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Sophie Kaelin
Sophie Kaelin

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12 Healthy Mindsets to Embrace When Starting your First Job

Starting your first full time role can be super daunting, and it's not uncommon for graduates to be riddled with imposter syndrome. I started my first full time graduate role in February 2021 as a penetration tester - something I knew very little about (aside from one subject I did at university). Throughout 2021 I received a lot of advice on coping with a full time workload, and how to get the most out of the experience. I also discovered which of my habits, behaviours and mindsets inhibited my progress, and which nurtured it. With all that in mind, I have collated a list of 12 healthy and helpful mindsets that I adopted throughout my first year of work, which made my experience a whole lot more fulfilling and less intimidating.

1. No one expects you to know everything

And if they do, they are being unrealistic. This is a GRADUATE role, not a senior role. Don't compare yourself to mid-levels, juniors or seniors - this is unhealthy and unrealistic.

2. Asking for help doesn't make you look unintelligent

In fact, asking the right type of questions shows that you're engaged with the task and are making progress. It's better to spend 1 minute asking the "silly" question, rather than spending 30 minutes trying to work it out on your own and getting no where. Most people won't hesitate to take the time to explain concepts to you. You aren't being a burden.

There are a few caveats to this:

  1. Don't ask questions just to fill the space or so you can "tick a box" that you've spoken in a meeting. That is a waste of everyones time and doesn't achieve what you think. And
  2. Don't ask questions without doing at least some research first. Make sure you have some understanding of the problem you're facing and search if there are any resources online to help. Only then should you approach a co-worker with your understanding of what's going on, what you've tried so far, and what you've found confusing.

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3. Be honest about your abilities

This was one of the best pieces of advice I've received. As much as you want to impress your new team and perform really well, if you aren't able to meet the fanciful expectations that you set for yourself, you will fall short and rarely succeed. It's so important to be transparent so that people can hold you to a realistic standard and understand how they can best help and support you.

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4. Say Yes (in moderation)!

When people ask me how I got to where I am today, I tell them "I just participated in everything". Open yourself up to new experiences and engage with your team. I had the opportunity to interview people, be interviewed by magazines and speak at events because I said "yes". The more you say yes to, the broader your network becomes and people will come to you with even more opportunities in the future.

Another caveat here (and I'm about to seriously contradict myself). Don't say yes to e-verything. As much as I'm glad I've been a "yes girl" throughout my life and am grateful for all the opportunities it has afforded me, it has ended up in burn out. It's important to prioritise, and say yes to the things that will fill your cup, and only if you have the capacity to do your best work. Everyone has their limit of what they can do or can handle. Yours wont be the same as everyone else - particularly not as a graduate.

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5. Be transparent about your work load

One phrase I like to use a lot when being delegated a "high priority task" is "Okay, so I have TASK A and TASK B which I also need to complete today, alongside TASK C you've just given me. Which should I do first? Which is more important". That way, people are aware of your workload and can have realistic expectations of when a task will be complete, or if giving you TASK C will actually overwork you. It also puts the onus on them if you are pulled in a million directions to complete various tasks.

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6. Work can just be work

When you see a lot of super passionate people in the industry, it can make you feel like you've failed or that you're in the wrong job if your level of interest doesn't match others. But your job can just be a job. It doesn't have to be your one and only passion or a defining quality of who you are. Of course, it's important to have some level of interest in your field, particularly tech where a lot of research is required to stay caught up with the current landscape. But you aren't any worse of an employee if you spend your weekends off your computer in comparison to the employee that works all weekend on personal tech projects.

7. You also don't have to be the best at what you love

As mentioned before, you do need to be somewhat competent, but you don't have to be a genius, or programming prodigy who created their own compiler at age ten. It takes all types of minds to create an excellent and accessible product. This goes for any hobby or activity you enjoy - you can love to bake and everything you make be borderline inedible. Passion is indispensable and more critical than competency - because passion is what drives you to be better and enables you to grow.

8. You don't have to put up with bad behaviour just because you're new

Whether that's seniors being condescending, blatant disrespect, or a comment that made you feel uncomfortable - call it out! This can be pretty daunting, especially as one of the newer people in your team. I've had to do this a small number of times, and each time I was met with gratitude and respect. Most people want to do the right thing, and be an inclusive team member, and will take on any feedback positively - particularly when they didn't realise their behaviour was making you feel uncomfortable. Either send them a carefully worded email, or speak in confidence with a manager or buddy about what they think you should do.

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9. Every person in your team has once been in your position

Everyone knew nothing at one point. They all had to learn, just as you will.

10. Slow down - there is no rush

You can stay in the same level role for six months or ten years - it doesn't matter. Go at the pace that best serves you. Enjoy where you're at now, because there are a lot of perks of being a junior (cough upward delegation cough).

11. Everyone is on a different journey / timeline

I started my graduate role with two other graduates, who both already knew a LOT more than I did. I reinforced in myself very early that there is no use comparing my knowledge and progress with theirs because we were coming from different foundations. You may start at the same place and level as someone else, and maybe they will progress faster than you did. That's okay! Everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways. However long it takes, is however long it takes, and it doesn't make you the wrong person for the job.

12. Everyone feels like an imposter

You aren't the only person sitting at their desk thinking, "oh my gosh, I know nothing. I don't know how I got this job". Nobody can know absolutely everything about their job - that's what makes tech jobs so exciting!

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Best of luck to you in your new graduate roles. Let me know of any helpful and healthy mindsets you've adopted.

Discussion (1)

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Bradley Kenny

Thanks for writing! Very insightful and completely agree 💯