Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present a glimpse into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.
Do you remember your first day of work? I’m talking about the first day of your first grown-up job in your career track. You probably felt nervous and excited as you got all dressed up and toured around the office and met friendly people. Then you sat down at your desk, and you suddenly realized that, despite a long, difficult and expensive education featuring countless exams and deep, meaningful classroom discussions, you never actually learned how to be a successful professional.
The problem that I have been struggling to solve this year is how best to handle the transition from school to workplace. While this transition has been anything but smooth for me, I have nevertheless gained some insights that I hope will provide you with the opportunity to think about how you adjusted or will adjust to the different possibilities offered and expectations placed upon you in the working world.
“In my experience, this newfound freedom can be overwhelming and confusing at times.”
Earlier this year, I started an internship with the Office of the Student Ombuds at the U of A through the Arts Work Experience Program (AWE). For those who don’t know, this student service provides information and assistance to students dealing with a wide range of scary-sounding problems: everything from grade appeals to residence issues to charges of academic misconduct.
While I love my work here and get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping students, the head-spinning diversity of my work has made it impossible to find a simple, systematic approach to my day-to-day tasks — a fact which has led me to experience my fair share of the obligatory insecurity and disorientation that accompanies an adjustment to any new role.
A major shock has been the freedom and independence of my work. Unlike in university, a good career supervisor will eventually leave you to work independently once you have earned their trust and shown them the quality of work of which you are capable. In my experience, this newfound freedom can be overwhelming and confusing at times.
“Rather than running away, I made the best of these situations in the moment and used them as learning experiences for what to avoid in the future.”
Guided by my own, somewhat faulty intuition, I can recall at least a couple of instances in which I overstepped my bounds and found myself in situations where things got weird, such as a meeting between a student and professor in which my presence was clearly misunderstood, and resulted in high tension, discomfort and many sideways glances. However, rather than running away, I made the best of these situations in the moment and used them as learning experiences for what to avoid in the future.
At times I am stunned by the amount of trust I have been given in representing the service and assisting students facing life-altering decisions. However, I also feel honoured by this and do my best to ensure that I don’t disappoint anyone. While a good mark on an assignment is fine for a short-lived ego boost, I love that the results of my hard work can now be seen in something as rewarding as a good result to a student’s situation or a thank-you card from a client.
Here are some tips that I would have liked to have known before I started my work term:
1. You will find that most people are willing to forgive the mistakes of students and new workers, but this won’t last, so take advantage of it while you can! Chances are, your boss and coworkers will see these mistakes as learning experiences and will provide you with help and advice to fix your mistakes.
2. Take an active approach to your work. Look for opportunities to show what you can do and what you have learned. Standing out and catching the attention of others in your desired field can put you at a distinct advantage.
3. Try to develop your own unique approach to your job. If you have the opportunity to observe your coworkers, take time to reflect on what they do well and what you would change, and try to implement these observations into your own work.
In conclusion, when you start your first job, I hope that you make mistakes, find yourself in awkward situations, embarrass yourself in front of everyone at least once (boss, coworkers and clients), and experience a small crisis of identity every day. Through all of this, you will ultimately learn who you want to be as a worker. If you never have any of these experiences, you’re not doing it right!