Things I learned after 18 months of working

July 25, 2017 — Published in Career

I was very lucky to get a job immediately after graduation. In one month, I went from hippy-vibed Nijmegen and a no-rules-just-write schedule to the imposing The Hague, to sit in an open-floor-plan style office from 9-to-6. It’s been quite an experience.

The Hague, by Gerrit Vermeulen via Unsplash

When I started working, I quickly noticed there was more to learn than what they teach you at university. Since I’m approaching my one-and-a-half-year workiversairy, I figured it was time to write down some of the things I learned.

Here’s some tongue-in-cheek advice for nearly-graduated folks.

When you leave university after graduation, you feel like you’re ready to change the world, solve all the problems and stagger everyone with your genius. Then you get an actual job and you go work in an office where you meet all these old people (gasp!) with kids (gasp!) and their ancient knowledge of How Things Are Done Here. Organisations turn out to be these horrible structures with things called rules and processes and a fixed chain of command. Things go way slower than you imagined and overthinking this will make you sad. You’re in for some culture shock. Be prepared.

When you’re new at a job, don’t expect to change the business overnight with your brilliant outsider insights. Although you might see things that could use some improvement, save your opinions until you’ve seen enough of the organisation to understand why things are the way they are. Pro-tip: asking “Why?” is generally more appreciated than remarking “You’re totally doing it wrong!”.

Don’t try to do everything alone. There are people that can fix the printer, send mail, etc. and they do it way more efficient than you. Moreover, it’s OK to not-know things. I hope you have some friendly colleagues (like I had), who can explain the stuff they don’t teach you in school.

Don’t let the constant stream of unneccessary emails drive you crazy. About 90% of the emails I receive (newsletters, system notifications, spam) are completely irrelevant to my work. If you want to keep your sanity, learn to build good filters.

When you start participating in Office Communications, you will learn quickly that most humans don’t know how to write concise emails. As a result, a lot of people won’t actually read their email: they glance at the subject and sender and try to decide who to forward this email to. I decided I don’t want to be a part of that problem, so I learned How To Email. I particularly like Matt Might’s article How to send and reply to email and Patrick McKenzie’s General Tips for Emailing Busy People.

Prepare a phone conversation in advance if you have to explain difficult technical stuff or a tricky situation (like a security incident) over the phone. The order in which you say things on the phone determines whether people will panic or not.

The things that you don’t like to do (because they are out of your comfort zone) are probably the things you’re going to learn most from. If this scares you, go read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, or watch her TED talk on vulnerability.

Final wisdom: don’t eat all of the birthday cake.

Now I’m wondering: what would you tell your younger self about work, life in the office or careers? Please share in the comments, I’m really curious about your stories.