This post was first featured on The Next Great Generation. Check it out…it has articles by much better writers than me.
Five months ago, I started a real job. One with an office and coworkers and everything else that makes a job a “job.” No more sitting on Twitter and Facebook all day and no more working remotely from home or the nearest coffee shop.
But I survived week one… and two, and three. Nearly a year after graduating, I finally feel like I’m successfully leaping over that giant chasm between college and professional life. The first months of a new job are filled with terror, excitement, confusion, and promise. You can either enter the fetal position and shake until it’s over, or, you can face it head on and try to learn something from it. Here are some tips for surviving and thriving in your new job.
There is no way you can get through the first week of something new when you’re constantly worrying about all the things you don’t know. Accept a certain amount of disorientation (physically and mentally) when you enter something new. You’re going to get lost, turned around, confused, and uncomfortable. You might as well embrace it. Knowledge will come.
Ask Questions and ALWAYS Ask For Help
The only way to stop being lost is to get directions. Ask for help when you’ve lost your way, ask for clarification when you’re confused, ask someone to repeat something when you didn’t catch the message. You’ll appear enthusiastic and others will know that you’re interested and excited about this new experience. At first, this wasn’t easy for me. I’m the type of person who wants to figure things out for myself and seldom asks for help, but I realized that I had to ask for help when I needed it. Missing deadlines because you’re too stubborn or proud to ask for assistance is just plain stupid.
Get to Know Your Coworkers
Go ahead and tell stories about your glory days in college, tell NSFW jokes, and let your coworkers get to know the “real” you… after a while. When you start out, keep it clean, keep it safe, and keep it professional. Get acclimated to the job and the people you work with before you bust out the keg-stand stories and salty language. This isn’t to say you can’t show off your true personality, just understand that work-land is different from the dorm room and act accordingly.
Remember That Everyone Is In the Same Boat
Everyone else who is new is feeling the exact same way you are. They’re going to need just as much help as you. And if you’re the only new person, just remember that you’re not the first one. What you’re feeling isn’t strange, it’s just a byproduct of entering a new environment: Everyone’s running around trying to figure out what their place is, how they fit into the big picture, and if they’re going to make any friends. Just like you. And you know what? They made it. You will too.
Fake It Till You Make It
Above all, just jump in the deep end. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You’ll quickly learn that the waters will keep rising; it’s either sink or swim, and it’s much preferable to tread water for a little bit than sink straight to Davey Jones’ Locker. Take on responsibilities you aren’t sure you can handle. It’s the only way you’ll grow as a professional and as a human being. As the quote from Mad Men goes, “This is America…Pick a job and then become the person that does it.”
Eventually, things will make sense. You’ll either be happy at your job or you’ll be miserable and get another job. It’s really that easy. With these five tips, you should be able to survive the murky waters of a first “real-world” job with flying colors.
Things are changing in my little neighborhood of blog-town. This is as much an explanation for what to expect out of me in the future as it is a reminder to Future Tom about the person I was. Bear with me, all 14 of you.
I’ve spent the last six or so months entrenched in a tiny bubble of the internet known as “ad-land.” I have learned a ton about advertising, social media, and marketing during this period because it’s my current passion. I like that in advertising you’re (theoretically) judged based on the quality of your ideas and your ability to make stuff. I like that good advertising can help shape pop culture. I want to be a part of that, so the last six months have been spent looking for a way to get my foot in the door of the advertising industry. It’s not an easy door to get into unless you have agency experience or a connection opens it for you.
Instead of zigging along on that path and waiting for the right ad job to pop up, I’m zagging. In a few days, I’m headed back to Madison, Wisconsin to be a Project Manager for a healthcare software company called Epic (cool name, right?).
It’s a huge change from what I’m used to. Since graduating, I’ve telecommuted to a PR firm in Houston. Working remotely is a strange experience, and it’s much different than working at an office (I wrote about it for The Next Great Generation. Check it out). I’ve never worked in a “real office” for a “real job” before, so it’ll be an interesting world to jump into.
Starting the new job creates a whirlwind of contradictory feelings. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s an overwhelming relief that I was finally able to get a great full-time job. It’s unexpected. It’s an amazing chance to learn new things, gain some new skills, and grow as a person. It’s also a little sad, because I’m going to have to give up a certain amount of writing, reading blogs, and tweeting.
But that doesn’t mean I have to (or am willing to) quit cold turkey. I’m still going to be that person who will be all-too eager to tell you which agency created that ad campaign and what I think of it. I’m still going to write whenever I get the chance, and a lot of it will still be about advertising and social media. Hell, maybe even some of my posts will be about non-advertising topics, like working with teams and all the new things I’m learning. I’m still going to read as many ad blogs as I can, and I’m still going to tweet about stupid things, interesting things, fun things, and funny things.
Basically, you’re still stuck with me. You just have to put up with less of me. Who knows, someday I’ll zag again and end up having a part in creating the ads I can’t stop rambling about. Only time will tell.
Wish me luck, folks. I might need it.
Hunter S. Thompson was a comet. The Good Doctor was the type of person that you only come across every few decades, the type who burns the earth with originality, passion, and talent. Someone who listens to his heart and does only what he wants. A true one-of-a-kind, a perpetual black sheep. We should all try to be comets.
