Feeling stupid, new guy? That's OK
One of the most difficult parts of making
the transition from college to work is waking up every morning
and getting to the office on time. After you have mastered that,
the next most difficult thing is the "What am I doing here?"
This problem has two scenarios. The first is
you have the dumbest job in the whole world and you have idiots
telling you how to do idiot work. In this case, you probably
have fantasies of the second scenario, in which you have the
perfect job and are surrounded by geniuses doing very important
work. But what if you are, indeed, surrounded by geniuses
and important assignments?
Often, people with little work experience feel
stupid at work. And rightly so. Everyone has to teach them
what to do. But the problem is that if you show that you feel
stupid then no one will want to work with you. After all,
the geniuses hired you thinking they could teach you quickly
to add value.
So be the person they thought they hired. Stop
feeling stupid and focus on ways you can add value even if
you don't know anything:
Show potential. That excites people.
They hired you for your ability to learn and they knew they'd
have to train you. Let them know you're on the right track:
Dress right. Say the right things. Show up to meetings on
time. Don't be uptight. People will excuse that you don't
know a lot because it's exciting to be the one to teach an
Ask good questions. You might not have
all the answers, but you can help narrow in on good answers
by asking insightful questions. An ex-boyfriend (who was actually
a better catch than I had realized at the time) once told
me, "There are no right answers, just sharper questions."
It's OK if you are at a client meeting and have
only one or two things to say. The client knows that she has
15 years of experience in her business and you have 15 minutes.
But if you're invited, ask questions so that she knows you're
engaged and interested and she can get a sense of how you
Compensate for your boss in small but
significant ways. Think about the personality traits you
have and your boss doesn't. Are you good with details? Someone
who isn't will appreciate that you are. Are you good at small
talk? Show that skill at an office get-together and your social
dolt of a boss will appreciate you.
Pay attention, and use slow times for
synthesizing. You have time on your side. Older people
have kids, mortgages and sick parents. It's likely you have
none of those, which gives you lots of time to think. Creative
solutions don't come when you're slogging through meetings
or endless in-boxes. The new ideas come during quiet, unstructured
time. Gain an edge by giving yourself these moments -- you
might come up with a truly brilliant idea.
For some, this pep talk won't put a dent
in the nervousness you feel around bigwigs. Take solace in
the fact that smart people have such a huge need to be right
and add value that they sometimes never shut up. Marshall
Goldsmith, an executive coach and a founder of Alliance for
Strategic Leadership, cites the example of an ex-director
of the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., who constantly
added to other peoples' ideas, as in, "That's a good
idea, but it might work better if ..."
People such as that director are better
off keeping quiet, says Goldsmith. Not every idea needs to
be improved 5 percent.
So for those of you newbies working with
geniuses who always need to say one more thing, recognize
that sometimes these brainiacs just like to hear themselves
talk. The ability to see through such chatter is something
you bring to the table.
-- Posted: July 12, 2004