With the imminence of 2020 and my 26th birthday, I think I’m officially beyond the point where I can be considered a graduate at work. Over the past 4 years I’ve been employed to waitress, paint portraits, market protein shakes and more recently to design digital experiences at Compare the Market. It’s been a roller coaster of triumphs and frustrations, including a career switch, the correction of a discriminatory salary and that time I accidentally locked myself in a bathroom at a conference.
Before I crack on with being a late twentysomething, I want to share the key things I’ve learnt from trying to forge a career in the 2010s.
These tips are based on my experience as a white cishet woman with a privileged background. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any feedback that might make this post more useful.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
In my final year at uni, I felt like the only industries that existed were finance, law, consulting and retail. They sponsored the sports teams, hosted events with free drinks and promised the biggest salaries, but I wasn’t excited by any of them. It would have been great if I’d known about UX at that point, but ultimately I just wish I’d spent less time fretting about applying for the “wrong” job.
Starting out in a position you’re not 100% sure about isn’t a waste of time. At worst, you’ll gain some skills and a brief bit of work experience for your CV (which, by the way, no interviewer will have a problem with as long as you have justification). At best, you might love it, or at least meet someone working in your dream role. As long as you stay curious, there’s no way you’ll get stuck in a job that doesn’t interest you.
Know your worth
I don’t mean this in a clichéd way, but in terms of your actual pay bracket. If there isn’t a standard starting salary at your company, finding out what your colleagues earn is an essential benchmarking exercise. It’s also worth noting that even if you have a pay secrecy clause in your contract, this doesn’t apply to relevant pay disclosures that help to establish whether there’s any discrimination going on.
It might seem brash to ask someone what they’re paid, but of all the people I’ve asked, only one has ever said they’d rather not tell me. Sites like Glassdoor and Salary Expert are useful if you don’t have anyone to talk to.
If you know you’re being fairly paid, be an ally to others who might not be where you can. I found out 2 months into my first job that I was being paid less than my graduate peers because they were kind enough to share this fact with me.
Don’t struggle in silence
Independent learning is great, but try to recognise when you’re not making progress with something any more. Most of the time, senior colleagues are more than happy to help — they might even have personal targets to support junior team members.
The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t know the answer either, in which case you’ve successfully flagged a problem that needs more attention.
Cry if you need to
For me and many other people, crying is a primary emotional response to a broad spectrum of situations. If it happens at work, it’s important to remember that it’s totally human and no-one worth working with is going to think less of you for being a bit tearful.
Try not to apologise, take some deep breaths and give yourself a moment to figure out the best way you can help yourself. Get some fresh air. Ask your friends to send you cat GIFs. Try a breathing space. Speak to your manager. If you need to, find a mental health first-aider or take a mental health day.
Own your career
The best thing I’ve done so far for my career felt pretty dicey. In order to move internally to the UX team at my first company, I had to make a pitch based purely on enthusiasm, walk away from a safe career in marketing and take a demotion.
What I found hardest at the time was the feeling that no one else thought it was a brilliant idea. Three years into a job I love, I’ve learnt that approval isn’t everything, managers aren’t life coaches and only you know what’s best for your career.
Grads of 2020, I wish you all the best 🎓