Do What No One Else Wants To
Frederic Kerrest, cofounder and COO of Okta, points out that more than likely your first job will mean spending time in Excel, taking meeting notes, scheduling, and answering phones. But once you’re past these menial tasks, you’ll look back and realize how important they are to the company. Kerrest says, “Mastering the humble, small work of your industry may seem mundane at the time, but an understanding of the who, what, when, and how of the business will give you incredibly valuable insight that you can turn into smart recommendations and strategic guidance that will set you apart during the rest of your career.” If you were to skip the beginning work, you wouldn’t fully absorb or appreciate how those staff members fit into the big picture of the company, which they undeniably do.
Know the Industry’s Past and Present to Prepare for Your Future
In addition to understanding the big picture of how the company functions, you should also know how an industry has grown over time and how your company fits within that. Kerrest explains, “If you’re considering a new business venture, be a student of history: know the trends, the highs and lows, and the events that shaped the landscape. When you’re building your skills and setting goals, you can leverage their wins and losses to make smarter decisions along the way.” You wouldn’t be able to steer a company in the right direction if you couldn’t comprehend the trajectory it has been on. The time to learn this information is when you first start off; it will give you a strong advantage when you move into leadership positions.
Once you have a strong awareness of the industry’s past, research the current big players within it. Kerrest counsels, “You’ll learn more starting at the bottom than anywhere else, such as…the power of long-term relationships… Building a network of mentors and investing in your relationships with them for the long term is a necessity in business.” Shadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USA, adds, “A mentor can help you even before your career starts. When it comes to business, I think there are generally two ways to learn: through experience and through advice.” Oftentimes, it’s about who you know, and why not learn from the best? Research who has notable achievements in your field and company, and hopefully you will be able to put yourself in a position to gain insight from them, helping you on your journey up the ladder of success.
Have a Plan
Having a plan of where you want to end up in your career could really be a benefit to you. If you have some idea of what you want to be doing in the next five years, you'll be able to be strategic about your busywork. Instead of going in blind purely to have an income, there should be some purpose behind your first position. Making coffee for the people in the positions you want to hold in the future means that you can learn the ropes through observation and make connections (as mentioned before - networking is gold), rather than just making coffee. Starting off in an industry that allows you to use your strengths will make less exciting work worth it in the end, instead of getting stuck in a field that doesn't match up to your passions. While you shouldn't be rigid in your path to get where you want to be, try to follow a general direction towards an end goal that will make you happy.
Follow these tips to help make your time spent paying your dues worth it. Seemingly trivial work will become a stepping stone for the rest of your career, rather than an obstacle in your path.
Have you or someone you know experienced logging hours in this type of entry level position? Did you find that it paid off later in your career?