Albeit written from a perspective of a designer & developer, I dedicate this article to all the beginners in their first jobs who work in teams.
So you finally got a serious job, working with a real team on real projects. It's a high time you eventually used all those skills you gained so far, show off what you can and make some real things for real people.
Sounds good? It definitely does! And to be true, it’s probably one of the coolest moments you’ll ever experience. The question now is, how to use it right.
With all the excitement that it brings, your first job might be a bit overwhelming. Taking your first steps by creating concepts and fun projects is relatively easy. Starting your first real job is often not that much.
But don’t worry. We’ve all been there. To make it a bit smoother for you and (hopefully!) even more fun, here are a few tips on how to actually make it work.
1. Ask lots of questions
No matter how many times you already heard it, one time more definitely won’t hurt. Asking questions is good and asking lots of questions is even better. I met surprisingly many beginning designers and developers who feared to ask questions as this might annoy their team members, or be seen as cry wolf.
Well, if you faked it so darn good that having barely any experience you made it to a senior position, asking tons of basic questions probably won’t work out well. But, as long as you keep being honest about your skills and experience, both with yourself and people around you, it’s perfectly fine. Being a junior, asking questions and seeking help from others is exactly what you should be doing. And, if anyone ever suggests you not to bother them with your questions, no matter how many notches they have in their belt, in most cases it’s them not doing their job right, not you.
Bonus point: Don’t hesitate to communicate a lot in general. Not only to ask questions but also to proactively keep your team members up to date with your progress. Sometimes, people, who should take care of you, might lose track of what you’re working on if you don’t tell them yourself. With all the tight deadlines and twisted turns, it’s very easy to get some things out of hand, especially during crunch time. It doesn’t mean they don’t care for you. They just might need a little reminder to better follow what you’re up to.
2. Don’t fear mistakes, just admit them quickly.
We all make mistakes. Me, you, everybody. If you hope that after a few years of practice, you’ll feel confident about what you’re doing, proposing solutions and solving problems at the drop of a hat — let me shatter your dreams right now. Some level of confidence will come with time, there’s no doubt about that, but even then, I bet you’ll still keep questioning yourself, changing your mind and worrying if your choices were right. And even then, many of them probably won’t be.
This is exactly how it works and there’s nothing bad about that. We experiment. We make goofy mistakes. We iterate. We try to solve problems, we fail, we learn, and we try again. And then, all out of the sudden, when the last glimmer of hope has been dimmed and doused, we come up with a brilliant, seemingly obvious solution. Repeating this loop lays in the very heart of many professions.
So there’s nothing wrong in making mistakes. They’re an inevitable part of your job. What is actually wrong is not admitting them as soon as you realise them. And don’t get me wrong here — I’m not encouraging you to doubt and overthink every step you take, killing your productivity and not trusting your common sense. What I’m actually saying is don’t get too attached to your ideas, and drop them as quickly as you see they don’t work. And don’t hesitate to inform your team members or clients that you changed your mind about a solution you proposed earlier. I promise you it won’t sound silly, rather quite the opposite. Keeping such things to yourself will not only be harmful to the project but also there’s a high chance it will turn back against you anyway, sooner than you might expect.
3. Don’t get attached to the results of your work.
Being wise enough to change your mind and withdraw at the right time is one thing, embracing others’ criticism and feedback is another. It’s very easy to get comfortable with a solution you came up with. Finding out that it’s actually not that appealing to people around you might be harder.
If someone proposes you to change something in your work, think twice before you oppose it. Remember that even if something doesn’t go inline with your style or way of thinking, it still might be a better solution for the product. Even if a requested change breaks the rules or guidelines you’ve been trying to follow, it might still work better than your original idea.
Vision and consistency are important, but the final result and effectiveness of what you’re building are even more. The sole fact you’re responsible for some work doesn’t mean you own it. It’s still a teamwork. You should be less of a hero and more of a humble executor of everybody’s best ideas.
One more thing. Don’t feel bad when your work is being passed to others. Don’t get mad about it definitely getting twisted, ruined, and misunderstood. Proper handoff is vital in such a case, but it doesn’t allow you to force others to continue your ideas, only because you were the one who conceived them.
4. Be patient and understanding.
Believe me or not, mentoring juniors often require a lot of patience, empathy and understanding. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s much appreciated if they pay back with the same.
It is quite a frequent scenario that when you start your first job, you expect everything to be perfect. Your tools, tasks, Trello cards, all nice and clean, just waiting for you. You expect people more experienced than you to show you “how this actually should be done.” Like a magical show revealing peculiar miracles of professional work. Let me disillusion you again — high chances are it won’t happen, or at least not the way you expect.
They probably won’t help you with all your questions. Not because they don’t want to, but simply because they don’t know either. There are plenty of questions without simple answers, no matter how much experience you have. (We already covered that earlier, didn’t we?)
Processes and procedures are never finished. And rarely followed one to one. Tasks are rarely fully specified. And hardly ever completed after a single iteration. There’ll be hassles, there’ll be confusion, there’ll be disappointment and distress. It’s so easy to start complaining about your manager who forgot to pass you all the necessary information on time or about a client changing their mind for the eighth time in a row. We’re all people and it’s completely normal that it happens. Moreover, it will happen for the rest of your life. And just remember, as a classic says, “Greatness and comfort rarely coexist.”
5. Understand the big picture
So you’d like it to be perfect. Like perfect-perfect, in all the tiny nuances and everything else. I have my fingers crossed for it to be just that although the sad truth is that deliberating on some cosmetic changes probably won’t change the odds for the business too much. And, as long as attention to detail is always welcomed, it’s crucial to remember it’s still business as usual. And, as long as it’s not some fun side project of yours, business goals and priorities are still a thing to be respected and followed.
So if you’re asked to make something quick, it’s not necessarily disrespecting your job. There might be a good reason for that. Rather than explaining that “making this and that is not as easy as it seems and it takes time to do it properly” (which is probably 100% true), sometimes it’s much more reasonable to just keep your mouth shut, get down to work, and do what you’ve been asked for. It’s so much better to keep up with expectations (even questionable ones), educating and explaining how something could be done better at the same time, than simply withstanding and trying to prove you’re right.
That’s enough for now on teamwork and cooperation in your first job! In the meantime, take a moment to relax, take a look at what it is that you’re doing with a bit of perspective, and don’t forget to keep your head up and enjoy it! The first job could be hard, but it should also be fun. Because, only then, it will bring you the right results in a long run.