I was the world’s worst intern.
I hoped to turn my DC internship into the beginning of a great career. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans. When I got my personalized photo of me and the Congressman at the conclusion of the internship, it said, “Thanks for the visit.” You read that right – a full summer spent making all the wrong moves punctuated with a message roughly translated to, “Please don’t come back.”
As I said, I was the worst. And, yes, you can laugh.
What I’ve learned over the years is success is not bestowed upon us. It is earned and made more accessible through preparation and adaptability. You may not make every right move, but with a little careful planning, you can put your best foot forward in your new role from day one to day 365, and beyond.
First Day – My friend, Laura Rigas, is someone who makes a great first impression. An effective communications leader, she currently serves on the Board of The College of William & Mary. I asked her what she thought a woman should focus on day one of a new job. “Show up on time or a little early, dress appropriately, and have a positive attitude. Have a pen and paper and take notes. Don’t use your phone for notes or people will think you’re messing around on it.” Sage advice for a workforce that is far more comfortable with a smartphone than a fax machine.
You should also:
- Introduce yourself to everyone
- Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to remember every little thing – onboarding takes a while
- Read your employee handbook so you’re aware of the rules
- Make sure you have a working computer and place to sit
First Week – My friend, Shannon Alford, was a long-time lobbyist and current State Department professional. She has a tip every former campaign staffer knows, but few office workers do. What I irreverently call an “oh s*%$ kit,” this shoebox-sized container, typically hidden in a drawer at your desk, is filled with goodies you may need at a moment’s notice to guard you against anything that could go wrong throughout your day. “Feminine products, nail glue, hairspray, a Tide pen, OTC medicine for headaches, bandaids, etc. Eventually, the day will come when you’ll either be grateful to your past self or someone in your office will be grateful to you.”
You should also:
- Get to know your immediate department – ask them out to lunch or coffee
- Get the lay of the land in the office – coffee, refrigerator, copier, bathrooms, etc
- Sit down with your supervisor to begin discussing short-term and long-term goals
- Listen far more than you talk – it’s time to absorb information
First Month – One of the greatest advocates for professional development in Washington, DC is Cindy Cerquitella, Executive Director of America’s Future. When I asked her the advice she’d give to a woman in her first month on the job, she said, “Speak up! Of course, it’s important to listen, and gather context, but don’t be afraid to share opinions and ideas from the very beginning.” That’s not to say to blurt out anything that comes to mind, but this is the time to grow more confident in your value and burgeoning expertise. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to contribute – great leaders aren’t developed by keeping great ideas to themselves.
You should also:
- Ask other people in other departments for coffee or lunch to understand their roles and how you may be able to collaborate and support each other
- Work with your supervisor to further develop your goals now that you’ve got a month of experience under your belt
- Figure out the tech you will employ to keep track of your notes, big ideas, to-do list, etc, and be sure to be consistent
- Begin to develop work friendships – they’ll serve you well during challenging times
First Year – My co-host on the crowd-sourced virtual networking platform Rules of Networking is Chaz Cirame. Chaz runs a talent recruitment firm called Big Fish with a one-year guarantee for any placement made by his company. If someone doesn’t work out, he redoes the search for free. He understands the importance of your first year. I asked him what you should do at this milestone and his answer was simple. “Reflect. Did you do what you hoped you were going to do? Where are you going to be a year from now? Is there still room for you to grow in this position, in the org, etc” A harsh reality for many people is there’s no owner’s manual on a career path. You can’t read directions and expect things to go as planned at every turn. But you can figure out a lot if you’re honest with yourself about the past, harness the present, and prepare for the future.
You should also:
- Take inventory of your network and touch base with people who you haven’t seen or talked to since your last job
- Freshen up your resume and LinkedIn so it’s up-to-date at all times – you never know when a new opportunity may present itself
- Begin volunteering, mentoring, or giving back to help others navigate their first year or entry into the workforce
- Take action to further develop your greatest skills and neutralize your weaknesses
As you can see, the best way to ensure continued success in your career is to surround yourself with the smartest people you know who can offer you sound advice. One way to do that is to get more involved with NeW. And if you get a signed photo that tells you to stay away, understand there’s always a path forward.
Along with serving on the NeW advisory board, Patricia Rausch serves as the Vice President of Education at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. Leading the charge on new learning initiatives, she develops and executes career-connected educational programming and resources aimed to transform and advance the distribution workforce.