It’s that time of year again. We’re thinking about fresh starts, new beginnings. So this post is for those of you starting out in your career, starting a new career, or finishing your college career. You get the idea. Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned quite a bit, and made my fair share of mistakes. As embarrassing as some of them may be, I thought I’d share a few with you, so that you might learn from me, rather than make those same mistakes. Hey – if some good can come from them, I feel a little bit better about having made them! I’ve also done a few things right – and what’s the point of having that knowledge if I can’t use it – and share it – with you?
Here are 5 tips for how to be a great beginner:
1. Silence is Golden. Especially when you don’t have the answers. If you’re new in a position, or are involved in a meeting about which you are not an expert, spend your time listening. Don’t ever feel pressure to speak up just because you haven’t said much. Ask questions, take notes, and let others do the talking and explaining. Not forever, mind you. I’m not recommending you keep your mouth shut from here on out. Just that you learn the role, understand the project and processes before you jump in.
2. Have No Shame. When I was a beginner in the Marketing industry, I had about 18 months under my belt as a Marketing Assistant for a global company. I switched to the agency side, wanting a more creative environment. My Role was Marketing Administrative Assistant. I was 22. I was so embarrassed of my title, that I asked that it be left off of my business card. The owner complied, but looking back, I almost wish he’d have sat me down for a little one-to-one, maybe to tell me about his first job, or about when he was 23. Almost twenty years later, I have been involved in many meetings and given many presentations where there is a beginner or assistant present. The ones that strike me are those who have confidence, but no ego, and ask great questions. So learn from my mistake, if you’d like. Be proud of your new position, learn all that you can by listening and asking questions, and you’ll find that the title on your own business card changes faster. In fact, people love to help. So if you let higher-ups know that you’re “new” they’ll likely be happy to offer advice and/or assistance.
3. Ditch Your Ego. I worked for a promotion agency that also had a very large fulfillment department. I had no idea what a fulfillment department was – much less what they did back there. But, I offered to help out during a few particularly busy time periods. I worked the assembly line, broke down boxes, counted stock, and loaded pallets. And I learned a hell of a lot about our Fulfillment division. From then on, when a client had a question about our services, or wondered how much it would cost and/or how long it would take to ship promotion kits across the country, I could, with all the confidence in the world, tell them. It was much more effective than just learning about our Fulfillment division via a PowerPoint presentation in the boardroom.
4. Prove It. When I began working on the agency side of the marketing industry, I had moved from the corporate side where things were a little mundane for me, but the pay was better. So, if I was going to make a career move, I’d have to take a cut in pay. I thought it would be worth it, but I didn’t want to lose too much money. I had just bought a house and was engaged to be married in a few months. I needed the income! That said, I really felt I could do well in the position, and was willing to prove myself. So, when I was offered the position, but told that my salary requirements couldn’t be met (I would be making $3,000 less a year, which was significant to me), I thought about it for a minute. And then I offered a compromise. I would gladly take the beginner position, but in six months, if they were happy with my work, I’d like to receive an increase in pay to bring me back to my original asking salary. They agreed. And six months later, I was not only given the $3k, but an additional $1k – their way of saying that they really did appreciate my willingness to prove myself – and that I had not only met, but exceeded, their expectations.
5. I Implore You… Use New-Found Fancy Industry Lingo in Moderation. You know these folks, right? The ones who use the biggest words they can muster, and every bit of industry jargon at their disposal? At first, they might sound smart – intimidating even – but give it a few minutes and you’ll realize that they’re not really saying anything. Heck, there have been several occasions when I’ve questioned whether even they knew what the hell they were talking about. Keep it simple folks. In speaking and writing, use the simplest language. Not because your audience is filled with idiots (whether that’s true or not, I can’t say), but because your goal is to teach, to communicate, not to dazzle them with your four syllable words and ridiculous turns of phrase. Don’t let these people intimidate you into thinking you have to speak the same way. I liken it to buying a massive house and living with crushing debt so that everyone thinks you’ve “arrived.” Just be yourself. Don’t fake it for the sake of impressing the rest of them.
We all started somewhere. What advice can you share with beginners from your own experiences? Here’s to new beginnings… and a successful 2014!