It’s no secret that an entry level job probably isn’t the fulfilling job of your dreams, where you get to do something you love while you make bank. These jobs are, by necessity, an experience-building step so that you can make connections, get experience, and bulk up your resume for better opportunities. So while it may feel like a slog when you feel frustrated with menial tasks or with being the most junior person in the office, it’s important to power through.
Reasons Not to Waste Your Entry-Level Time
Though it may not seem like you’re doing Earth-shattering work in your role, you shouldn’t be discouraged, or take the experience for granted as you put in your time in the trenches. Here are 5 reasons why you should be super-proactive during your time as an entry-level employee.
1. You don’t want to get stuck.
What’s that old saying about those who don’t learn from history being doomed to repeat it? It’s on you to push yourself to the next level(s) of your career. If you don’t take your time as a lower-level employee seriously and start gathering the tools and resources you need to move on eventually, you could end up staying in this entry-level role for an uncomfortably long time. Years can have a way of sneakily passing on you, and you really don’t want to get five years into your career and be in the same spot where you started. Even if you just started your entry-level job, start thinking about how it may relate to your next
2. Your time is valuable.
Even when it feels like you’re just punching the clock or keeping a seat warm in case someone needs you for a task, it’s not free time. If you can take meaningful skills and experience from your role, it’s not a matter of just sitting through your days until you get to some magical time threshold. Your days should count, which means your hours spent at work should count too, no matter what you’re doing.
3. You’re doing work that needs to get done.
If your role weren’t necessary, wouldn’t the company find other ways to get the work done? You were hired because you bring a certain level of skills and potential, and the company thought you were a good bet to do this work. Remember that, even when it feels suspiciously like you’re doing things that a moderately-trained helper monkey could do. You’re doing tasks that free up others in the company to get their work done—and you shouldn’t discount your importance as a part of that process, no matter how unglamorous that work might be. For example, writer Trent Hamm literally shoveled dirt all day long in his first job. Fun? Nope. A necessary evil for his company’s bottom line? You betcha.
4. It’s not an internship.
You’re there to learn, in the sense that you’re just starting out, but you’re also being paid to perform a function. This change in mindset can be a subtle one (especially if you were the intern a year ago), but it’s important to start thinking of yourself as being on your career path now, not just doing prep work anymore.
5. It’s not forever.
The day feels long, sure—especially if the projects you enjoy doing are rare and secondary to more tedious tasks. But the beauty of the entry-level job is that at some point, you will have what you need to move on and seize other opportunities. It may take a year or several to build what you need for your next steps, but there is light at the end of that tunnel.
Once you start thinking about your entry-level time as a transition period (albeit one without a specific expiration date), it helps you get into the right mindset for making the most of that time.
How to Get the Most Out of an Underwhelming Job
But how does one do that, you ask? It’s great to have the mindset of “I need to take advantage of my time,” but that can be…unclear. Let’s look at some strategies for seizing that work day.
If you wake up every day and tell yourself how much the day is going to suck, guess what? Your day is going to suck. Instead of thinking about how boring your day will be, or how much you’d rather be doing something (anything) else, come up with three things you want to accomplish at work that day. It doesn’t have to be huge accomplishments—maybe it’s cleaning out a supply cabinet that’s been driving you crazy. Or maybe it’s as simple as having a conversation with a colleague. If you have a set of purposes throughout the day, and you hit those mini-goals, you’ll end your day on a more satisfied note.
Seek out the perks.
Does your company offer a discount, or free tickets to local events? Back when I was an editorial assistant with a thankless set of tasks and even lousier pay, one saving grace was having access to my company’s books for free. And even when I wasn’t interested in the books themselves, it was great to have them as a resource (read: gift/bribe) for friends and family who were. It was a nice perk to have, even when I despised my job some days. Even if it’s just free bagels once a week in the break room, or an employee discount at a store, take advantage. If your entry-level job is like most of ours, the salary isn’t huge, so free/cheap stuff can go a long way. Perks can make it more bearable to go in day after day when you’re not feeling totally engaged in your to-do list.
Build your skills.
The skills you already have are great—after all, they got you hired in the first place. But will they get you to the next milestone in your career? The answer to that is “probably not.” No matter where we are in our careers, we can always pick up new skills or spiff up the ones we have. If you’re trying to figure out which skills you should work on, do a little research into what people a little further along on your career path have, by looking at job listings.
You can start building those skills in a very straightforward way: talk to people! Start conversations with colleagues you don’t know well, especially if you’re an introvert. Take opportunities to make presentations, or speak up in meetings. Learn as much as you can about what your company does, who does it, and what’s involved in those jobs. If your goal is to move beyond your entry-level job at some point, then taking your soft skills to the next level will help you achieve that faster.
Don’t mess around.
If you have a lot of down time during the day, don’t spend that time messing around on Facebook or playing Yahtzee on your phone. Find little things to do, like organizing. Talk to your boss about other things you can do to flesh out your responsibilities. You don’t want to go overboard to the point where you’re feeling overwhelmed, but if you have time to check your personal email, you have time to do other things. Remember: at this point in your career, you’re still looking to establish yourself. Your boss and others at the company will notice if you’re proactive in finding things to take on, rather than doing just the bare minimum required by your job description.
Find a mentor.
This might be your boss, or someone at the company who used to be in your role. You can ask this person for advice on how to handle challenges at work, or pick their brains on how to move forward in your field. It’s a great way to build relationships and your network, but also those communication skills as well. Plus, it can make you feel less alone if you’re feeling blah or unhappy about your job.
That means no slipping through the door, slightly disheveled, at 9:30 instead of your expected 9:00 start time. That means making sure you’re on time for meetings or scheduled time with coworkers. That means not blaming your commute four days out of five. Regularly showing up late is a very clear way to say “I don’t really care about this,” and people do notice, even if you don’t get in trouble for it. On the flip side, people also notice if you’re in and ready to go at 9:00, and appreciate it that you’re available when needed. It’s one of those “low effort, big return” investments in your work day.
You will move on eventually, to a different job or a different company when you figure out what your next career step is. But in the meantime, make sure you’re getting everything you can out of this job. It’s important careerwise, but also for your sanity—what’s the point of going through all this if you’re just going to be unhappy? Maximizing your entry-level job is also about maximizing your personal stake in it, and making it work for you.
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