Lessons I learnt from the start of my career
08th October 2020
Author Christina Goodwin
My top 10 work lessons, nearly two years into my first proper job…
Entering the workforce, or starting a new job, can be incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. After almost two years at Davanti, where I started as a graduate, I reflected on the top 10 lessons I’ve learnt as a junior employee at Davanti, which I hope can benefit others (whether you’re starting a new job or not!).
Note: these are subjective from my time at Davanti, and I still have a lot to learn (also, being punctual isn’t on this list, because it should be a given, and I’m already an absolute stickler for time and deadlines).
“Everything that made that giant tree is contained inside this tiny little seed. All it needs is some time, a little bit of sunshine and rain, and voilà! You might not feel like you can do much now, but that’s because you’re not a tree yet. You just have to give yourself some time. You’re still a seed.”
– Flik, A Bug’s Life
1. Did anyone die?
This is a great question to ask yourself after making a mistake and was certainly a big learning for me. If no one dies from a mistake you’ve made, I can (almost) guarantee things will be okay. If you own up to your mistake, people will forgive you, move on and forget.
Case in point: I was tasked with sending incentives to interview participants throughout New Zealand. For some reason, I walked past a post box, and decided it would be a great idea to just send it now and popped it in. All was well, until I realised it couldn’t be tracked, or sent to an address that only accepts courier packages. My mistake sent me into a tearful, panicked call to my Mum, before owning up to the lead on the project. I honestly thought I might get fired for losing a $50 voucher. As I looked so stressed, the response wasn’t angry, instead simply, “Did someone die? No. You’re okay.” I wasn’t fired, and it was the best lesson I learnt to prevent catastrophising.
It’s important to then learn from your mistakes – I’m now a professional at sending interview incentives and even produced a how-to guide to ensure no one else fell into the same trap.
2. Be a sponge.
This one is relatively self-explanatory – while you aren’t experienced enough to field questions or lead meetings, take the opportunity to absorb everything going on around you. Listen to how different people take control of meetings, the way people talk on the phone, or act around clients. Learn as much as you can, because you’ll be expected to present the same level of professionalism when the time comes.
3. Act confident (especially around clients).
Don’t be so confident you’re cocky, but present yourself as though you DO know what you’re doing, even if you haven’t done that type of work before.
Personally, I used to despise calling anyone with a passion. When I needed to call hundreds of people to vet them for interviews, I had to get over my fear. To assist in my calling abilities, I reminded myself that for the people on the other end of the phone, they’d never met me – if I sounded professional then I could be anyone.
On that note, always ensure you know what a client is expecting of you and introduce yourself accordingly!
4. Embrace the culture.
Unless it involves getting ridiculously drunk every single week, go to office events. Stay a little longer on a Friday – you might even have fun while you do it. You’ll get to know more about your colleagues’ personal lives and what they do outside of work, and they’ll appreciate that you’re there, too. You might find a new club or hobby to start pursuing, or realise that scary senior manager is actually lovely.
5. Use your annual leave. Every year.
If all your time off has been on statutory holidays or compulsory closedown over Christmas, please, I’m begging you, take a break. For more than one day. It will make you feel better, less tired and more motivated for when you do come back to the office. You have to turn all notifications off to feel fully rejuvenated!
6. Keep in touch with ex-colleagues.
If you like someone, and they leave, continue to catch up – over coffee, scones or wine. This is the best way to form a network, without having to actually go to one of those dreaded networking events. You already have a good relationship with them, and you never know when they might be able to help you out!
7. Seize every opportunity you’re offered.
Do every type of work you can – you’ll gain valuable experience across a wide range of work, as well as gain rapport with those who ask you to do it. For example, since starting at Davanti, I’ve been involved in projects across our Consulting, Design and Experience and Salesforce teams.
Simply by saying “yes!” to all the work I was offered, I can now successfully carry out usability testing for websites (including recruitment, note taking and facilitating), project co-ordination, interviewing, research and report writing, reviewing colleagues’ work, writing user stories for Salesforce and even reading code (at the most basic level you can possibly imagine!).
8. Do the boring jobs.
Yeah, I know, they suck. And that you don’t want to do them, so you push it to the very bottom of your list. However, when you get to a point where you’re able to delegate them to someone else, you’ll remember how annoying it is, and have a lot more sympathy for whoever is tasked with it.
And don’t forget to still be positive – yes, you can complain once or twice, but if you’re driven and happy, people will be much more warm around you too (a circle of happiness, really).
9. Take the time to contribute to the organisation.
During the time where you might not be quite as busy as everyone else, use your time wisely to contribute to your organisation. If you ask, there’s usually a culture club you can join, and taking the initiative to come up with ideas and set aside time to do it will win you brownie points, as well as make you feel more involved!
For example, I asked if I could lead Mental Health Awareness Week at Davanti, promoting awareness and generating activities for people to participate in. This led to me being an active member of our culture team and helped me establish great internal relationships.
10. Be patient, and you will be rewarded.
You will get a gold star if you work hard, but it just takes a long time for other people to notice it. Unlike at home with your parents, or at university when you get a good grade, you won’t receive tangible, positive feedback for every little good thing that you do.
While this can be demoralising, it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing well, simply that there are a lot more things going on around you. I can assure you that over time, if you’re consistent, you will be recognised for making a difference.
There it is, 10 lessons I’ve learnt that I’m sure to take with me throughout my whole working life. These have helped me make the most of my time and enjoy my first ‘proper’ job!
What’s your experience? Is there another lesson you learnt when you started out that I’ve missed?
Christina Goodwin is a Consultant in Davanti’s Transformation & Consulting team. She joined Davanti as a graduate in 2018.