Starting your career Getting ahead in your first month

In this article, we’re taking the longer view and looking ahead to a couple of things to set about achieving in your first month. Whilst time will inevitably pass in a flash, it will be helpful for your own career development if you take the time to step back and reflect on your progress. Make a feedback appointment with yourself every few weeks – and keep it. You’ll thank yourself later for the self-awareness, motivation and perspective you’ll develop.

Your strengths and weaknesses

This might sound like an exercise your secondary school teacher made you complete, but when it comes to professional growth, this is an important practice. Think critically about what you believe you’re best and worst at, and match this up with feedback you’ve received from others. What do you love doing, and what fills you with dread?  Are there tasks you actively seek out or put off?  

Remember that procrastination over certain types of work can often reflect a hesitancy about throwing yourself in fully. Is it because you genuinely dislike the work, or does it also reveal a fear of failure? Being honest with yourself early in the process is a short-cut to becoming more effective and efficient in your professional life. It allows you to see what’s going on – clearly and accurately – and work through it (either on your own or with a supervisor). It’s also true that if you notice it in yourself at this stage, it’s far less likely to turn into an issue that’s raised in a later review with someone senior.

Lessons learned (the good and the painful)

Once you have your strengths and weaknesses, the next step is to pair them with practical examples. For example: you hate doing financial spreadsheets? Think about the last time you had to do one, and the lessons learned from the process. Was it more or less painful to put it off until the last minute? Were there avoidable errors in your final work that made you dislike the task even more when someone pointed them out? Keeping a brief note of your significant professional development lessons always becomes a catalyst for personal growth. 

The same applies to the good lessons learned. Make a note of times that people congratulated you on great work, or times when you received impressive feedback. Playing to your strengths is only possible if you know where they actually lie. 

The joy of checklists

Every junior professional will, at some point, face the tedium of routine tasks. Whatever your line of work, there’s probably something you have to do fairly frequently that requires a lot of time but follows a fairly standard process. Whenever you notice this kind of task in your first month, make a note of it. It’s often the case that optimising the process – using checklists, standard form documents, precedents or other ‘short-cut’ tools – can make your life a lot easier. Even collecting a folder of previous emails and materials relating to the task can give you an advanced starting point for the next time the same type of work comes through. 

What your colleagues really want

During the first month, observe your supervisors closely. Learn what kind of work they expect from you, and how they expect it to be presented. Ask them, if you’re not sure (this alone will be greatly appreciated from their perspective). Make your interactions with them as seamless as possible by learning what they like and then delivering it. 

If it doesn't seem appropriate to ask and you keep missing the mark, find someone else who has previously worked for the senior person in question. Check in with co-workers or other juniors for their experience and perspective. If all else fails, wait until a scheduled review or feedback meeting and then bring up any difficulties you’re having. If it impacts your professional relationship, it’s likely to impact your own career development sooner or later - so it’s definitely worth mentioning. 

Contemplation time

At the end of the month, look back on all of the personal written notes you’ve made – whether on strengths, weaknesses, lessons learned, preferences of senior employees or any other information you’ve collected from observing your new environment. Keep it all in a notebook, and get used to flicking back through it. You’ll be amazed at the depths of understanding such a simple process can bring.  Not only do you gain exponentially in self-awareness, but you also take control of a process that can seem out of your hands – especially during the first month. 

If you have any questions, comments or thoughts about the first month at a graduate job, it would be great to hear from you - tweet us @brightnetwork.

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About the author:

After joining Bright Network back in 2010 and studying Law at the University of Cambridge, Eloise is a trainee at a top American Law firm. You can find her Bright Network Alumni profile just here.