Starting my career was one of the most terrifying and exciting moments of my life. I wish I had the knowledge I do now, but sadly I don’t have a time machine. There have been amazing highs and terrible lows, but I’ve survived them all so I want to pass along some survival tips that would have helped me if I had a time machine and could do it all over again. I’m coming up on eight years in the workforce post-university and autumn is the time when I reflect upon what I’ve learned in my career.
When A Company Shows You Their Corporate Culture — Believe Them
I’ve been on 87 interviews in a 7-year timeframe and my longest was five hours. No, I didn’t fly to LA or cook an eight-course meal; I sat in an interview room for five hours as every. single. employee asked me questions because “collaboration” was a pillar of their culture. Overkill? Yeah, I’d say so too. My first thought walking out of that interview was “I absolutely don’t want this job.” Ignoring my instincts, thinking they must have been in interview mode and this wasn’t a regular occurrence, I accepted a job offer in marketing.
To the surprise of no one, I couldn’t get any marketing activity completed because…wait for it….the whole company needed to approve each plan and idea that was submitted. Have you ever tried to baptize a cat? That would have been easier than getting engineers, salespeople and administration staff to agree to a marketing plan they didn’t understand. I should have trusted my gut and acknowledged that a company with a Montessori school-level desire for team collaboration would get nothing accomplished and not be the fit for me.
Do What’s Best for Your Career
After graduating from university at the beginning of the Great Recession, I was desperate for a ‘real job’ after putting myself through school. Options were bleak, but after months of doors slammed in my face and attending career fairs where not one employer was actually hiring, I managed to snag an entry-level job at a large corporation. I was so grateful just to be hired on a contract-basis that I was willing to go down with a ship that was ramping up for huge layoffs.
I wanted to prove my loyalty by staying until the bitter end until a director near retirement (with nothing to lose) told me that they would get rid of everyone without a second thought. He told me to do what’s best for my career, not worry about a massive corporation that doesn’t even know my name. Initially, I still buried my head in the sand but another round of co-worker layoffs jolted me into starting my own job search. It was the best thing I could have done and I’ve been eternally grateful to the director who gave me one of the best pieces of career advice I have ever received.
You Can’t Change a Horrible Boss
Working lots of contract roles in the beginning of my career was a double-edged sword that came with many hard earned lessons. One such lesson was regarding, you guessed it, horrible bosses! When I started my career I wasn’t exactly sure how a boss should or shouldn’t act. Since all of these bosses were by definition senior to me, I assumed they would set good examples.
As I’ve gotten more experience under my belt, I’m now aware that the one boss who would phone us at the office (while she worked from home) and demand the person put the call on speaker in order to yell at them, all under the guise of ‘team learning’ was a bully- plain and simple.
When I worked at this particular company, I would excuse her actions by thinking she had a hard day or we screwed up and if we just tried harder, all would be well. My line of thinking was just as messed as her behavior. She was a bully so when my contract ended, I ran for the hills.
Getting your first job out of school can be a stressful and exhilarating time. No more how green you are, you deserve a respectful workplace. You may be the most junior person on the team but still need to listen to your instincts. The corporate world may feel different compared to school but that’s not a good reason to stop trusting your own judgment and instincts about what’s right and wrong. I have some amazing friends in the jobs I’ve had and I wouldn’t trade those people for anything. Trust your gut, make friends and try to have some fun!
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