How to Benefit From Your Trashy Entry-Level Job

In the summer of 1998, I worked the night shift in a research lab, shoveling and sifting through the earth for eight hours at a time. I was hanging out in this little room in the basement of the greenhouse that had a chute into which the earth was dumped. I put the large bathtub on a cart, attached a net to it, and threw a few shovels of earth into it. Then I sifted through this dirt, holding a few specific elements at the top of the screen, and then doing it again. And again. When the cart was full, I would push it towards the elevator, lift it into the boarding rooms, then take out the empty cart and do the same again.

This post was originally published on The Simple Dollar .

This is roughly the most basic level you can get. Shoveling and sifting dirt.

But here’s the thing. I was part of the team. I had to play my part with this team. I found out why I am doing this (to make good planting soil so that lab technicians can plant seedlings) and how to do it better. Over time, I earned a positive reputation in this research lab, moved on to bigger and better projects, and eventually moved on to another lab where I was given a bigger salary and a lot more responsibility.

This job of sifting through the mud was a really terrible job. Every night I went home sick … or, I would say, every morning, because it was the night shift. My hands were callous. I was often very bored with my work.

In truth, however, my choices in this job had a lot to do with whether I stay there, raking the ground for years and years, or move on to bigger or better. By extracting everything I could from this work, I was able to move up the career ladder to a brighter future.

If you have an entry-level job, or are about to start, and think it’s just a misfortune, look at it from a different perspective. Look at it like a maple. It’s complicated. It’s gross on the outside. But with smart strategies, you can get a lot of the sweetness out of it.

Here are 16 strategies for getting every bit of value out of your entry-level job, so you’re ready to move on to something bigger, better, and brighter in all dimensions.

Have a good attitude

This job is not your life. This opportunity is a stepping stone to something better. Don’t see it as suffering. Think of it as the first or two steps at the bottom of a giant staircase. Look up, not down.

Just showing up to work in a good mood – or at least showing that you’re in a good mood – can be critical. This can drastically change the perception of others in a very positive way, and it is often these people who determine how unhappy and how enjoyable your job really is. Don’t grumble about something you don’t like. Be positive in your interactions with others. Smile, even if you need to force it. Look at your work as the first step on the road to greatness (which it is) and you want to nail that first step.

But how can you do this if you literally hate your job ? The best method for me was to hate me and not the others I worked with. If I didn’t like my job or my situation, then it was me , not them, and they didn’t deserve to see or hear my negative thoughts. I found other ways to do this, namely, I rode these insanely stressful bike rides to get rid of the frustration. It really helped.

Don’t mess around

One of the worst things you can do in an entry-level job is wasting time. Don’t stand there and do nothing. Don’t constantly check your phone at work. If you have nothing to do immediately, look for things to do.

What if you can’t think of anything? One thing you can always do is maintain the things you use. Clean the grate. Wash the floor. Go through all the things to do checklists. Clean up your tools. If someone else is busy, hop in and take on some of their workload (if this is an entry-level job, you can probably handle it).

The worst thing you can do is just stand there. This not only makes you look very lazy, but it also makes time pass slowly. In fact, it seems like the time you spend at work goes by much faster if you are doing something, rather than standing and watching the clock.

Ask a lot of questions

Often times, people take on entry-level jobs without a full understanding of why their job is important in general. Because they don’t look at how their work is fulfilling an important role, they mindlessly work on their tasks and don’t think about how to fulfill them in the best possible way in order to fulfill the overall mission of the business.

It requires a lot of questions, even in an entry-level job, and asking those questions and approaching the job in terms of helping the business in general is what will definitely get you positive attention.

In my job, I’ve found that the best approach is to go to my supervisor when he or she is outside and easily accessible, and just ask if he or she can answer some questions about the job. I did it in front of everyone, so that there were no “meetings behind closed doors”. I also sometimes asked questions to technicians who were not my boss, but who were dealing with what I was producing.

I asked for all sorts of details. I asked how the mud was used and what I could do to make the excavator carts as easy to use as possible for the planting technician. Where to put the carts? How full should the bins be? I asked where all the gear should be stored and how it should be maintained, so I started to take about fifteen minutes at the end of the shift to clean the gear and put it away the way my boss suggested (other people just left, shovels on the floor, etc.) etc.).

