Let’s talk about the first 90 days from the time you started work.
Maybe you’ve worked for much longer than that, but this post is dedicated to all of you who have worked for less than a year. (90 days just has a nice ring to it, heehee).
I had initially planned to write about networking and dressing up for work, but I realised that I had too many friends who had just started work and were discouraged and slightly disillusioned. Work was different from what they had expected. Some of them had landed their dream jobs, some of them hadn’t, but the recurring theme was that work wasn’t that great.
I had my 1 year work anniversary in September and yes, it feels like a long time. So to those who have just started working, I hope to share with you some realisations I had from my first year of working, while it’s still fresh in my mind. And in my own little way, also encourage you to press on.
1. The transition from University to Work is difficult, sometimes, really difficult, especially with the ‘longer’ hours.
Day 0: I still remember the feeling I had on the first day of work (actually it was induction), I was fresh, excited and ready to change the world. However, at the same time, I felt apprehensive and uncertain about my future. Would I do well in my job? Would my boss and colleagues like me?
Day 7: Post-training – I had a brilliant time and now I felt I was even ready to conquer the world.
Day 60: Entering the business was completely different from my expectations. It was difficult, so difficult to transition from University where I knew almost everything and knew how to behave and deal with situations to Work where I spent my 9am to 6pm, doing tasks that nobody wanted to do because I was assumed to know nothing. I could hardly stay awake in the morning and I couldn’t stay focused after lunch because I had food coma.
Many of us would understand the feeling of having morning lectures in University then going back home to take a nap or some place to chill before going for afternoon lectures. But now, you have to work straight from early morning to night, with a short lunch break in the morning.
But fear not, because things will get better once you find your coping mechanism.
For example, some of us rely on coffee. Personally, I don’t really like coffee, but I do have one cup every morning to keep me through the day. Too much coffee is unhealthy though, so I do limit the number of cups I take to prevent that though getting addicted. I wouldn’t want to be one of those who can’t function without coffee.
To cope with working late into the night, I had a small packet of crisps. I know this explains why I put weight after working, but at least it got me going for the first few months. Think of it as Freshers 15, but for work. After that, I became used to working longer and also replaced with crisps with fruits.
See things do get better.
2. Not knowing what to do or how to act is normal
The second realisation occurred to me much later when I overheard 2 senior members of the team speak about this. They were saying that they felt that this new graduate was rather arrogant because he acted like he knew everything, when he’s just a graduate. This was revelation to me because I often felt the discomfort of not knowing what is appropriate to do or say, and in terms of my work, I didn’t know what was the best approach. But then I realised, it’s normal.
As someone new entering the workforce, no one really expects you to know anything. Instead, they expect you to ask questions and be curious about things. Learn to clarify and understand what is the best way to approach situations.
However, I would like to think that there are certain guidelines on how questions should be asked:
Address the question to the right person
I will strongly advise against asking stupid questions openly. While senior people can be quite friendly during dialogue sessions and will say things like, “feel free to ask any questions, even stupid ones”. They actually expect you to think through it and make sure it’s relatively appropriate. Asking the CEO how to use the office printer or very basic questions will not help advance your career at all.
Ask at the right time
Sometimes, it’s also about asking questions at the right time. While you can be very enthusiastic and proactive, you need to take into account your environment. Let me give you a scenario: On the day before the deadline of your client’s deliverable, you are given the task of formatting some slides, for example, make sure that objects on your slide are aligned on the slide. You decide to read the content of those slides and realised that you have some questions about the content that you want to ask your manager. Under any other circumstances, you are learning and doing the right thing (see point 4 later). However, try asking your manager now, maybe he might entertain you, but it will put him in a relatively snappy mood. Your team is rushing a deliverable deadline! Choose to ask the question at the right time.
Ask questions that you cannot Google about
I think this is quite self explanatory. Otherwise you can Google what I mean. Yes, I get the old age argument that we all want to save time and ask the person who can give us the answer immediately, but you remember better when you find out the answer yourself. Save yourself the opportunity to ask other more challenging questions.
Don’t keep asking the same question
People will know that you’re not listening.
3. Expect to do shit work whether you’re in the job of your dreams or not
Regardless of where you start work, you will be given the most mundane and boring tasks because you are the most junior person. Why? It’s just because someone needs to get them done. If you don’t do it, no one else will do it. Then why should you stick it out then? I thought about this a lot. As we joined the workforce at our prime, we should be given more exciting tasks that would allow us to fully utilise our brain power. So why should we do that? Why?
It’s because no one trusts you. We all know there are flaws in the recruitment system and even the most qualified person in terms of education, may not be very good at their job. Having a job requires almost a different skill set altogether. How many of us start working and realise that it is completely different from what you learnt in University?
The little mundane tasks you do will overtime allow people to trust you more with the bigger tasks. Put yourself in the shoes of your superior. If you whine and complain all about the small tasks that you have to do, think about how much more whining and complaining your team will have to endure when you are allocated a difficult task.
I often hear that juniors sometimes enter the business expecting to be given tasks similar to Managing Directors / Partners. They complain that they don’t learn during stupid tasks.
This brings us to my next point
4. Who says you can’t learn doing the small tasks?
Someone successful from my parents’ generation once told me that as the most junior person on the team, his only job was photocopying documents for a very long time. But he read every single piece of information on the paper that he was photocopying.
You see, friends, it’s all about the attitude.
5. Have a life outside of work
It’s very easy to be consumed by work when you start, especially when you have challenging hours. Sometimes when you go back home, you feel like you still have outstanding work, so you continue.
It’s really easy to burn out this way. Partly because I work in the UK where there is an emphasis on work life balance, but partly because I see others around me wanting to quit or feeling lost after working for a few months – You really need to find your work life balance. Everyone works and enjoys in different ways, so you need to find something that lets you switch off from work and look forward to. Personally, I do that by deliberately turning off my work phone on the weekends. I also play badminton every Wednesday, because at least I know mid week I have something to look forward to.
Don’t make your life all about work, because you will begin to hate it, then you will start entertaining thoughts of quitting.
Some of us were so happy when we finally got a job after multiple rejections that it didn’t really matter whether the job suited us. Some of us were lucky enough to get our “dream” job. Gradually, we all realised that the dream we were promised was a nightmare. Many of us, including myself, became disheartened along the way, because the job wasn’t what we expected. However, I think if we decide to look at work with a different perspective and attitude, it will get better over time. People will trust you more and delegate more difficult tasks for you to do. And even when you become senior, you will still have to deal with some administrative and mundane tasks. But it’s your attitude and what you decide to do about your situation that makes the difference.
If everything still doesn’t work out, you can always look for another job. But make sure that you’ve learnt and gained all that you want from your current job before moving. Make sure it’s not a whim that you change jobs but that you’ve given your job a proper chance. For example, by committing to your job for longer than just a few months and giving your best attitude. At least then you can said that you’ve tried your best but your relationship with this job just didn’t work out.
How about we try to switch the theme from work wasn’t that great to I’m learning everything I can from this job.
Hope you enjoyed the post! I would also like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. You’ll never know who else is reading your comments and might benefit from them!
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Stay fabulous & optimistic everyone!