Getting your first full-time job is a great accomplishment, congratulations! It’s super exciting and will be a lot of fun, but there are a few things that will change in your life now.
Here’s a list of the most common challenges I’ve seen my mentees face over the years, along with strategies for overcoming them. I hope you’ll find these tips helpful and they'll help you avoid feeling overwhelmed at work!
It’s a marathon not a sprint
The most important difference between being in school or at university versus having a job is the pace of work. It's very likely that you spent a lot of time procrastinating on your assignments, only to do them all in the night before the deadline.
This approach was fine in a system where you worked in semesters (or trimesters, depending on where you studied), only needed to really deliver something at the end of the period, and then had 2-3 months off to recover.
Unfortunately, this is not a very sustainable approach for working a job. The main differences (which might seem obvious but really aren’t) are:
you’ll be doing some form of a job for the next 40ish years (be it as an employee or at your own company)
You don’t get that much time off (in most countries you get 4-6 weeks off per year)
You very often work with other people who depend on you delivering your part so you can’t leave it until the very end
The scope of the project is too big to be completed at the last minute, especially because university project quality is no longer enough - you need to make things maintainable
For these reasons it’s very important to learn to work at a slower, more consistent pace every week. To be more specific:
Give your 70% every day
This way you’ll have some energy to spare in emergencies or during crunch time (which will happen regardless of how productive you are).
You’ll also be able to work at this pace for longer periods of time (months) rather than giving 110% for a month and then burning out.
And - most importantly - being rested and not overworking makes you more creative so you’ll be able to tackle challenges better and faster - which in turn removes the need for working extra hard.
Set clear boundaries when working and take regular breaks to recharge. This includes both breaks during the day (especially when you’re stuck on something!), as well as in the evenings and weekends.
Again: switching gears and focusing on other things will help you be more productive at work. This is particularly important during crunch time. Ironically, that’s also the time when it’s easiest to forget about it.
Taking 5 minutes for yourself when you’re stuck won’t hurt your career - quite the contrary, it will help you get some distance from a problem and look at it differently.
Take good care of your body
Healthy body, healthy mind as they say, and it’s not just a cliche. You might not feel it yet but your body is getting older and it needs regular maintenance. You won’t be able to excel at work and in life when you’re constantly tired and dehydrated.
Listen to your body and sleep, drink, eat and exercise when it tells you it needs it.
When you first join a team in your new job, nobody expects you to know everything from day one.
This will remain true for the rest of your career, but is especially important in your first job.
People realise that you just graduated and simply didn’t have the time and opportunities to learn everything that’s required. Besides, everyone is using a slightly different set of tools and technologies, and it’s impossible to know them all.
Use your time wisely and ask people to explain things such as:
the technical jargon you encounter,
how to be productive with the tools and frameworks the team uses,
what’s the team structure
What’s the team’s background
How to solve everyday technical issues
Most importantly, ask for help if you’re stuck. However, first…
Try to do it yourself
Asking for help is a great approach, but only if you try to solve the problem yourself. Otherwise you’re just getting a solution from someone else and won’t learn as much.
It might feel scary and intimidating, what if
you break something? Try not to worry about it too much, we’ve all broken things in the past. It’s very unlikely that you’d be able to make significant damage, and it provides a great learning experience.
Try not to get too deep when you’re stuck, as you’ll just end up wasting time. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself 2-3 hours of honest trying and if you’re not getting anywhere - ask for help.
Find a mentor
The most helpful thing you can do is find someone a few years ahead of you in their career to help you navigate your own. It’s great to have support from your peers and share your progress with them, but if they’re at the same stage as you, they won’t have as much experience from having solved the problems you’re facing.
Ideally it should be someone from outside your immediate team, with similar interests and outlook on life. Meet with them regularly, share where you are and where you want to go.
As we get busy with life and learn new things we often forget how far we’ve already come. This
can trigger impostor syndrome and general feelings of not making progress in life.
A very effective way to mitigate it is to keep
a journal of challenges you solved and things you learned. Consistency is key here, as it’s easy to forget smaller wins over time (but they’re still wins!).
Taking a few minutes every one or two weeks to write about progress of your projects is a small price to pay for the satisfaction you’ll get when you open it a few months down the line and see all the things that you struggled with, which now became second nature.
It might seem corny but I’d strongly encourage you to give it a shot - nobody has to know what you put in there after all!
It won’t be like this forever
Getting your first full-time job is stressful and it will require some adaptation. It might take a few months, it may also take a couple of years. Even though it might not feel this way right now, things will get easier over time and you’ll be able to take on bigger challenges (if you want to).
Be kind to yourself, lean on your support system and you’ll work it out. You’ve got this!
Check out my other articles to learn more about managing your career and productivity.