Anywho, I enjoy Hunter S. Thompson’s particular brand of in-your-face writing. I like seeing people break the rules and succeed. It was a delight to come across a cover letter he wrote to the Vancouver Sun in 1958 and see that he even wrote his job applications in this manner. I think we can learn a lot about careers, the job hunt, and life in general from Hunter S. Thompson.
Forget everything you know about writing cover letters
I’ll never understand why we’re taught to fit in when we’re in school. In college, I was required to take a class devoted to “professional writing,” and we were taught how to create a cookie-cutter cover letter. It’s like they were setting us up to fail. The whole point of a cover letter is to STAND OUT from the mess of equally-qualified people. Hunter S. Thompson understood that. As you can see from his cover letter, he hit all the necessary spots: Who he was, what he expected from the job, what they could expect from him, and that he would like to work for them. That’s it. The rest is up to you. Forget what they taught you and start trying to stand out….it’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere in this world.
Pioneer new career frontiers
If the world isn’t giving you a viable career option, make one up. Gonzo journalism, a subjective, first-person-narrative form of journalism, didn’t exist before Thompson. He immersed himself in the world of his subjects and walked a mile in their shoes (or rode, as was the case in Hell’s Angels) and ended up creating his career. It is a form of journalism rooted in the idea that the story is more important than getting all the facts right, that true objectivity is a myth. Many bloggers write in that style today, and it’s more entertaining, informative, and trustworthy than most of the so-called “objective news” out there.
The point is this:You don’t have to try to fit into an existing career path. If you have a vision of what you want to do, but it’s different from any career you’ve heard of, make it up. Have enough confidence in yourself to create your own career. Hunter S. Thompson was filled with millennial spirit; our generation has created a lot of jobs where none had previously existed. Mark Zuckerberg created his own frontier with Facebook, and there are many other examples of successful Gen Y entrepreneurs on and off the internet.
If there’s any lasting message I can take from Hunter S. Thompson’s life, it’s this: Listen to your inner voice and screw the rules. I can’t stress that enough. It’s true that you can follow the herd and survive, but to really live you have to figure out how to trust your own ideas. Like he said in his novel “The Rum Diary,”
“Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right.”
It’s not an easy road to take, and you’ll certainly have your enemies because of it, but it’s the only way to live.
Obviously, Hunter S. isn’t the best role model. He did a ton of drugs and was by all accounts an asshole, and in the end he took his own life. You could live for a hundred lifetimes and still not be as much of a badass as this guy was. But you can learn a lot from people who truly listen to their inner voice and have reckless disregard for social norms. Trust your instincts, follow your own path, and forget the rules. Be a comet like Hunter S. Thompson.
What do you think: Was Hunter S. Thompson a raving lunatic, visionary, or both?
In less than 45 days, I will no longer be a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I will have graduated from the School of Business with a double major in Marketing and MHR-Management. At this point, I’ll have graduated without finding a permanent “real-person” job. Let’s just all let life sink in for a second.
People keep asking me if I’m ready to graduate, if I’m excited for whatever comes next, etc etc. I never have any idea how to answer them because there are so many emotions associated with it: fear, anticipation, exhiliration, fun, sadness…pretty much all of the above. Most of all, an overwhelming sense of confusion is the way I guess I could describe it, because after graduation life is just one big uncertainty at this point.
I’ve had my fair share of fun (and your share, too) in the last four years and I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things in class. But, more than academics, I think the learning has been going on outside of the classroom. Things you learn when you aren’t attempting to learn seem more relevant to me: time management, budgeting, social skills, stress management. These aren’t usually things I would associate with school, though most of them are applicable to the classroom as well.
The point is, while I’m not discounting what I’ve learned from school, I’ve learned a whole lot more about myself and my abilties on my down-time.
What’s Next. I have no idea, and most of the people I’ve talked to have no idea either. I would venture to say 75% of the people I know who are looking for post-grad “real-person” work are stilll searching, still applying, still interviewing. With less than 45 days left, we’re scrambling. We’re scared, confused, and uncertain. Still, we’ve survived 4 years at UW and lived to tell about it, so we shouldn’t be. We’re intelligent, we’re talented, and we’re adaptable. That should be about enough for anyone to want us.
This all being said, here are a few things I’ve learned.
- Interviewing is like bad speed-dating. You go in, talk to a person you’ve never met about yourself for a half-hour, and then hope they ask you for a second date. There’s a fair share of awkward pauses, forced laughter, and plenty of fake smiles. All of this is done hoping you’ll somehow make a connection and will begin a long-term relationship.
- Applying for jobs is a crapshoot. Half of the jobs you want, you’ll never hear from. There are scam jobs out there, preying on people like us. It’s a minefield, people, and we’re all on our own.
- There’s got to be a better way to get a job. Interviews and resumes just encourage us to lie, embellish, and generally act fake. This is all fine and well for speed-dating, but just will lead to disappointment when they learn you aren’t who you say you are. With all of the blogs, social media sites, etc available we should be able to be ourselves. People could learn more about me from my facebook, twitter, and writing than through “tell me about a time when…” questions.
I think I like the idea of writing again, so maybe next entry will be something about our generation, the so-called “millenials.” There’s a lot to be said.