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Work, work, work

This is a guest blog by Haider Ali

Work, work, work

No, I am not quoting Rihanna. I’m actually talking about starting out your career.

As an apprentice who started their first proper job at 18 for a multinational company, it’s fair to say that the transition from the education system to the workplace was a daunting one.

Being the eldest child of immigrant parents who hadn’t worked conventional 9-5s, I didn’t have the privilege of knowing what to expect from the workplace or how to effectively navigate it. I’m sure there are many other young people in similar positions so I want to share 10 key lessons from my own personal experiences to help you thrive.

  1. Common sense is actually not that common.  Believe it or not, common sense is a valuable skill in the workplace. You’ll find yourself in many scenarios where someone presents a problem that they can’t solve and you think ‘isn’t the answer to that just…?’ Don’t be afraid to state these simple solutions; they are often the most effective ones. The chances are what’s ‘obvious’ to you isn’t so obvious to someone else. Use your common sense to help you problem solve where you might lack technical knowledge on a matter.
  2. Your attitude to work will take you further than the work itself. Your attitude speaks volumes about your character and is how people will know the type of employee you are. Always see challenges as opportunities to grow and succeed rather than to stumble and fail. Be mindful of the energy that you put out when approaching work rather than getting consumed in just doing it.

  3. Don’t be so dramatic. Having a bad day at work is not you failing at your career and it doesn’t mean you need to think about quitting your job. When you start working, you’ll have good days as well as bad ones. It’s completely normal to acknowledge you’re not having the best day without thinking your life is falling apart.  

  4. Stay inquisitiveAsking questions is the difference between someone who knows how to do their job and someone who knows both how to do it and why they’re doing it. A company’s processes are like jigsaw pieces so whether you are working in IT, Finance, HR or anywhere else, connections can be made which give you a holistic view of an organisation’s activity. The better you are able to put the pieces together the more satisfaction you’ll get from your job and the more value you can bring to the table. Suddenly, that slightly dull Excel spreadsheet becomes an instrumental tool to your organisation. Knowledge is power.

  5. Set and enforce clear boundariesFor young and driven newcomers, you may feel like every task you’re assigned with is an urgent one which means doing it right there and then. Whilst some tasks require a quick turnaround, others require less urgency. Get into the habit of always checking the timeframe with your manager to know how long you have to get things done. Looking back, there were so many times where I was working extra hours on tasks I thought had to be done today that could’ve easily waited till tomorrow. Try to stick as close to your core hours as you can, whilst remaining flexible and committed, but always know when to cut-off from the job. Work-life boundaries are essential for your mental health so don’t let them get blurry unnecessarily.

  6. The art of time management. Your time is currency so learning how to spend it properly when working is super important. Start your day off right by spending a few minutes listing your high priority actions for the day before rushing into all the admin. Avoiding multi-tasking is also key as studies find it actually reduces your productivity by as much as 40%. Keep things simple. You’ll start to notice how much more you are able to get out of your working day.

  7. Never be too proud to ask for help. When starting out, it’s impossible to know everything so you will naturally find yourselves tasked with things you may not feel like you fully understand. Let someone know sooner rather than later. Nobody is judging you or thinks you are any less intelligent. If anything, they will appreciate your honesty and see that maybe they could’ve explained things a little better themselves.

  8. Enjoy the journey, not just the milestones. Whilst you may have your eyes set on being a senior manager by age X and want to scramble up the so-called career ladder, take time to pause and appreciate your growth every once in a while. You usually find that your current situation is where you dreamed of being a year ago. Appreciate these smaller wins as much as the bigger ones.

  9. Embrace the organisational culture. Whilst there are broad similarities in the British working culture, there are also many nuanced cultural elements specific to the company you are working for. It will take time to get to learn these but it’s important that you do, so that you are able to navigate through organisations by understanding ‘the way we do things around here’.

  10. Don’t just work. Network. Whilst this term is often overused, networking is crucial to success. I find that networking is most effective when you don’t realise you are actually doing it. Saying you are ‘going to network’ is very rigid and doesn’t allow you to form organic connections and relationships with people. Simply put, it’s really just about keeping an open mind and going out of your comfort zone to interact with new people. It’s a great way to help you find mentors/coaches who can help in bringing out your potential and also a smart way to get your name out there as a new starter. So many fantastic opportunities I’ve had at work have been off the back of networking

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