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Lessons learned as a “newbie” in the professional world, and why it matters.

This week’s thought leadership piece is a tad less formal and also more personal, written from the perspective of a professional person in-the-making. The purpose of this article is to provide some insight into the aspects of the working world which you never truly learn in school and merely get a glimpse of at tertiary-level education.

Here is a list of some valuable lessons learned during the first year of full-time, real-world, honest to goodness, work:

Lesson 1: You can be the most qualified person “on paper” and study until you need corrective eye-wear, but once you enter the working world, your theoretical knowledge can only bring you so far. That does not mean that education is not incredibly important – it is most certainly one of the most fundamental components of becoming qualified and making any meaningful contributions to your field. However, as an experienced colleague used to say: “You need to experience walking through the mud,” so to speak, to gain an appreciation for and an understanding of the field you work in. There is a great deal to be said about the value of gaining practical experience and working your way up from the bottom of the ladder.

Lesson 2: Practical experience gives you a lesson on how the world works, but continuous learning is the key to staying up to date in an ever-changing world. Always be open to new experiences, make a point of staying up to date with current affairs, reading books or blogs about the field you work in and doing courses or attending seminars on topics that interest you. A great woman at Thinkroom once set the goal for herself to do at least one course each year to facilitate continuous learning, and she has become the go-to person at the office for everything from knowing where to find the best stationery to how to best approach the toughest of project management endeavours.

Lesson 3: First impressions matter and so does your appearance. This can be one of the hardest lessons to learn if you come from a more laid-back student environment where short shorts and poorly thought-through tattoos are the order of the day. Nobel Prize winner and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman wrote about first impressions in his book Thinking Fast and Slow: “When the handsome and confident speaker bounds onto the stage, you can anticipate that the audience will judge his comments more favourably than he deserves.” In psychological terms, this is called the Halo Effect. You could be the most competent, intelligent person in the room, but if you do not “look or act the part”, your talents may very well be overlooked. Take some time to work on your presentation skills, your posture, the tone of your voice when communicating with others and even your wardrobe – by looking and acting the part, people may place greater credence on the work you do and the ideas you share. It may not be entirely fair, but it is human nature to judge books by their covers.

Lesson 4: Having the right attitude is part and parcel of making a good impression, but it also plays a role in the more lasting opinions that people form of you. An employer would place greater trust in someone who is willing to put in the extra effort and who does not fumble when faced with a challenge. Having a can-do attitude is also personally beneficial in the sense that it could alleviate the stress associated with facing a challenging situation. The next time you get the urge to say “I don’t know”, rather respond with something like “Let me find out.” This is not to say that you should be a push-over and become a “Yes-man”, but it certainly means that you should try to be more mindful of the ways in which you approach your work.

Lesson 5: Do not wait on others in your organisation to present you with opportunities – take initiative and show ‘em what you’re made of. With that being said, not all of your ideas will necessarily be well received, but not all your ideas will be shot down either. Superiors like pro-active employees who can think for themselves, who can solve problems and who are willing to find things out rather than to say “I don’t know.”

Lesson 6: Find a mentor or role model, whether formal or informal, to help you navigate the rocky terrain of the business world. It is always a little easier when you have someone who has “been there and done that” to show you the ropes, even if you merely observe someone in your organisation whom you admire or from whom you can learn.

Lesson 7: Continuously reflect on your work; how it enhances or detracts from your wellbeing and your vision for the future version of yourself. Always ask yourself whether you are learning and growing from your experiences at work, whether it will lead you to success (whatever success may mean to you) and whether you are producing the quality of work of which you can be proud. If you find that you are no longer learning or developing, both personally and professionally, you may want to start questioning whether you are in the right place or surrounded by the right people and/or opportunities. Don’t run away at the first sign of distress, but to quote our fearless Thinkroom leader: “If you dread going to work on a Monday more often than you are energised by the thought, you are not in the right place.”

Lesson 8: Do not compromise on your values. If the organisation you work for requires you to become a hardened robot set for world domination, while you are a fun-loving person who loves wearing Mickey Mouse t-shirts and petting kittens in your spare time, you will have a difficult time adjusting. It is important to remain open to changing when it is to the benefit of your personal and professional development, such as learning to speak your mind in a meeting where you usually tend to be shy and reserved among others or to stop wearing your emotions on your sleeve while at work. But when it comes to the hard-hitting, fundamental parts of yourself, no amount of money in the world is worth compromising your morals and values for – at the end of the day, you have to live with the decisions you make.

Lesson 9: The value of building good relationships cannot be overstated; whether it is the CEO of a large organisation or with the receptionist at a client’s office. Anyone could become a resource in some or other way, even if it is just to see a friendly face after a tough meeting.

Lesson 10: Finding a job is easier than keeping one, especially if you are a Millennial who grew up being spoon-fed by your parents and teachers your entire life. Your future is what you make of it, so you can have the best education, the greatest ideas, the most supportive working environment and truly look the part, but without a can-do attitude, a hunger to learn what you do not yet know and a willingness to improve upon the gaps in your skillset, you might as well make peace with the fact that your potential will be wasted and “successful” will be a word you use to describe other people.

So, to summarise:


These lessons matter because they provide insight into some of the struggles faced by newcomers to the working world - they may even give the reader some hints on what is to come or tell the story of things that once were. We all experience some challenges on the road to building our reputations and advancing in our careers, however, these challenges may be overcome more easily by remaining mindful of and responsive to the things that may stand in the way of our success.