In an earlier blog, I gave you tips on how to succeed in your first job and use the experience to move to a higher-level position.
Perhaps you’ve heeded all that advice, but you’re still having difficulty performing your job well.
To recap, the advice I gave in that earlier blog, titled “It’s Your First Real Job After Graduating College: What Do You Do?,” included arriving to work on time, being respectful to all coworkers, having a positive attitude and a willingness and openness to learn, listening attentively to your boss’s suggestions, and pairing up with work mentors.
If you’re that person who is still struggling at work despite checking (or trying to check) off all the above boxes, then it’s time to determine what’s going wrong and why. If this is you, please know that you’re not alone. Sometimes we can strive to do our best and still fall short. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just figure out why it’s happening and aim to fix it.
The causes of a poor work performance can be numerous, ranging from having a supervisor who doesn’t give clear instructions to being a poor fit for a particular job.
Sadly, sometimes the supervisor you’ve been assigned to may have performance problems of his or her own. You may be more than up to performing the tasks you’ve been assigned, but if your supervisor doesn’t give you accurate or clear instructions—even after you’ve asked for clarification—you may have a difficult time doing your job well. Sometimes, you can also be a “victim” of your own academic or prior internship success. If you walk into your first job having earned super grades and accolades in college and/or high marks in internships, your boss may assume that you’re more advanced than you really are. He or she may throw you into assignments that are over your head, and without the proper instructions from your boss on how to perform the assignments, you may not perform them well.
Sometimes a lagging work performance is not about the supervisor. Sometimes it’s a matter of not being the right fit for your job. That doesn’t mean you’re not in the right industry, but the specific job you’re doing might not play to your strengths. For example, let’s say your job requires you to work fast under deadline pressure. Problem is, you’re a methodical person—in fact, taking the time to make sure everything “works” is part of your DNA—so working quickly to meet a deadline, which may require cutting some corners, just doesn’t come naturally to you. You KNOW you’d do a GREAT job if you had a little more time to get all your ducks in a row; despite how hard you’re trying to meet the current deadlines, however, you’re either missing them or, if you’re making them, it’s with a work product that’s not your best.
So how do you find success in your first job if you encounter the above type of situations or others? First, identify what’s going on and why, then take action. If it’s because of some of the issues noted in the supervisor example, you may want to ask your boss for a meeting to talk about your work performance. When you have that meeting, show him or her how enthusiastic you are about your job and how excited you are about doing well. Be open and let him or her know that you don’t know everything and that you sometimes need some additional instruction. Stress the fact that while you are new to the world of work and just getting your feet wet in your dream career field, you want to grow and improve and do the best job for the company that you possibly can. A good boss will be open to such a discussion and will adjust their style to help you succeed.
Meanwhile, if you realize your entry-level job is simply not a good fit, quitting it outright is NOT a solution. First, identify what you’re lagging at and try to do the best you can in that area, or areas, while you look for either a new job within the company you’re currently working for or for another company. This is where having done well in other facets of your job—arriving to work on time every day, being respectful of everyone, etcetera—will help you out. You may not be the best at your position, but your employer will still have great respect for you and will want you to succeed elsewhere. He or she may even recognize that the issue is simply that you’re not in the right job, and they may advocate for you with your current employer to help move you into an entry-level job that’s a better fit for you.
In closing, don’t despair if you’re struggling in your first job. It happens. Keep your chin up, identify the issues, and attempt to solve them. Remember, you worked a long time to get this far. This is just a bump in the road—a great learning experience—that will help you as you progress in your career. Stay positive and realistic, and you will progress.