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Last week I was out delivering a Flying Start day to WhiteHat’s latest cohort of apprentices. Flying Start marks the official start of the apprenticeship journey and on this day, we set out the expectations for the apprenticeship, details of the qualification and what to expect along the way. As part of this, we also do a session on workplace readiness.
For a lot of young people, an apprenticeship will be your very first “proper” job and from conversations with a lot of new apprentices, fears around how to navigate the workplace are very common. From how to have conversations with new people all the way through to how to manage the day-to-day workload and stay organised. Overall it is important to create a strong start and build a good first impression in order to set yourself up for success.
In this post, I share five key things that are essential to help you kickstart your career and develop long term success at work.
People struggle in new roles, not necessarily because they don’t get to grips with the role, but more because they fail to fit in. This is not about changing your personality but about understanding the culture of the business you are joining. In your first couple of weeks, spend the time observing and listening to what really goes on in your work environment. These are things you won’t find in the employee handbook.
In his book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Michael Watkins shares that “culture is the organization's immune system. Joining a new organization is like transplanting a new organ into a body...and you are the organ. So it's essential to fit in, and not trigger organ rejection early on. Otherwise, you likely will end up digested or expelled.”
How quickly you get to grips with the culture of your organisation and embed yourself into it, will determine how far you will go, ultimately.
The old phrase: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” no longer rings completely true. Today it’s also about who knows you! In your first couple of weeks make the effort to get to know your colleagues, both vertically (your boss and team leads) and horizontally. Find out if there are any other apprentices in your organisation. Ask your boss who is important to get to know and then take them out for coffee/lunch or shadow them. People love to talk about themselves and it will give you valuable insight into your company, helping you build alliances at all levels.
One of your most important relationships will be with your line manager. Get to know them really well and how best they work. How do they communicate and how do they like to receive work for example? Be proactive in nurturing the relationship and build trust from day one by doing what you say you will do. Get to know what are their priorities and how your role fits into accomplishing them. Be confident to drive your own development and identify opportunities for your own growth e.g. arranging shadowing. Have open dialogue about your work and always welcome feedback.
If you haven’t got a copy of your job description, get one pronto. Having an understanding of what your role entails, what is expected of you and what good looks like, will help avoid any surprises down the line. Identify what are the key parts of your role and be sure to spend your time on those. In addition, while it’s good to get involved in “extracurricular activities”, please don’t do it at the expense of the job they have actually paid you to do. Show up and do the work and keep a record of the things you do accomplish, so that you have evidence for future line manager conversations.
Look for ways to contribute and secure some quick wins. Become a problem solver and bring tangible value to your team. As the newest member of the company, you come with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Use it your advantage and where you can provide help, give it. If you’re a whizz at powerpoint, for example, volunteer to create a presentation. If something isn’t working or can be improved, suggest an alternative. Come to your manager with solutions instead of complaints, trust me they will thank you for it. Adopt an attitude of “can do”, take the initiative and don’t be a clock watcher.
Finally, I will leave you with another quote from Michael Watkins: “during those first 90-days be prepared to work harder than usual, put in the extra hours, and be hyper-focused to firmly establish yourself”. Take the time now to sow strong foundations, as they will reap positive rewards as you progress in your role.