My name is Charlotte Chandler and I’m the founder of Healthcare and Heels, a career and lifestyle blog for the driven, professional woman. Through high school, college and graduate school, I always felt like I had a clear path with a checklist for how to be successful. Once I joined the working world, I realized there are no longer defined tracks and there is definitely no career playbook. And throw in the unique experiences and challenges of being a professional woman, and you can find yourself feeling lost and in need of guidance and support. I created Healthcare and Heels to be a place where young professional women can find helpful career advice, real and relatable experiences, and work fashion and hacks that you can apply to your everyday life!
I’m excited to be a contributor to the new She online platform. I love what She stands for and I’m thrilled to be a part of the launch!
Today, I’m sharing the top things I wish I had known when starting my first post-graduate job.
Unlike in school, where every test, quiz, homework assignment or paper has a deadline and each semester ends with a very definitive finals week, the workplace is quite different. You may have the occasional big project deadline, but more often than not you will have to be self-driven and create your own mini deadlines to continue working towards long-term goals.
Recognition & Feedback
In school, there are always opportunities for feedback from your teachers and coaches, with frequent grades and even annual award ceremonies. In the workplace, recognition and feedback are given less frequently. You have an annual review with your boss, but other than that there is no formal feedback.
It is up to your supervisor’s discretion how much they provide you with feedback or recognize your accomplishments. This has definitely been an adjustment since I crave feedback and am very driven by recognition, but getting positive feedback about a big project always gives me that added boost I need!
Time management is a must-have skill that can be a challenge to develop without the frequent deadlines and clean breaks that come with being in school. I shared my favourite time management tips here.
Unlike in every level of education, at work you no longer have a large cohort of people in the same phase of life as you. The lack of built-in friends can make work feel isolating at times. There are people of many different walks of life in the work place and you are often stratified by what department you work in.
I have learned that you can still find camaraderie, team work and friendship in the work place – it just isn’t handed to you in the same way. It also takes time to build the trust of your team members, so although being the new person in your office may feel lonely, it won’t last long! Six months down the line you will feel like you have always been a member of the team.
Although it might feel like you have to be perfect in your first job, this simply isn’t the case. People not only expect you to make mistakes, but even encourage some trial and error! Small errors are important to learning your role and if you have ever made a mistake at work, you can recall how those minor blunders solidified your learning. Keep in mind – it is important to not make the same mistakes repeatedly. As long as you own your mistakes and learn from them, no one will ever fault you.
It is also critical to realize you aren’t going to be good at your job, or even productive, right away. I have heard that six months into your job you should be a productive and contributing member of your team, although you may find that you get comfortable with your work sooner than that.
My final takeaway is that you shouldn’t apologize so much when you make day-to-day mistakes. When I first started working I found myself apologizing frequently but began to make a conscious effort not to say I’m sorry unless I had truly made a significant error. You don’t have to apologize for being new and eager to learn!
Sit at the Table
I read this advice in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and it has always stuck with me. She explains in her book that you should always take a seat at the table (especially as a woman) since many times women will take the seats around the perimeter of the room even when there are seats available at the table. I took this advice to heart and I always sit at the table in the conference room, unless it is full when I walk into the meeting. You are an important contributor to the team, so “lean in” and be a part of the conversation.
I have also learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up in meetings even when you are new to the job or company. Sometimes the most obvious questions help solve big issues and question unproductive and/or deep-rooted cultural norms within an organization.
You also don’t have to be an expert to start contributing to team meetings and conversations. It is important to listen and learn in those first few months, but I have realized after a few years of working that sometimes just stepping up and being willing to put in the hard work can set you apart even if you aren’t the most experienced or knowledgeable person in the room (‘fake it ’til you make it’ as the saying goes!)
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
After a bad day in my first year of working, I found myself questioning…can I really do this whole working thing for the rest of my life? And typically, the next day I would have the best day with some extra kudos or a win on a big project.
You will also experience weeks that aren’t great often followed by productive weeks where you feel like you’re killing it. There are highs and lows, but it’s important to realize that your career can last 40 years! Just because you don’t feel like you are exactly where you want to be for a few weeks, months or even years of your career, doesn’t mean that you are at a dead-end. Every job is a stepping stone where you learn what you like and don’t like in your work. In just two years I’ve already learned a ton about what I enjoy and where my professional strengths lie.
Over the past two years (but especially during my first year of working), I have learned to trust my gut instincts. Whether it was finding mentors, getting involved with a big project or deciding to pursue a position with a certain team, my gut has never been wrong. Even if making a decision didn’t result in my desired outcome, I have always ended up stronger and in a better place than I was before.
It is important to trust your gut, especially when your career starts to go in a direction you didn’t expect. For example, in college and grad school I never would have expected to have taken a job with a financial and budgeting component. I chose to trust my gut and align myself with a team that I clicked with regardless of what I thought I would do as a first job, and that decision has served me well so far!
Finally, you must find good mentors and friends along the way. You will be in your career for more than half of your lifetime and it is important to make meaningful connections and have people with whom you can share these experiences. I would have struggled with many of my professional decisions if I hadn’t had great colleagues and mentors supporting and brainstorming with me along the way. You can find my tips on how to find a mentor here.
For more career and young professional lifestyle content, you can follow along with Charlotte on the Healthcare and Heels blog and on the Healthcare and Heels Instagram.
Do you have any tips? Let us know in the comments!