I have found that asking questions almost always leads me to the best way to get my job done. I learned why I do these things and how to do it in a way that is as useful as possible to others, so that the overall goals of the laboratory are fulfilled more efficiently. The end result was not that I did something much better than anyone else, but that my efforts brought a noticeable extra polish to them, something that my boss noticed and that the technicians noticed.

Maximize every job skill

If your job offers a special bonus – discounted meals, free tickets to events, etc. – take advantage of every drop of that bonus. Eat cheap food when you come to your shift and when you leave. Take all available tickets for the event. Get everything you can.

There are many reasons for this, even beyond the obvious ones. First, it will obviously save you some money, which is a key part of any entry-level job. Your wages are low, so if you have a chance to get other benefits, you should do so. On the other hand, you can sometimes flip some of these perks to put more money in your pocket. My wife had an entry-level job: she scrubbed the floors in concert halls and often received tickets, which she then “flipped” to earn some pocket money.

Another important reason that is often overlooked is that you get the product from the customer’s point of view. If you eat at the restaurant where you work, you quickly learn what is good and what is bad about food. The better the product you put out there (for a dollar, of course), the more customers you will attract in the long run and the more money the business will generate. If you play a role in figuring it out and making it happen, it will benefit you too. Understanding the product is vital to getting the most out of your entry-level job.

Seek inspiration and mentoring

Ask about the past of everyone above you in the organization, especially those who are several steps above you. Did they start with an entry-level job like yours? How did they climb the stairs to their current location?

Find people who have risen to great things at your level, and make these people mentors. Ask their advice in difficult situations. Ask their suggestions on how to improve your chances of getting promoted upwards.

But the main thing is to follow this advice. Hearing this is one thing, but the most important thing is to make it work.

Imagine yourself good

Come to work clean and presentable, even if it’s a manual job like my old job scooping up dirt. You can go home sweaty and disgusting, but there is no reason to show up like that.

To take a shower. Make sure your clothes are not mint or falling apart. Use a lot of deodorant. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. In other words, take care of yourself and give the world, your colleagues and managers the best presentation possible.

I can’t tell you how often I see entry-level employees looking completely disheveled, half asleep and without a shower, with tousled hair and wrinkled clothes. These people shout loudly: “I do not want to be here and I do not take this work seriously.” Don’t be that kind of person.

Be on time

When you are late for work, it means that someone else has to cover you. Often times, your boss is aware of this too and is probably coping with it in some way. Punctuality means no one else should be doing these things.

Not only that, when you are punctual in an entry-level job, you tend to positively stand out from others who are not punctual. It reflects well on you, and when you stand out in a positive way, you are much more likely to receive workplace rewards from it.

My punctuality strategy was to arrive at work 15 minutes before I had to start. Depending on how I was feeling, I would either dive right away or find something useful on site until my shift begins. The goal was simple: never be late .

Be reliable

If you are given a task that really makes sense to complete, do it. Complete the assignment to the best of your ability. When asked to do something, do it without arguing. Take a new challenge and complete it to the best of your ability.

You want to reach the point where you can be approached for a reasonable task and accomplished with minimal hassle. In fact, the people higher up the chain want to minimize problems. They want to live their day just like you do, and when you make it easy for them to simply do what you have to do with minimal help and hands, everyone benefits from it. You get fewer lectures, you get a steady increase in respect, and they feel better.

If you have a task, do it well. Do this consistently. Do this so that others don’t have to interfere and clean up.

Avoid negative workplace conversations

In most workplaces, there is gossip and negative talk. People love to complain about their situation, and many people rejoice in the trials and tribulations of others.

No wonder why this happens – it can be really nice to let the air out. However, participation in it has large negative consequences. First, the negative words you say are easily passed on to others. You can trust the people around you unconditionally when you speak up, but these people can find value in getting your message across to your boss or the people you criticize.

Moreover, if you are often critical and negative about others, people will begin to trust you less because they know that they will eventually become the target of your poison.

A much better approach is to avoid negativity entirely. Don’t use negative words about coworkers or your work in the workplace. Listen to what others have to say, but don’t repeat it. And there is no need to help this. Instead, look for other topics to talk about and avoid negativity in the conversation. It doesn’t help anyone.

Give credit to others

If you’re encouraged to do something good at work, don’t take all the credit. Instead, take the minimum merit and share it with others. Point out anyone who did something to make it happen, even if you definitely feel they fully deserve it.

