The Big Girl Job. The first step in your intended profession. Your first taste of being a career woman. Entry-level, but at an (almost) livable wage. After hundreds of applications to hundreds of companies, you finally got someone to bite. From the time the hiring manager asks to interview you to when they actually offer you the position, it feels like success after success. But that can only last so long.
Your first day arrives. You wake up early, dress up all spiffy, and Google the directions to the office fifteen times to make sure you drive to the right place. You show up early (like, way too early) and meet with your boss, who introduces you to a plethora of people whose names you won’t remember for two more weeks. Everyone is friendly and polite. They smile and answer any questions you might have about when to have lunch and where the bathroom is. Then you sit down with your boss to discuss what you’ll actually be doing. It’s a lot. And you have no idea how to accomplish it.
“Oh, shit,” you think. “What have I gotten myself into?” This job is shaping up to be very different from those you’ve worked in the past. Nothing in the foodservice, retail, or hospitality industries could have prepared you for this. Suddenly, your boss throws the standard English dictionary out the window and begins using a list of vocabulary that you did not get to peruse before this test. Suddenly, there are expectations beyond your skill set. Suddenly, nothing makes any sense.
Fear not, young professional. You’ve found a comprehensive guide to not simply surviving your first Big Girl Job, but to taking the first step in your career. This simple listicle will show you every tip you need to look like you know what you’re doing.
If you’ve heard the old saying “fake it till you make it,” you’ve definitely heard the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The best advice to anyone starting their career in any industry is really just to act like you know what you’re doing. Tell yourself you know what you’re doing. Lie. People are willing to believe you. No one knows that you’re not an expert in Excel or that you have no idea what COB means (close of business, by the way). Just Google that shit.
This isn’t to say you should lie about having super-specialized skills with some software you’ve never touched. DO NOT. You will only be digging yourself a hole and likely missing out on actually learning something. You’ll also be wasting everyone’s time, especially your own. But if your boss tells you to create a project tracker spreadsheet to be sent to the general manager by 4pm today, figure it out and make it pretty.
I know this sounds like the opposite of “fake it till you make it,” but they actually go together really well. Playing dumb has nothing to do with your intelligence. It’s more about your innocence. If something goes wrong in the office, you want to make sure it’s not your fault, and if it is, you want to make sure no one blames you. Some best practices on this topic include widening your eyes into a “deer in headlights” expression and apologizing profusely. When you do something wrong, never cry, but always look like you might. This isn’t to prevent you from getting fired (more on that later) so much as to endear yourself to your coworkers. No one wants to be the one to yell at the new girl, especially if she already looks like she might burst into tears anyway.
Don’t think of this as trying to look weak. When you play dumb (and aren’t dumb), you hold all the cards. You let people think you’re delicate to avoid unnecessary confrontation. So when you inevitably throw away someone’s papers from the printer or forget to schedule that meeting for your boss, you’re met with a pat on the hand instead of a slap on the wrist.
Accept Critique… And Praise
Of course, you should always take suggestions on how to improve your work. There will be no shortage of notes from your boss on how to make a project “better.” Maybe they’ll work, maybe your boss will make fifty changes only to realize the original work you produced made the most sense. Either way, it’s not up to you to decide. Your job is just to do it. Not every project is your baby. In fact, none of them are. They’re your boss’s babies. You’re just the surrogate mother cranking them out, one after the other, on-demand. One day you’ll be calling the shots, but that day is not today.
That said, when the boss says you did a good job on something, take it to heart. Write it down and put it up in your cubicle. Reward yourself with a few minutes of doing nothing before you get back to work. Revel in it for a bit. You might not do anything right again for a while.
Fuck Shit Up
What are they going to do? Fire you? They just hired you! Onboarding a new employee costs a lot of time and money. Not only that, but hiring managers these days are desperate to make new hires work. They don’t want to explain to the higher-ups that they fired you for something silly like leaving five minutes early on a Friday or using the wrong elevator. So get in there and get your hands dirty. You can’t fuck it up too badly.
The Three Month Rule
This job is not what you’re used to. It’s hard. But ask yourself seriously, “Can I stand it for three months?” Three months. That’s 12 weeks. That’s plenty of time to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, but not so long that you’re wasting your life away. It’s enough time to get to know people, especially your boss. Do you communicate well together? Do they ask for feedback? Do your Zodiac signs mesh?
If you feel like you can make it three months, super! Congratulations on your fabulous life! But if you’re like the rest of us and have doubts, slow down ---- but don’t quit yet. Figure out what’s bothering you and decide if it can be fixed. If it’s something you need to discuss with your boss, do it! No need to go in guns blazing with a bunch of demands, but if they’re a good team leader, they’ll want to know if something’s bothering you. If they’re a bad team leader… Well, that’s an important factor in your decision-making process.
Your first Big Girl Job is terrifying. You come in not knowing what to expect because you’ve never done anything like this before. Hell, you don’t even really know what it is you’re doing. You don’t know the people around you or how they’ll react to what you say and do. You have to get comfortable asking questions of these complete strangers. You have to juggle everything they throw at you, whether it’s flaming batons or a really important presentation due on Monday. No matter what industry you’re in, you don’t get to be comfortable right away. You have to struggle through that first Big Girl Job, and hopefully, if you play your cards right, you’ll come away with a better Big Girl Job in the end.