For some reason during college, I thought my degree would instantly be my ticket to a six figure salary. Despite being a verbal processor by nature, I didn’t share this expectation with anyone who might set me straight. I remember feeling overwhelmed upon graduation and the attempt to put everything on my resume so potential employers could see how hard I had worked to get my degree….only to hear nothing from employers and to feel directionless with a business degree. After working at a temp-to-hire position for almost a year, I got my foot in the door at a contractor…only to face the reality of what an entry-level position (and salary) actually looks like.
Entry level is challenging. For coworkers and bosses, it’s a bit of a game figuring out how much to invest in the entry-level employee based on how likely it seems that the employee will stay with the company in the long term. The longer people work, the more they can get beat down by the job, so it’s hard to invest time into the newest additions if it seems like the return on investment will be low. Despite the challenges, you can get past the scrutiny and gain some real experience for your resume in an entry-level position.
Here are three lessons I learned:
1. Always look for what you can offer to other people.
Don’t wait for someone to pour into you in order for you to grow. Don’t blame your boss for your lack of progress in the company. When you wait for those above you to push you, you prove that you lack the drive it takes to move up in the organization without someone always clearing the way for you. Bosses are much more likely to mentor an employee that is quick to help out that boss without being asked. While some people enjoy delegating all of the work, sometimes, many struggle to relinquish control or perhaps not feel guilty asking others for help. So, always offer to help out or take on your boss’s workload before they ask. Chances are that you will get pushed up faster and further than if you had simply waited for tasks to land on your desk.
2. Work with whatever instruction is given to you.
Often, you will get instructions for your tasks in email or face to face form, but minimal words are used. This is because everyone else is short on time and energy. The fastest way to get a task pulled is to ask 20 questions before even beginning the work. Questions are helpful, but despite what everyone said in school, there are dumb questions and you don’t want to be asking them. Take the instruction given, get to work first, and then follow up if something doesn’t make sense. You don’t have to understand everything completely before you begin working. Sometimes, the minimal instructions given will click as soon as you step away and start working.
3. Don’t burn bridges.
It can be easy to start to think that you will only be at an entry-level job for 1-2 years; however, government contracting really is a small world. Even if you plan on switching gears on the work you want to do or you are headed to grad school soon, you may see some old coworkers in the future. Be careful how you treat people – even if you plan on leaving. Your plans to leave could even change, and you might find yourself having to undo some of the damage of your attitude. Resolve to leave well.
What you do in your entry-level job is pretty indicative of how you will operate in any position later on. While some of the wrinkles get smoothed out over time, it can be hard to lose some of your initial tendencies if you’re not actively focusing on making changes.