When I graduated from school, I worked for a small, privately-owned business. And it was awful. I was supposed to be a writer, but they insisted I also act as the janitor, cleaning the bathroom and storage areas. The owner literally screamed a lot and relished employees’ tears.
It was a terrible experience, and I was miserable. However, I did learn a lot from that short period of employment. Those lessons helped me later in my career.
Many entry-level jobs are unglamorous and tedious. The work can be boring, and the office culture might be stifling. But you can look at it as a learning experience that will empower you to secure a better job. That mindset can help make a bad entry-level job more tolerable and can poise you for a stronger career.
These are some of the lessons you can learn from an awful first job:
1. You Need Thick Skin
In that atrocious job, the boss often yelled at me and tore apart my performance in public. It was embarrassing, and I spent many days turning beat red. A very kind co-worker pulled me aside and made it clear that it wasn’t a personal attack on me; it was flaws in my work, and she offered me tips on how to improve. That was a game changer for me; I learned how to accept constructive criticism without getting flustered and how to handle it in the moment.
When you’re in college, most people are generally friendly. If there is a jerk in the class, you can ignore them and avoid them. That doesn’t work in the workplace, and taking criticism and corrections can take some time to get used to hearing. A bad job can help you learn that it isn’t personal, so you can focus on improving rather than feeling upset.
2. Your Boss Is Not Infallible
When I started, I had it in my head that the business owner must be brilliant, talented and genuinely skilled at our line of work. However, that was far from true; she was forgetful, frequently mixed up accounts and gave wrong information. Because I thought that she, as a boss and a manager, knew information I didn’t, I never spoke up when that happened. And that often backfired on me, as I would have to work late into the night to correct her mistakes.
While your boss may be intelligent and competent at his job, he isn’t all-knowing. It’s absolutely okay to speak up and ask a question about a decision or offer the correct information if he’s made a mistake.
3. You Have to Be Your Own Advocate
During my tenure at the firm, there was a brand new, big-name client. I worked hard to improve my performance, and I crossed my fingers and hoped I would be added to the account. However, my boss assigned it to someone else, and I was crushed.
Weeks later at my monthly check-in, I worked up the courage to ask why I didn’t get that client. My boss was genuinely confused and asked me why I hadn’t said something to her about wanting it. I had thought she would just know that I wanted that account, but how could she if I didn’t speak up?
If you want a raise, promotion, or high-profile project, you need to be your own advocate. Speak up and ask for the things you want. Otherwise, your boss will never know you’re thinking about it.
4. You Learn the Importance of Protecting Yourself
Because my boss was so volatile, she often ordered us to do something one way, then would shout at us for completing it as she directed. In fact, she frequently told us we were lying or misunderstood her, and of course she had never said that.
After this had happened a few times, I learned how to protect myself. If she sent me a project via email, I put it in a project folder and dated it. If she instead told me in person, I would send myself an email immediately, noting what we discussed, what the expectations were and any other specifics she gave me. When there were disputes, I could then point to my records and eliminate the confusion.
While you hope everyone is kind-hearted and helpful, mistakes and miscommunication happen. When you’re in the workplace, you have to protect yourself. Taking diligent notes, saving important emails and avoiding office gossip can ensure you don’t get caught in the confusion.
5. You Recognize the Importance of Your Coworkers
When I started my job, I focused on my direct team. Because they were involved in my daily work, I spent all of my time with them and ignored my other coworkers. I thought that was how offices worked; you all worked in your little silos.
Of course, that turned out to be terribly wrong. People in other departments can provide valuable insight that can be useful on projects, but more importantly, they can help you understand the company culture and team dynamics. Since they’ve been there longer than you, networking with all of your coworkers can help you navigate the workplace more effectively.
Making the Best of It
A bad or boring job can be tedious and dull. But before you mentally check out completely, try to reframe the experience in your head. Rather than a time-sucking job with no benefit for your career, think about the culture and office experience you’re getting. Learning how to manage office politics better and how to interact in the business world are essential skills that can help you in other, better jobs.
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