By Benita Aalto (Indspire)
Meet Taylor, a brand-new college grad with a brand-new job at an engineering firm. She wants to make a good impression so she asked to take on additional responsibilities, including writing a sector overview. Taylor spent the past four years writing essays, so she’s sure she can handle it. But there are problems: Taylor is used to leaving things to the last minute and still getting good grades – but her boss wants a detailed work plan and regular check-in meetings. Her coworkers haven’t asked her out to lunch since her first day, and Taylor’s worried no one likes her. Barely a month into her new job, Taylor feels unhappy and lost.
Could Taylor be you? Making the transition from student life to the working world can be tricky. The skills that were badges of honour – like pounding back Red Bulls till 4 a.m. to finish an assignment on time and still getting an A+ – don’t always earn you points in the workplace.
So how do you make the transition smoothly? And what do you do when the path gets rocky?
Suzanne Petryshyn is a chartered mediator, the CEO of Brain Jacks Inc. in Lethbridge, AB, and a mentor of Indigenous post-secondary students through the Rivers to Success: Mentoring Indigenous Youth program offered by Indspire, the largest private funder of Indigenous education. She thinks that new grads need to learn how to shift their thinking from “I” to “we” when they enter the workplace.
Move from “I” to “we”
“Team engagement is important: it’s not just about you getting a good mark; it’s about what we’re working on together,” says Petryshyn.
The irony is that you won’t necessarily impress your boss by being a standalone star but rather by how you position yourself within the company. “Even if you’re the only person in your department, remember that you are part of a larger team. Everything is interrelated,” she says.
You might think, “But I don’t want to answer phones for the rest of my life; I want to do something more senior.” Petryshyn agrees that having a larger vision for your career is important but advises new hires to make long-term mastery the goal.
“I coach volleyball, and I tell the kids: ‘Play your position, master that position, and be at the top of that position,’” says Petryshyn. “So at work, if your position is answering the phone, how can you be the best at that?”
Get into the habit of being strategic with all of your activities at work, even answering the phone.
Don’t confuse productivity with progress
If you work best under pressure, with a deadline looming and the Red Bull flowing, that’s a useful skill at a new job, right? Wrong.
“The manic state and procrastination are bad habits, even if they got you good grades at school,” says Petryshyn. “Pay attention to your habits, because bad habits can hide in plain sight: you’re not producing your best work if you take five days to do a project that needed three months.
“We confuse productivity with progress, and being productive doesn’t mean we’re progressing in our career.”
Be present and authentic
One of the perks of going to school is the chance to meet new people from all over your town, province or even other countries, and make friends. But starting a new job is not the same as starting a new class.
While it’s not wise to equate coworkers with friends or family, nobody wants to work with – or become – a robot with a resume. Petryshyn advises young employees simply to be human, which she defines as “being present and authentic.”
For example, instead of feeling neglected by her coworkers, Taylor could have taken the initiative and asked them out for coffee or lunch, too. What she interpreted as a lack of interest could simply be busyness; not everyone has time to make the new kid feel settled.
And by checking her assumptions first, Petryshyn says, Taylor would not only be being present and authentic, but she would also be giving herself a tool that is useful in conflict resolution, which is an important skill in the workplace.
Petryshyn offers these tools for being professional when managing conflict: “Unmask your assumption (i.e.: ‘They’re excluding me on purpose’), then probe it (‘Is this a consistent behaviour that they do, or is it an attitude I have about them?’); then check with the other person to see if your assessment is accurate and negotiate a positive outcome (‘I feel like I should be part of those meetings; what’s the best way for me to keep in the loop?’).”
Remember: it’s not about the shoes
“Everyone says ‘Be professional’ but no one really explains what that is – and wearing the right suit or shoes isn’t it,” she says.
Spend the first few weeks observing and listening to figure out the corporate culture to see how you fit into their matrix, and check in with your own gut feelings, too.
The bottom line? Your job wouldn’t exist if the company didn’t need you, so work smart and shine.
Are you an Indigenous post-secondary student in your last year of school? A professional mentor can help you get ready for your first job. Visit indspire.ca/rivers to learn how you can be matched to a mentor.