Featured

The unicorn skill

Work has been absolutely grueling recently. A short staff and big upcoming deadlines have meant that I’ve been getting into the office at 6 a.m., working weekends, and falling asleep on the couch right after dinner. That has also been the primary reason that blog posts haven’t been regular (sorry!).

Because my job has been a trial by fire, I’ve also had a crash course in imposter syndrome and a chance to hone my skill of being able to quickly make up for resources I don’t have.

Enter the unicorn skill. I now act as the team lead for a small number of colleagues, and am part of the interview process to fill more positions. If there is one thing that I dearly want to improve myself and see fellow emerging adults improve at, it is the ability to figure sh*t out.

I have long since given up counting how many problems or questions I face per day that I don’t know the answer to. Sometimes it’s helping a coworker with a task, sometimes it’s diving into an assignment with minimal training, sometimes it’s digging up resources on topics that aren’t clear.

The trick is that there is no way to ever completely master this skill, but it is crucial to succeeding both in many professional roles and when figuring out this whole adulting thing.

Know what you don’t know. There is no such thing as being overprepared; however, you will much more often find yourself accidentally underprepared. If that underpreparedness is your fault, figure out how to fix it for next time, but sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid it. If you can identify the key elements of the problem that you don’t know/have, then you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Own what you do know. What do you already know about the topic or task? Is it similar to something you’ve encountered before? Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to experience. For example, I just wrapped up a project at work updating a big product catalog. It wasn’t something I had done before in this capacity, but having spent most of high school and college doing yearbook and then student journalism, I knew the bones of the process were the same. I knew how to work backwards from a deadline, brushed off some InDesign skills, and made it happen. Anything you’ve done in the past that you think could help probably will.

Dig first, and dig well. Google is your friend, as are any other resources at your disposal. When I’m asked a question I don’t have the answer for at work, I go digging — through our files and management systems, through emails, through our website, and then through some thoughtful keyword Google searches. Often, I find the answer within a few minutes. Even if I don’t, I usually get more information or a clearer picture of what’s missing.

I cannot tell you how many times someone has messaged me a question, and then figured it out on their own before I’m able to respond a couple minutes later (of course, I’ve done the same too many times). The moral: don’t. Learn how to use what’s at your disposal to help you when the answer isn’t obvious.

On the other hand, know when it’s time to ask for help. There comes a time when you’re wasting your time by continuing to search alone if someone else could either 1) provide the answer, or 2) assist you in the search. Once you’ve done the legwork to make asking for help as useful and easy as possible for the person you’re asking, being able to ask is important. It’s not an admission of failure or incompetence to ask someone with more expertise or resources for support.

We’re all in the same boat. Figuring things out on the fly is a skill that I think we all need, and which most of us are forced to develop at some point. Remember that it’s always someone’s first rodeo, and it’s likely that anyone you’re working with also wants a good outcome from the task. Imposter syndrome has a habit of making you feel like you’re the only one who is underprepared, and everyone else has it all figured out, when that is a bold-faced lie. None of the rest of us know what we’re doing either — we’re just working on knowing a little more some of the time.

What’s your favorite tool when you feel underprepared? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

(Photo is a free stock photo because I’m busy, y’all.)

Featured

It only takes a word

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how soft skills, especially in terms of communication, are underappreciated and under-emphasized by so many people. Of course, this is coming from someone who majored in communication, but I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed from folks in fields from business to STEM.

Some people espouse that to get ahead — particularly in one’s career — you can’t be kind or agreeable, or at least not too agreeable. And of course there is an element of balance; if you only ever say positive things, it will be hard to make your own ideas known and to point out risks or issues in the ideas of others.

Especially when I’m busy, my default is to be fairly stressed and fairly serious. I’ve had to learn how to make time to build good professional relationships, even if it means a task takes a little longer. But on the flipside, it’s also hugely important to me that everyone be as content with a given situation as possible and that I take regularly opportunities to boost morale. Often that means bringing in treats for coworkers or saying “thank you” more times than perhaps necessary. And these are great, but they’re also a little shallow.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some absolutely phenomenal bosses and mentors as I’ve gained work experience. I’ve also had the chance to be a boss or mentor to other folks, and to experiment with what comprises a successful leadership style.

Some of the elements are fairly standard: clear training and instruction, open communication channels, well-rounded feedback that includes praise for elements done well and actionable critiques on ways to improve.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned from my mentors, though, is how incredibly important it is to empower those who are learning from you — whether the setting be professional, familial, or otherwise. While “empower” has become a bit of a buzzword and lost some of the meaning it ought to possess, it captures exactly how we should be made to feel by those we’re learning from (and how we should be making those we’re teaching feel).

As an example, a brief anecdote: Yesterday was not a great day for me. I’m behind on a lot of at-home tasks (*ahem* cleaning) and my at work my number of tasks and the stakes are increasing. It was just one of those days I felt ill-equipped for all I was facing. During the course of separate conversations, both my boss and a former boss/mentor offered unsolicited, generous compliments on my competency and the impact of my work. They both absolutely made my day.

The comments meant so much because both of them conveyed that they actually believed in me. Which, for starters, is something we could all stand to hear a little more often. But it also made me want to prove them right, instead of trying to prove negative thoughts or voices wrong.

