There are many things I learned the importance of during the first years of my first full-time job. I have found myself repeating some of these points to multiple people recently. I sometimes need to remind myself too! So here is a list of the key ones.
Take notes and send meeting minutes
During meetings, calls, when people explain things, etc. Make sure to write down any action items and who is supposed to do each thing. You can then send the minutes after the meeting. It doesn’t usually matter if they are just bullet points, it’s a great way to check your understanding and make sure there is a written record. This allows everyone to be on the same page and correct any misunderstandings before you start working on something. It will also come in handy when you want to get an update on something that was discussed. Or when you are not sure of when you are supposed to share your results. Lastly, it shows you are organized and helps you earn trust, and shows your coworkers you value their time
Ask questions. Ask why things are done in a certain way and not another. Learn from everyone.
Especially at the beginning, you feel like your questions are pretty simple and basic. You might be afraid of making a bad impression. What I’ve found is that people actually appreciate questions. It’s a chance for them to explain themselves better and improve their answers for the next time they get asked about the topic. They are happy to know you are curious about what they have been working on. Another benefit is they will see you as someone who is curious and eager to improve. I doubt this will be the case, but if a manager or team member discourages questions, you should think about this: “You can’t say the wrong thing to the right person”
It is critical to communicate clearly both in written or verbal form. You can do this by adding data and presenting your points in a structured way, so that the story you are conveying is clear. It’s very important to clarify the goal or the main point at the beginning, no matter if it’s an email, documentation, a paper, or a presentation.
Make sure there is a clear thread throughout, like a narrative that allows the reader/listener to follow along easily.
Try to give specific data points. Rather than saying “a lot of people”, you should say “85%”: it’s more precise and gives the reader a clearer picture. If you think about it, “a lot of people” could mean half or all of the community. If you are presenting the sales’ growth versus last month, for example, saying “sales of x increased by y% from March to April” is very different than saying “sales increased significantly”: In the second case, the reader will not know how much the sales increased, what product or service you are referring to specifically and when the sales increased.
When asked to perform a task, estimate the time it will take, and inform the other person, even if they don’t mention timelines at all. If you have higher priority tasks at hand, let them know when you will be able to help; this will allow them to decide if they prefer to ask someone else.
If you think there might be any issues that could come up during the task/project, call it out as soon as possible. You will show domain expertise and help you earn trust. If everything goes smoothly, you deliver earlier than expected, which will be a win-win.
This is related to another idea connected to expectations: the concept of “underpromise and overdeliver”. You might want to add a buffer to your timeline, in order to ensure you have the time to tackle unforeseen issues if something comes up.
On the other side, when you discuss a new project or task with your manager, it’s good to make sure that you are fully aware of the expectations from their end and what the completed task ideally would look like.
Set up 5 minutes to do a weekly review. I usually do this at the end of the week, on Friday afternoon, just before turning off my laptop.
I have set up a file to track the following things: what I worked on, what tasks/projects I finished, what issues I had and what I learned, any feedback I got (positive and negative), and what I am proud of. The last point sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s good to reflect back on your week; sometimes what you’re proud of is not in any of the other sections and it’s nice to be able to think about this kind of accomplishment too. Lastly, I will write down the main thing I will work on the following week. I have follow-up posts on my weekly review as well as my project review coming up. They will have examples and a Notion and Excel template to download.
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