I am coming up on my 2 year anniversary of being in my career and I began to look back on how far I have come. I had many struggles in my first job role. I was first an intern and then once I had graduated from college I was able to get a full time position in my field at the same company that I interned at. I have been in my full-time role for a year now and I started to think back when I was an intern and the struggles that I had experienced. Starting a new job is never easy and we will all have stories that have shaped us and helped us learn along the way. None of us like to make mistakes and we wish that we could hit the ground running and be full of knowledge, but that’s nearly never the case. Luckily, there are always ways to conquer these struggles. Below are 5 common struggles and advice on how to conquer them.
~Not Knowing Expectations~
One of the hardest things I ran into was not knowing my new boss’s expectations. I did not have a mentor that I could ask and at that time our department was quite small. Sometimes, my boss would call me into her office and ask for help on a project and not give me much direction on exactly what she needed. I didn’t have much experience at this point and so I would go back to my desk, work really hard on this task and with much pride I would tell my boss I was done, only to have her explain it wasn’t what she wanted. I would feel defeated and honestly, pretty bad about myself. But, I realized something important that I was doing wrong. I wasn’t thinking about what she needed or about the bigger picture. The only thing I was thinking about was how I could get this task completed accurately. The next time my boss called me into her office, I asked different questions. I started to ask what she needed the information for and I learned whether this information was to be reported to another person or if it was for internal purposes. This helped me to understand the information better and what her expectations were. Another important thing I did was setting up a meeting with my boss to have a progress review. I would write out a list of the tasks that I was responsible for and I would rate myself first. I would ask myself if I thought I was meeting the mark or if I thought I could do better in other areas. Then, I asked my boss where she thought I ranked. This helped me to understand myself and my boss much better.
~Being Afraid of Asking Questions~
Being in a new role and being surrounded by people I didn’t know yet was very intimidating. I felt like a outsider and I didn’t want to ask too many questions to annoy my new coworkers, but at the same time I was starving to learn new things. I remember a project that was very challenging and had a lot of visibility higher up. I was so nervous about this project and I didn’t have much direction on it. At this point, I was still very new and didn’t have a lot of responsibilities yet so I knew this was my chance to prove myself. I had so many questions, but in reality I was just very intimidated by it and didn’t even have any specific questions at that point. I just wanted to go into my boss’s office and ask “What the heck do I do with this?”. Thankfully, I decided to compose myself instead and I pulled out a notebook and multiple highlighters to try and decipher this new project. I first began to write a list of questions and see which ones I could answer on my own. I remember literally writing a question that said “what the heck is this?”. I began to pull pieces together on my own. Then, I wrote down things I knew and things I still didn’t know. Most of the things that were on my list of questions, just needed clarification from my boss. Now, I had a list of intelligent questions that I could ask my boss that she was able to answer in a matter of minutes. Using all of the resources I had helped me to understand the task more deeply resulting in less questions later on.
It is inevitable to make mistakes at some point in our career, especially in the beginning. The important part is to know that all mistakes are just opportunities to learn. I remember making a pretty big mistake in the first few weeks of my internship. I had misunderstood a deadline and missed it. It was something that needed to be reported to the head of our department and the fact that I missed the deadline was holding up a meeting with the heads of all departments for our company. I got a call early in the morning and realized I had made a huge mistake. I wanted to crawl under my desk and cry, but I knew that I had to let my boss know what happened and figure out quickly how I could solve the problem. The most important thing when making a mistake is to just being honest. We are all human and none of us are perfect. If we are honest and up front, the outcome is typically much more positive then if we tried to cover it up. So, I told my boss about what happened and told her that I will get started on it right away and send it as soon as I was done. She understood when I told her it was an honest mistake and that I misunderstood the deadline. Luckily, everything worked out, but I took away an important lesson. From then on, I decided to always repeat back when a deadline was or to get it in writing in an email so it wouldn’t happen again. The important thing is to not make the same mistake twice.
One of the most frequent struggles for me in the beginning of my internship was being bored. I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities at first and there weren’t any tasks that I was taking over from another intern since I was the first intern the department had had for a while. I would get discouraged at first, but then I decided that I could change it. I started to listen to my coworkers and make it my task for the day to understand what they were working on. I started looking around in files and making copies of them so I could write notes on them and try to figure things out on my own. This not only helped me to stop watching the clock, but it helped me form relationships with my coworkers. I started to ask questions about what they were working on and felt like I could contribute to the conversations they were having because I understood it more. Another important tip is to start to talk to people. Typically, if people like what they do, they are happy to talk about what they do and answer any questions. I started to talk to other managers to get their take on an issue or even ask if there was anyway I could help. I asked my coworkers almost every day if they needed any help and little by little I started to get more and more responsibilities.
~Fear of Not Knowing~
When I started my internship, I wanted to know all there was to know about my job. I was scared of what I didn’t know. It wasn’t until a few months into my career that I realized that it just takes time. Since it was a small department that I worked in, there was a lot of work to be done with not a lot of people. I would sometimes be thrown into a meeting by myself and not really know what people were talking about. At first, I would freeze if someone asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to. I would feel really bad about not knowing and I would apologize. I didn’t really feel useful. Then, I began the realize that it was fine to not know things. I was just starting out and if I knew all the answers then I would never be challenged. I started to write notes in every meeting I went to. (I filled 3 composition notebooks front to back in my first year of being an intern. I wrote and still continue to write ALOT). I would write down what the meeting was about and any questions that I had. Typically, as the meeting went on I could fill in the answers to my questions and any leftover questions I could ask after the meeting was done. When I was asked a question and I didn’t know the answer I wouldn’t apologize anymore, I would just write down the question, and make it my mission to get the answer — both because I was curious and because I wanted to make the impression that I could be trusted to get the answer. Soon, I was able to start answering some of the questions that people had and I started to learn more and more and at a quicker rate because I adopted this habit.
Overall, my biggest advice I could give is to not get discouraged. There is almost always a solution to whatever struggle you are going through. There is always someone who is going through the same struggle and is more than willing to give advice on how to make it better.
I hope that you enjoyed this article about conquering struggles in your first career. Follow my blog for more tips each week. Feel free to send me any questions!