries, you open the way to bigger responsibilities… With a salary that matches!

Go a step further and establish yours and the managers’ or companies’ expectations. This will help you analyze your growth and help you set better goals where necessary.

2. Be prepared to manage the 3Cs dynamic

Starting a new job comes with a lot of (power) change for you and your colleagues. It’s fairly easy to manage the change from your side. However, sometimes you unwittingly walk right into a war zone where the addition of a new member (you) is met with resistance and sets of conflict that you have nothing to do with. Some examples are when your new colleague/s act standoffish towards you for reasons beyond you or because they’re upset because their friend was replaced by you. Make sure you’re aware of different conflict resolution approaches and be prepared to adopt one that you’re comfortable with. It is unfair for you to bear the brunt of issues you inherited by virtue of accepting a job offer. And there is no reason for you to stretch yourself thin to solve them.

PS: There is a fine line between being a door mat and being patient with the conflict management process. 

The final C is for criticism. You need to be able to recognise when criticism is constructive and when it’s coming from a place of negativity. Learn to accept and work with the former and to block out the latter, and in extreme cases, report it.

3. Don’t overwork yourself

If you ‘understand your role’, it’ll be easy for you to notice when you start being given work that falls way outside your duties as set out in the contract. We all know that sometimes the ‘newbie’ has to work their way up. But there are things that are simply dated and not necessary – like being sent around doing extra-curricular activities even though you’re not an assistant or having to work late all the time and not being paid extra for it. This pressure is a major stressor and source of depression and burnout for young people who are most likely also facing a brand new set of challenges and responsibilities that come with age in other dimensions of their demanding lives. Sometimes making copies and getting coffee for the office comes with the job. And unless it does, your job is to do your job.

Side note: Clearly cultures in many workplaces need to be changed and that’s a conversation for another day [that employers should be having]! 

It can be difficult. But you will eventually have to find the courage to bring the issue up with your supervisor or manager. Doing it via email first is a great way to have some evidence of you raising your concerns in case it leads to a case of unfair suspension or dismissal. Setting these boundaries and honouring them will go a long way in the future.

4. Your colleagues are not your friends… Yet

It’s a terrible idea to start following your new colleagues on every social media platform you’re on, giving unsolicited advice or venting to them about your boss and other employees like they’re Dee from 3rd year or your 2019 internship.

A good idea is to build meaningful relationships with the people around you. Start by seeking out one or a few people you relate to (someone in a similar position and level), they might be the key to unlocking other relationships because they’ll probably know more people than you do. Once you’ve made a friend and found a few co-workers who you’re friendly with, start working outwards and connecting with people in your industry. LinkedIn is an excellent source to keep up with industry news and players. 

While you do this, be mindful of and respect people’s social preferences.

5. Remain as kind as you are respectful

Success and self-confidence are in no way synonymous with being mean and pompous. Always be kind and treat everyone with respect as far as you can. No one needs to give you a reason to treat them with respect if they’ve never given you a reason to treat them disrespectfully. 

As you begin your journey in corporate, there will be frustrations and maybe even doubts, but let this remind you that you are doing amazing. Be gentle with yourself! After years of suffering varsity life, getting a job and being able to buy yourself things can be a lovely and fulfilling experience. Don’t let it be overshadowed by the bad things that sometimes happen to good people. 

Be intentional about reflecting on your journey and making sure you never take your work home… Unless you’re working from home in which case, lock it in a room and make time to do the things that ground you and make you happy.

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