After graduating college with a 3.7, I was convinced that working in the real world was going to be a piece of cake. After all, I was taught theories on how to identify an organization’s mission statement, how they differentiate themselves from competitors and what makes them successful.
Once I started working, it didn’t take me long to realize that most employers didn’t really care if I could solve a complex Calculus III problem or prepare a great SWOT analysis on Chipotle. Instead, they wanted practical ways to better serve clients, get work done more efficiently and to do things that customers are happy to pay for. If you’re getting ready to start your first job—or you know someone who is—maybe these 5 lessons that I learned on my first big girl job will help you too.
1. Be the boss of yourself.
In college, I was always told what I should do, whether it was going to be covered in a course, which classes I needed to take to graduate or what I needed to do get an A on a paper.
I work for a marketing research and consulting firm. One of my jobs is to help recruit people for focus groups. We would always have to recruit an extra 4-5 participants because some people would not show up to the meeting. To get more people to show up, I created a new process that included confirmation emails, reminder emails, phone calls the day before and a text message the morning of the meeting. I even found inexpensive software to help me complete these tasks. Now, it’s rare for someone not to show up and if they’re going to cancel, they call to apologize for not showing up.
On the job, if you wait for someone to always tell you what to do, you’ll exhaust your boss and convince them to hire someone else. The sooner I started solving problems before they became big issues, understanding what we are really trying to accomplish on a project and coming up with valuable ideas that someone hadn’t thought about yet, the more valuable I became to my company.
2. Clients are people, so treat them with respect.
When I was in school, no one ever explained how much was involved in actually serving clients. It’s a lot more work than I initially thought.
It all starts with your attitude. If you think of your clients as your friends, then it’s easy to understand what you need to do. On many occasions, I would get a request to do something after-hours or on the weekends. Instead of waiting until Monday, I would try to do it right away, especially if it wasn’t going to take very long to do, like editing a questionnaire or changing a graph in a report. This is how I treat my friends and it’s working pretty well with my clients.
I’ve learned that being a good listener, accurately summarizing my client’s situation and always trying to exceed their expectations pays big dividends. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.
3. Talk less. Do more.
Academics love lots of words. In school, reports and presentations came with minimum length requirements, forcing me to include as many details as possible to barely reach the bottom of that 9th page. Unfortunately, I never learned how to get my point across quickly.
At work, my boss said, “Anyone can write a complicated sentence with big words that confuses almost everyone. It’s more difficult to write short, high-impact sentences that everyone can understand.” Boy, was he right. I’ve been practicing, but is a lesson i’m still learning. I now believe that getting to the point quickly and simply creates a strong, credible and intelligent point.
4. I’m constantly amazed how dumb I was two weeks ago.
When I graduated, I thought most of my formal learning was complete. I thought wrong.
Who knew that basic programs like Excel and PowerPoint could be so powerful and do 100 times the amount of work I could get them to do in college. Here’s a PowerPoint slide from college that I thought was great.
Here’s one I did this week.
At this rate, a couple of weeks from now, I’ll figure out how to make my current slides even better.
5. Selling is everyone’s job.
“You should go into sales!” was a phrase I heard all the time in school. Like many others, I was never 100% sure what I wanted to do in business, but I did know it wasn’t sales.
Nonetheless after entering the real world, I soon found out there was no escaping it. Every business needs clients and projects to survive and it’s easier when everyone is helping to find them. Who knew that my old boyfriends’ parents could become future clients. Hey, I’m doing what I can to bring in business (by the way, if you know anyone I should be talking with, let me know).
College was great. Working is even better. I think I’m starting to get the hang of how to transition from one to the other and I can’t wait to see what’s next.