My friend once summed up the newbie work experience in one sentence: “long hours, crap pay, no social life… but an amazing experience.” It’s pretty true. Entry level is where you pay your dues, but you want to use this time to learn, quickly. A VP who I previously worked for at a marketing agency once referred to a team of interns we hired for a project as “the marketing bozos.” Yikes! This is NOT a group you want to fall into. You should work hard and stand out, and soon you’ll go from Newbie to being the managing partner’s Right Hand.
Follow these tips and you’ll soon find yourself championing key projects and working with a team of allies.
1. Healthy paranoia is totally legit.
While working on a recent project, I noticed a detail that I suspected might be inconsistent in different communications. I looked into it, and although it was only a minor tweak, I took steps to make sure that we created a standard to follow for all future projects, not just the ones immediately affected. If you’re unsure about something, look into it more. If you’ve done all you can but it’s still unclear, talk to a member of your team. If it turns out to be nothing, great. If not, then you’ve nipped a potential issue in the bud, and people will take notice of your effort.
2. Would you stake your life on it?
This is a question you should always be asking yourself when you prepare to submit a piece of work. Critical self-review is often the only thing you can do to guard your professional reputation. Every time you do anything, even as small as sending an email, always ask yourself if the information is completely correct. Is it really? Would you stake your life on it? If not, go back and check it. Do what you need to do to submit perfect work every time.
3. Manage up...
Always remember that the only reason you were hired is because your superiors needed your help. I send out a status report at the end of every single work day, including a to-do list for each of my directors to know what my upcoming priorities are, and what I need from them in order to get these tasks done.
4. …But be covert about it!
I’ve been lucky to enjoy great management at the places I’ve worked at, but I know a lot of people have dealt with less-than-competent superiors. Never, I repeat, NEVER communicate with your higher-ups in a way that might show them you feel this way. Always use a kind and helpful tone.
5. Assert your autonomy with humility.
Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that you can charge in like a bull and suggest that you’re the hero the company needs. DO take steps to show your team that you’re capable of handling a range of responsibilities. DO set up a time with your team leader to discuss a process that just isn’t working. And DO suggest implementing new solutions backed by well-researched plans. Individual initiative will make you stand out and will prevent your managers from feeling the need to breathe down your neck.
6. Keep calm and carry on.
We’ve all had one of those days that are downright ugly. I’m talking about an endless to-do list of high-priority jobs, more stress than a room full of students about to write an exam, and by the end of the day you haven’t had a bite to eat. To top this off, you’ve been walking around with a giant ink stain on your sleeve since 10 a.m., and someone a few desks over keeps clicking their pen. You want to seem like you’ve got everything under control, but right now you’re a ticking time bomb. STOP. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Remember that funny thing your friend said last week that made you laugh until your sides ached. Now open your eyes, stay cool, put on a smile and power through like the champ you are.
7. Don’t leave the credit up for grabs.
It’s not a competition (at least is shouldn’t be), but it’s important to make your accomplishments known. There are some great ways to do this.
I) Frame it as a compliment to someone else: “When I brought up my solution to the development issue, Tommy was really great about getting me in touch with the IT team.”
(II) Be the first to bring it up with a superior: “Hi Linda, I was just talking to the team about a great idea I had for the new product launch and I’d like to know your thoughts on it.”
(III) Own your successes, even if someone else tries to take it: Jill says, “We’re happy to report that we’ve resolved the budgeting issue and are doing well moving into the next phase of the project.” Then YOU add, “It’s great news for the whole team! I worked closely with accounting to find out how the estimate was built and to ensure that we use the same standards moving forward. We’re all very excited about Phase Two and can’t wait to dive in.”
8. Keep an eye out for haircuts.
I’m serious. Take notice of a person’s new cut or style and compliment it. You’ll not only be in that person’s good books, you’ll be on the front page.
9. Avoid feeling like the coffee runner.
Interns are sometimes sent out to get coffee. That’s just how it works. But if you want to be treated less like a coffee-runner and more like one of the team, hop out for an afternoon coffee and call the office to ask if anyone wants a latté while you’re there. You won’t feel ordered around because the coffee was your suggestion, and people will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
10. “It’s already done and on your desk.”
This is music to any manager’s ears, and one of the fastest ways to make yourself indispensable to the company. If you want your managers to see you as an asset rather than a burden, say this and say it often. Even if your work needs some serious tweaking, it’ll be greatly outshone by your initiative and pro-activity.