I’m Not The Intern! Owning a Leadership Position

By Jessi Putnam

h-armstrong-roberts-1960s-chubby-baby-sitting-in-leather-office-chair-behind-desk-holding-talking-on-telephoneAlright, since it’s just you and me, I’m going to be honest with you. As I was getting ready to graduate from college with my art degree in graphic design, I started panicking. It may have been due to the fact that student loans seem to subliminally convince you that if you don’t get a job straight out of school then you’ll explode. Or maybe that after 4 years, I was pretty sure my parents still didn’t had any idea what my major entailed. But despite my illogical fears, and much to my parent’s surprise, I was hired as a graphic designer at a marketing agency about a month after graduation.

The job I thought I had been hired to do seemed like the perfect junior level position that would help me transition from college to the work world. I expected to be working under other designers just getting my feet wet. But I quickly discovered that I was a design department of one. And as the lone graphic designer at my company, that made me the Art Director by default. My diploma hadn’t even arrived in the mail and I found myself in a position to make major decisions and convince my much older colleagues that I knew what I was doing despite my age. This job was a big opportunity for me, and after being asked if I was an intern on several occasions, I knew I needed to solidify my co-workers confidence in my abilities. So, if you’re the youngster at your new job like me, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far:

1. Don’t dress like the intern – Even if your company has a casual dress code, it doesn’t mean you should look like you just rolled out of bed, or worse like you’re coming straight from your college bar. If you want your co-workers to take you seriously, you have to dress the part. I’m not saying you have to wear a suit regularly; there are ways to look professional and still be comfortable and casual. But if the intern is wearing an ironic poncho and what appear to be bedroom slippers, step up your game and rise above his college chic.

2. Socialize with your co-workers – It can be difficult to make friends at work when you are several years younger then everyone else (and in my case, when they jokingly refer to you as “the millennial”). But if you isolate yourself as the lone 20-something at your office, you will have a very lonesome workday. Try to find some common ground and strike up a conversation. Or use your age in your favor and regale them with stories of your not-so-far off college days.

3. You don’t ALWAYS have to say yes – Starting out at any new job can be intimidating, especially if you’re the youngest and least experienced person at your company. You might feel the need to constantly agree with everyone and do everything that you’re told. But you didn’t go through 4 years of college to learn to be a yes man! Don’t forget that you know what your talking about and your opinions are valid. You may be young and inexperienced, but that also gives you a different perspective that your company could be missing. Always be respectful, but have some backbone. Nothing will make you seem more immature then letting your co-workers walk all over you.

4. Never assume you know everything – As a follow-up to speaking your mind, know when to shut up. Any job is going to be a learning experience, particularly your first one. And even if you are in a department of one like me, there will still be opportunities for you to soak up some knowledge. At the end of the day, your co-workers have been doing this a lot longer than you. And if you want to be in the business for the long haul, then sometimes you must concede that your 4 years of college didn’t give you absolutely EVERYTHING you need to know. You WILL make mistakes, there’s no avoiding it, but being a professional means learning to pick up the pieces and make improvements.

5. Just DO GOOD WORK! This might be the most important step in distinguishing yourself as a professional. Many people will assume that because you just graduated, your work might not be up to the company’s standards. They may assume that you will take a long time to accomplish tasks and that you’re going to have a panic attack over the work load. PROVE THEM WRONG! Do great work, do it efficiently, and be humble. There are no grades and kind professors in the real world, so don’t expect a gold star. But shattering stereotypes for recent college grads everywhere is well worth it.

Being the new blood in any company is never easy. And if you find yourself in a position with some power like me, knowing how to handle it and gain respect is harder still. But if you can learn to embrace both the pros and cons of being the youngster, you will get the most out of any new job. Even though being a recent grad means that you may still have some learning to do, it also means that you can bring something new to the table. Use your fresh perspectives and youthful energy while you have it. Have confidence and keep your eyes open for opportunities to learn and develop your skills. And remember to keep all this in mind when there is a new youngster at your company and they’re looking to you for advice.

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