I’ve long held to the belief that small kindnesses can have radical impacts in people’s lives. For emerging adults in particular, it’s crucial that we not only embrace that idea in our personal lives, but also our professional ones. As we do so, we can foster and eventually create environments that encourage people’s growth through support or cooperation rather than relying on competition.

In the future, I’ll be looking for and taking more opportunities in which I can offer a word or gesture to help other folks feel as valued and full of potential as comments like the ones yesterday made me feel. I just hope we all do.

As always, comments, questions, and miscellaneous input welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. I know it’s yet another sunset ocean pic, but this place was home for a long time and not only taught me a lot of what I covered in this post, but could use any extra love available as the community continues to heal from tragedy.

Professional can be relative

A lot of emerging adults hear about and fear the word “professional.” That is by no means a negative mark on the age bracket — new and unfamiliar things are just intimidating. Part of the problem is that, like a lot of cultural phraseology, the word professional doesn’t mean the same thing to every person or in every context.

I work in California, specifically a rather urban part of it. So “professional” here looks very different depending on what you do. Of course lawyers and high-rise business execs still dress out in more formal business wear, often with the office atmosphere to match. But a lot of places are startups are simply more focused on the product than appearance, and tend to be a lot more casual. Most of the folks in my office dress on the nice side of casual, or the very casual side of business. Everyone in the office jokes around and our Slack channel is full of reaction gifs, but when we get to work we do it well.

Different regions or companies will all be different — one woman I did an informational interview with was one of only three people in her office but still dressed business casual. What’s expected under the term “professional” can also change temporarily. When I first started my job I purposely dressed a little nice than was necessary because I wanted to make a good impression during my first few days.

So if you’re interviewing with a company, or looking to get started in a particular region or field, do some research. Find out as much as you can about the company culture, or what offices/managers in that area typically expect. To be safe, dress a little nicer than you need to for both your interview and first week or so.

Clues can include not just the type of profession (obviously lawyers generally dress more formally than software engineers), but even any pictures you can find of the office. Cubicles and white walls usually mean you should behave and dress more formally. Open floor plans and bright colors mean things are probably a bit more casual. As general rules of thumb, East Coast is usually more formal than West Coast, and downtown is usually more formal than midtown, old town, or suburbs/industrial.

If you really can’t find any info to help you out, the default should be at minimum business casual. This means a button-down shirt, slacks, and probably a tie for guys, and a blouse with slacks or a pencil skirt for women. A blazer or a nicer sweater can be a good addition, but for guys, if you’re adding a blazer you can lose the tie and still be business casual.

Of course, attire isn’t the only means of being professional. In any professional environment, use extra manners and keep an extra filter on conversation — coming across as rough or crass is never a good look. Address people how they introduce themselves to you, and default to traditional titles if you’re not sure. This is especially the case if someone has advanced degrees — they worked hard for them!

Any company or office culture will take time to assimilate into, but putting in a little extra effort is sure to help you out in the long run. What’s the most helpful tip you’ve received for presenting yourself professionally? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Ghosting is not professional

As a heads up, this one is a bit of a rant, but also a really important lesson. For anyone who doesn’t know what ghosting is, it’s when someone cuts off communication and/or avoids you for unspecified reasons. It leaves the person on the receiving end with a lot of questions and no closure, and is usually seen in the dating world. But, unfortunately, it’s also far too common in the professional world.

Like most people getting started in the workforce, I applied for a lot of jobs. Of the 61 I applied to, I never heard back from 46 of them. To be fair, a small portion of those sent automated emails that said they would only reach out if they were interested, which in a busy world I consider perfectly acceptable. But the majority of those just never responded at all, and frankly it’s a huge pet peeve.

I once got denied in less than 30 minutes for an application I submitted at midnight on a Friday. As much as getting shut down quite so promptly kind of sucked, it felt nice to at least have an answer.

A few of the companies I interviewed with simply never got back to me after I came in for an interview. I was able to follow up with some of them, and at least received an answer that way. One company offered me a position and then fell off the map, despite me calling and emailing (the good news is I wasn’t eager about that job anyway).

To be fair, this isn’t a one-way issue. I have seen and heard about candidates never getting back to potential employers, and it is not a good look. Don’t be that guy.

Of course, this isn’t just an emerging adult issue. People of all ages are both guilty of it and harmed by it. So here’s the moral of the story: If you’re applying for jobs, or dealing with any kind of meeting/appointment/interview, RESPOND. If someone calls or emails you, get back to them at the earliest reasonable opportunity. If you’re waiting on something, even let them know that so you’re at least maintaining communication. If you’re on the hiring end of this type of situation, REACH OUT. A polite copy-paste email telling someone “thanks, but no thanks” takes so little time, and leaves the person on the other end with a much better impression.

If you’ve been communication with someone from either end of this and it’s been a while since they responded to you, follow up. My usual policy is at least two emails and a phone call before I give up, though circumstances differ.

It takes effort but is so much more kind and professional to let someone know that you want to pass on an opportunity or cancel a meeting, rather than have them wondering what went wrong. I also usually end my emails with “I look forward to hearing from you!” as a hint that I’ll be waiting on a response.

What small things have you experienced that convey professionalism? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!