The UK Education syllabus, from reception to degree level, gives us a plethora of skills, knowledge and lessons to help us in the day-to-day challenge of forging a meaningful career.
However, after spending almost two years out of education, I can now report that there are (at least) ten things I could have really done with, before being able to put a tick in the ‘Full Time Employee’ box and handing back my NUS card.
1) You ain’t all that, young man.
First off, I’ve got a degree. Was I the finest academic mind in the land? No. Did I know people, through GCSE, A-Level and University that were? Yes. Yes I did.
However, if I were to pose the question, ‘through your education, were you given the suggestion that you were one of the bigger fish?’ Yes, I think I was. I’m sure many of you had that feeling too.
This didn’t seem to stop while applying for jobs and graduate scheme either, constantly being told that the next stage is for only the best applicants, with the brainy-est of brains and the whitest of teeth.
So, inevitably, you’ve got the job. Swaggering in on your first day, filled with ambition and spunk, shoulders back and chin up, only to be swiftly put in your place, at the bottom of the ladder with the mouldy apples, where you belong.
It’s like someone has thrown a particularly prickly cactus into into your metaphorical room of ambition-balloons.
Yes, after a while, you get used to your place in the sausage machine, but those first few weeks or months of deflation are tough. Congratulations for being in the top echelon of applicants, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
2) ‘Professional Dress Code’ does not always mean what you think.
‘I know if I were you, I’d be arriving in a suit every day. It makes the right impression.’ Wise words from a manager on my first day…
How disappointing, then, that taking that advice often means that you stand out like an organic ginger thin in a tin of custard creams.
It seems that the words ‘professional dress code’ are exclusively; shirt x1, trousers x1 and leather shoes x2. nothing more, nothing less. Fit in with this model and you’re sorted for life. Otherwise, you’ll be looking down at your brown suede boots and chinos thinking, ‘but I think I look smart?!’
The occasional purple shirted, beard-donning, wayfairer wearing marketing-type is an oddity in an otherwise pale, comfort-fit world, but walking down the corridor becomes a judgemental test of nerve, rather than a lust to quench your caffeine addiction.
Perhaps then, if you decide to follow the advice given to me, I wont be the only one hearing the words, ‘A blazer? Are you presenting to a senior manager today or something?’
3) No, you cant afford that.
At last, you’re free of student maintenance loans and squeezing every penny from your birthday money. You have a salary. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, even what others would call ‘a good one.’
Not so fast young man (or woman). The real world of tax, loan repayments, nation insurance, phone bills, contact lenses, rent and utilities will hit you harder than ever. Perhaps it’s partly because you expect that you’ll be rolling in it, and you can upgrade your lifestyle to the dizzying heights of middle earning. I’m here to tell you you can’t afford that nice new watch. Not yet.
You’ll watch as friends that are on a good £10K less than you, go on more holidays, drive better cars and eat better food, and all you want is to sort out the key scratch on your car door.
4) You still cant afford that
You’ve been in the job for a year, and you’re due for your first pay rise. Happy days, well done. Maybe you can afford that new watch after all? The first month of the ‘new you’ and you check your payslip, only to realise that the net increase is measurable as a two digit number.
what’s even worse is that, while staring in disbelief at your paycheck, you notice that almost the exact same amount that the watch you want costs, is the amount, to the penny that is taken away from your hard-earned salary.
some say it’s better not to look, but being mindful of how much is going to the Sheriff of Nottingham makes you at least feel like you’re giving something back the to the wondrous (ahem…) work that the government does. (insert sarcastic eyebrow raise here)
5) Social life = work = social life = work
If, like me, your company is a large employer of the local area, you’ll quickly realise that escaping the product codes, acronyms and recent money-saving initiatives is possibly the most difficult task since Mr Hitler and Mr Goring decided to cross the channel.
‘I’ll just pop to the pub to unwind and get my mind off things’ you’ll say, only to be greeted by four members of your office, developing new ways to shorten everyday phrases to be more PowerPoint friendly. TGWs is a good example of this… ‘things gone wrong.’ I digress. The simple fact is that after a heavy week, you’ve probably got a heavier weekend on it’s way. The after-school homework hasn’t gone. It’s just evolved.
6) Time is respect
The one aspect of corporate life that has astounded me more than any other, is the importance of ‘time in the office.’ Whether you’re working hard, discussing weekend plans or eating a full three-course lunch, it’s the time that you spend in the office that’s most valued.
Many offices are going towards a ‘smarter working’ attitude, with the ability to work from a number of areas including in the office, at home, down the corridor or, of course, in bed. This, while being a great idea to drive the efficiency of space and personnel, is unfortunately look upon as the work of Beelzebub himself, with strict disciplines of the 8 ’til 5 working day.
It seems, therefore that if you’re looking to succeed and climb up that ladder, its how long you’re visible, not that you’re doing when you aren’t that’s important.
7) Coded advice
‘Keep on keeping on,’ someone once told me; begging the question, ‘what the hell does that mean?’ During your inevitable bi-annual reviews and casual chats on development, there are many fonts of knowledge and advice in a large corporate company from which to drink. Unfortunately however, the advice given is normally in a process-driven corporate model, which may have the right connotations, but to hell with understanding it.
I feel often like Luke Skywalker, being told by wise old Obi-Wan that ‘Vader betrayed and murdered your father,’ only to find out that it’s only true… from a certain point of view.
The certain point of view is, put simply, a get-out clause to prevent you, or them, from having to really think about the issue, or what to do next. Beware the corporate point of view at your own risk.
8) Get your Monday morning off to a good start.
The most important question, asked every Monday morning is ‘So, did you have a nice weekend?’ to which, if you’ve not spent the last 10 hours developing a reasonable answer, will haunt you for the whole day.
Think big. Go all out and lie, taking fifteen long minutes, crafting and gesticulating about how you spent all weekend touring Norway in a canoe, stopping off to go beluga fishing. You’ll notice something very unique about the original question, which is that nobody actually cares. The detailed account of how the beluga whale was tempted out of it’s underwater cave will have exactly the same reaction as murmuring about opening a bottle of cheap fizz while watching X-Factor.
The same is true about all emails sent globally between 0830 and 1200 every Monday. They all begin with ‘I hope you’re well and had a good weekend,’ which is, although friendly, corporate code of ‘I couldn’t give a rats arse what you did on the weekend.’ You know it, they know it, so cut to the chase and talk work. Actually don’t, after all it’s nice to be nice, even if you hate their guts.