This is what happens when you do this. First, the leader usually knows that you have done a great job to make all good things happen. Sharing credit won’t change that. He will demonstrate to your manager that you are working as a team and working to “lift” other people in the workplace.

At the same time, everyone loves to be recognized for their efforts. You support your colleagues in a positive light and give them credit. It feels good to almost everyone. These colleagues will also appreciate you more than before.

When you give credit to others, you win with your leaders and you win with your peers. There is literally no shortage of providing credit where it needs to be obtained.

Identify reliable partners

Over time, you will gradually begin to understand which employees are reliable and trustworthy and which are not. Some people work hard and do well, while others don’t. Some people are silent, while others spit out poison and report every wrongdoing.

Don’t worry too much about negative people. Of course, don’t turn them into enemies, but don’t focus on them either. Instead, build relationships with people who are comfortable doing their job and doing it effectively. These are the kind of friends you need at work. Build that relationship through positive or non-work conversations. Help these people when you have the opportunity and don’t expect anything in return.

Strong relationships with the best people in your workplace will always benefit you when they are established. Good coworkers will help you when you need help, cover up when it really matters, and support you in any conflict in the workplace. These people usually have a good reputation with their boss, which means that their word will go a long way when it comes to you.

Ask for specific promotion tips

If you want to stay with the organization for a while, a promotion is likely to be quite attractive to you, especially when it comes with increases in pay and opportunities.

The catch is that sometimes it’s not clear what you need to do to get that promotion. Obviously, the tactics above will help you rank well, but in any job there are certain points that will put you in line for a promotion.

The solution here is to sit down with your supervisor or someone who is responsible for your potential promotion and simply ask what exactly you need to do to get the promotion. What are they looking for? What do you need to do or show to get a promotion from the inside?

Whatever you are told, use this as a checklist. I literally wrote down what they said and then used that material as a guide for what to do at work every day, in addition to your normal responsibilities.

Always think like a customer

After all, every organization has customers it serves. Perhaps they are people looking to dine at your restaurant. Maybe they are people looking to buy tools from a hardware store. Maybe these are poor people who want to take food from the pantry.

Regardless, your organization has customers. Every time you think about how to handle a task, stop for a second and think about what you are doing from the client’s point of view. What can you do to provide this client with the best possible experience without requiring additional money for your business?

You can keep your grill clean. You can keep food fresh. You can leave the shelves full. You can answer customer questions and be as friendly as possible.

When customers are happy, they come back. When they return, your business is booming. When you do something that brings customers back, the people in your organization will notice and benefit from it.

Develop marketing and transferable skills

Every day that you are at work, do not forget about the next step in your career. Where do you want to go next? More importantly, what skills will you need to get there?

Often the skills you will need in this future job will not be exactly the same as what you are doing now, but there is almost always some kind of overlap. Maybe it’s about customer service skills. Maybe it’s time management. Maybe it’s about information management. Maybe this is some kind of highlight of the IT skills.

Just look for overlaps between the skills you use in your entry-level job and the skills you will use in your ideal job. Then, when you’re at work, put in the extra effort to hone those skills. If you are going to continue marketing, focus on making the most of anything that might be relevant, such as marketing. If you don’t have certain skills, work on things like communication skills, information management, and, well …

Don’t give other workers a reason to stab you in the back

There will always be negative people in the workplace. They are going to attack people and stab them in the back. They will try to destroy others. It’s just their nature – there’s nothing you can do about it.

However, you do not need to draw a giant bull’s-eye on yourself. Don’t leave your colleagues alone. Don’t make it difficult for them to work. Don’t create any conflicts if you can avoid them.

What will happen is that other people – people who do their job poorly and create problems for others – will become a low hanging fruit with a target on their back. Of course, this is not the happiest outcome, but if you hit the bull’s-eye – and it will – make sure it’s not on your back.

Final thoughts

An entry-level job can be a powerful springboard for your career, even if that simple job doesn’t seem like it can get you what you want. Never, never fall into the trap of thinking that your job doesn’t matter or that it can give you nothing but your paycheck. At least any job can open doors to your future, whether you see them or not.

Take your job seriously. Use a customer-centric view of what you are doing. Be reliable, timely, presentable, and don’t mess around. Look for mentors and lasting relationships, and ask what you can do to get a promotion. These things will pave the way for a much better future.

Good luck.

How To Get More Out of Your Entry-Level Job | Simple dollar


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