A strategy for graduate success

How do you make your work interesting and speed up your progression towards the bigger projects and the freedom to pursue your own business ideas?

2020-01-21 17:03:00
Move On
154.900 21.01.2020

Despite years of studying, as a graduate you are still often starting from the most junior position in a company. This can mean that you are on the bottom rung of the 'who gets to do interesting work' ladder

So how do you make your work interesting and speed up your progression towards the bigger projects and the freedom to pursue your own business ideas?

Making your job your own

Amy Wrzesniewski, professor at the Yale School of Management, has been investigating who loves their jobs and why. Interviewing hospital cleaners she found an intriguing difference within the group. One portion of the workers were unhappy with their job, describing it as unskilled and in much the same language as the company job description.

The other portion of workers, despite being in the exact same role, described their work completely differently. To them the job was highly skilled, ’rich in relational terms,’ says Wrzesniewksi, and required constant learning about the patients, right down to details about which cleaning chemicals are least irritating for them. Wrzesniewksi explained to FastCompany,

’It was not just that they were taking the same job and feeling better about it, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and whistling. It was that they were doing a different job.’

This happy group of employees didn’t see themselves as just hospital cleaners but instead might describe themselves as ’an ambassador for the hospital,’ another explaining ’I’m a healer. I create sterile spaces in the hospital. My role here is to do everything I can to promote the healing of patients.’

It isn’t simply the case that these employees had a different attitude to their work. Instead, Wrzesniewski realised that the employees were creating work for themselves that they found meaningful. One employee wrote letters to some patients after they were released from hospital. Another would be sure to spend extra time with the patients she noticed had few visitors. One woman working on a ward for coma patients was rotating the art in the hospital rooms in the hope that a change of scenery might help spark something in the coma patients.

Wrzesniewski and her colleagues believe that this ’job crafting’ that the hospital cleaners were engaging in could be a key to job satisfaction. If you can identify how you can shape your job into what you want to be doing, something closer to your skills and interests, then that could make a big difference to your working day.

’You should find a job that is terrific, and figure out how to make it even better,’ recommends Wrzesniewski.

For recent graduates, who likely have a fair way to go to reach their ideal career goals, this is a particularly important skill to try to employ. Not only a good strategy for your own happiness but in all likeliness it will benefit your career.

Meeting your responsibilities to a high standard is what is expected of you. To make an impression in the graduate world it can be necessary to over deliver, as Jack Welch recently explained. What better to over deliver on than tasks that you are interested in doing and want to be given more responsibility in?

Demand responsibility but don’t worry about authority - people who take responsibility are often given responsibility.

How to not just do as you're told

The reality for graduates considering doing extra work on the side of their existing responsibilities or taking a different approach to a piece of work is that you can often feel you need to ask permission to do that work. You are often asking to do interesting work that you will take credit for if it goes well but yor manager will take responsibility for if it doesn't. Not a good deal for your manager, especially when you might lack the experience to demonstrate that you are fully capable of tackling this problem or utilising a new approach. Alternatively, asking permission to do extra work can be seen as showing off ("I can do my work and more").  If you know that your manager will say no what should you do?

In a recent talk Seth Godin advised:

’Demand responsibility but don’t worry about authority….people who take responsibility are often given responsibility.

Reflect credit but embrace blame… if there is something wrong you own that but if someone, particularly a boss or a client, wants to take credit that is fabulous. The reason it is fabulous is because they will come back to you for more of that. They have a choice about who to work with and they are eager to work with people who make them look good.

So how do you deal with this environment where the boss won’t let you? The answer is: do small things, things that won’t get you fired without asking. If they work, go to your boss or your client and let them take full credit for what you did. If they don’t work go to your boss or your client and tell them what you learned and take responsibility.

What happens when you start down that cycle, is you get to do it again. Once you’ve done it four times or six times or eight times and the client is taking credit …for a small thing you did in the world, they are going to come back to you and say ’lets do that small thing again, and maybe we can do it even bigger, together.’

To get round the issue of getting permission to job craft you might take Seth Godin’s approach, maybe instead you can tell you manager a convincing story to persuade them. Whatever you choose, how do you figure out what you should be doing in the first place, especially if you haven't discussed it with your manager?

Listen and then ask questions; fail and try again

Typically in life we are rewarded for having answers not listening or asking questions. Often, we’ll worry about looking incompetent if we ask a question. We would rather offer an ok, just about works, kind of solution to a problem than ask a question. A question that could lead us to a better solution. Innovation very often comes from asking questions, the kind that go deeper or take a different perspective than the questions that were asked before. They are often surprisingly simple and about the status quo:

  • Apple: What if we could teach people to have better design taste?
  • Foursquare: What if we could crowdsource what a city has to offer?
  • Charity Water: What if a charity was built on the principle of transparency?
  • Little Miss Matched: What if we sold socks that didn’t match?

If you are listening to what is going on around you, which means actively engaging by asking questions, and you’re trying something new and improving on it, you’ll be on the right track to over delivering and doing something your manager will want to take credit for.


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