Once you get a job, the focus becomes succeeding and excelling so that you can add to your responsibilities, seek meaningful challenges, get promoted, assume leadership status and ultimately, make more money.
Many of my students have called or written over the years asking for advice in tough on-the-job situations. This post encapsulates some of the situations I think are common to all of us at one point or another. The temptation in often to go to your supervisor and present the issue with a finessing of communication skills. But I'm a big fan of accepting what's in front of you and taking decisive action rather than making it someone else's problem to deal with. Always easier said than done for newbies.
"I'm not challenged enough." This happens when bright people get lost in the fray. It may be that the company has gone through lots of recent upheavals in management or possibly that business has slowed down to autopilot. There are lots of contributing factors that likely have nothing to do with you. But this is a very real concern--one that if left unchecked, can lead to self-doubt and even termination. An immediate and easy way to address this problem is to challenge yourself and over-deliver. If given a simple task, do it better than anyone else. Exceed expectations. Instead of delivering a report, produce a beautifully designed piece. Connect bigger dots. Offer up multiple possible analyses. Get feedback on your work from others so you can make it better. Offer to help a co-worker with their project. Give yourself a project. Do that a couple of times and you will be given more challenging work.
"I'm at a start-up and I'm in over my head." aka, "I'm over-challenged." This scenario requires you to "manage up"--a skill not taught in school. One immediate tactic is to get organized. Order a giant whiteboard so you can keep track of all of your action items that are likely changing at lightening speed. (It also serves as a great visual display of everything you are doing). Start thinking about setting up systems and processes and tracking measures. It sounds complicated, but you've done this before when you were managing multiple projects for all of your classes at University. Talk to buddies that work at similar types of organizations. Make a list of the challenges or problems. Ask your buddies how it's done at other places. Copy. Repeat. You don't have all of the answers, so there is no sense in pretending that you do. And you have a finite amount of time. Use whatever resources you have. If this were your business, you would figure it out and make it work. The test of a person's value in an organization is not the havoc wreaked when you aren't there, it's actually the smoothness of the operation when you're not there. Companies with effective CEO's do not fall apart when she goes on vacation or travels for business.
"My coworker/boss took credit for my idea!" This happens all day long. Sometimes it's intentional. Often times it's not. When working on large, long, projects, it's not easy to keep track of who said what first. Don't obsess over it. You know you're smart. You've got a million more where that came from. Take one for the team and be happy that you're clearly on track. Keep building on it. In the event that it becomes a consistent and more obvious problem, you'll need to take a different approach. This could take the form of a calm discussion with a co-worker, or a gentle plea to be part of the presentation team because you know the idea back to front (having come up with it). There's a fine line between being a team player and advocating for yourself. But the best approach, I have found, is to always be generous. Use words like "we" and "our" instead of "I" and "my." They become contagious. Offer credit to those who didn't necessarily come up with the idea but were part of the team. Lead by example. Be ready to speak up first. Practice. Your supervisor has been there too and will notice and admire your maturity beyond your years and your magnanimous character.
"I like my job but I'm lonely in this big city." This one always breaks my heart. Big cities like NY or LA can be really tough and isolating for young people. It's one thing to live in a small town and be bored. It's another thing to be in a huge metropolis full of noise and feel like you're the only one who has no friends and no life. It can also lead you to hanging out only with work friends which can be fun but dangerous. You don't want your workplace to turn into a gigantic soap opera. And you don't necessarily want people you work with knowing every detail of your life. If that happens, then you risk being seen as an underling forever. You've got to build a village of support. One easy way to handle loneliness is to plug into your alum network. Ask other friends if they have friends in your town. Call them up and tell them you're desperate to meet people and be social--they will understand. They were there once. Attending a few social gatherings will get the ball rolling. Make sure you connect with people that bring out the best in you, not those that will distract you with too much partying or late weeknights. If you're in a big city, chances are you are surrounded by an impressive talent pool and there are people nipping at your heels for your job. You are trying to prove yourself, advance and set the world on fire. Distractions will only zap your energy and threaten your focus. Look for a work-out buddy. Or a museum buddy. Or a friend who loves to try new restaurants or go to shows, movies, readings or other intellectual events. They are out there. In the end, the bar scene just gets repetitive.
In the end, you can always go to your immediate supervisor with a pressing issue. (Maybe not for personal matters). But if you can solve it on your own, it's just another opportunity for you to shine. Your boss will be grateful and impressed.