Paying Your Dues As An Entry-Level Employee

“Entry-level” work often consists of the mundane, tedious tasks that managers and veterans just won’t do anymore. The term itself makes it quite clear that entry-level positions are at the bottom of the office rankings. Being the “new guy” or the “rookie” at work can seem like a raw deal, but the right outlook can help you pay your dues as painlessly as possible. It’s a rite of passage that almost every one of your co-workers survived at the start of their career. If you do your entry-level work right the first time, you’ll never have to revisit the bottom of the totem pole. But, if you approach it with a poor attitude and a shaky work ethic, you might find yourself a permanent position in entry-level limbo.

No Credit, No Blame

While entry-level employees don’t get a pat on the back or a raise when a large project succeeds, they also don’t get blamed or fired when one fails. Upper management makes the crucial decisions that steer the company’s efforts, and as a result they carry the accountability (and the liability) for those decisions.

This is a double-edged sword for greenhorn workers: Credit for your efforts is the catalyst for a promotion out of entry-level status. You need it more than anything else, and unfortunately it’s very hard to obtain from a low position in the rankings. Blame, on the other hand, is something you don’t need at all. After all, you’re on the bottom rung of the company ladder, and getting blamed for a company failure could land you at the next position down – “Former Employee.”

So, while that elusive credit is in short supply, so is the blame that could severely damage your standing at work. Thus, the lack of both credit and blame could be seen as a perk of entry-level employment. The managers and executives have to ride a shaky roller-coaster of brilliant successes and dismal failures, but you get to enjoy a steadier, smoother ride with much less weighty responsibility and additional pressure.

“I Don’t Do Coffee… Do I?”

As an entry-level employee, you still haven’t shed those intern-like tasks. You might have been told in your interview that you will need to “wear many hats” or be a “Jack (or Jill) of all trades.” Managers and veterans might have “an exciting, dynamic, multi-faceted role in a fast-paced work environment,” but those words mean something totally different on an entry-level job description. For the greenhorn, those terms are just workspeak for saying that you might end up doing some mundane, menial tasks that don’t exactly further your experience or skill set. While the veterans are attending business trips, product launches and conferences, you might be stuck with whatever day-to-day work remains undone, which can include some pretty boring, unpleasant tasks. In fact, the most “dynamic” and “fast-paced” part of your schedule might be your 5pm pack-up.

Don’t take the menial work as a bruise to the ego. Your boss and your coworkers most likely had to do the same thing. You just didn’t get to witness them delivering a package, unjamming the copier or grabbing lunch and coffee for their boss. There will always be some less-than-enjoyable parts to any job. Even rock stars, astronauts and race car drivers have some grunt work to deal with. You’ll never be rid of it entirely, but it will get smaller every time you prove your worth.

Some of these entry-level tasks can work out surprisingly well. You might get to step outside to deliver a package. You might be excluded from mind-numbing management meetings fraught with buzzwords and boredom. Later in your career, you’ll be dying for a reason to get out of a meeting, or to get out of the office altogether.

Pay Your Dues One Step at a Time

If you find yourself frustrated or resentful of the strange grab-bag of entry-level tasks, remember that your outlook and attitude can be your best friend or your worst enemy.  Unless you have a graduate degree from a top college, you won’t be soaring to the top of the food chain in one big leap. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll have to do it one step at a time. This is just one of those many steps, and you’re one step farther than you were when you wrote endless cover letters and took on unpaid internships. Be patient with your career.

Do it right the first time. If you perform well at your entry-level job, you’ll have several great recommendations and an extensive list of accomplishments for your resume. That way, you’ll have paid your dues for good, and you’ll have a very positive record of it.

Then, you can shoot for that dream job…

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Peter is Vice President of Digital Marketing at an investment holdings company in Washington DC and Co-Founder at True North.


  1. Sabrina on the 5th June

    As for the blame/credit thing, you can still be fired. You’re an easy scapegoat and easily replaceable if something goes majorly wrong. I found this out myself when I took a position last year well below my experience level. Something got messed up and I was the one that got the blame and the boot!

  2. Carlos on the 5th June

    In other words: suck it up and stop complaining. Put your ego aside and get the work done as well as it can possible done. Don’t complain. Don’t sigh and roll your eyes. Just take the tasks and do them right.

    I get worked up when these kinds of people are all “But this is so beneath me!” As soon as I see an inkling of that in an employee (new or not), I check out on that person.

  3. Susan on the 8th June

    What do you do when you’ve had 13+ years in a specific industry, you change companies for a similar but better paying position BUT after 4 years at the new company you’ve actually gone backwards and are now being given more entry-level work such as scanning, filing and making copies of documents?
    There is no training and I’m learning less and less. In this economy, is the only option to grin and bear it. It’s extremely depressing and demotivating. I’ve become very disheartened and have NO interest in this industry any more due to the lack of interesting work.

    • Priscilla on the 10th May

      “After 4 years at the new company you’ve actually gone backwards and are now being given more entry-level work such as scanning, filing and making copies of documents? […] It’s extremely depressing and demotivating. I’ve become very disheartened and have NO interest in this industry any more due to the lack of interesting work.”

      Susan, this IS very depressing. How can someone, after spending 4 (or more) years in college get so much education and then be made to do such simple, even-a-kid-can-do-it work? I understand and agree that you would have no interest in this type of industry job. It IS demotivating, disheartening and distressing, especially when there are bills to be paid!

      How can one put up with these type of jobs, which are actually very competitive, and live through these very difficult financial times? Thousands can’t afford to be unemployed after graduation, and definitely not 2 or 3 years after graduation either, but what they don’t know is that there IS a way to get hired and on the spot! You can earn HONEST money doing what you are GOOD at and that you ENJOY because you are helping others!

      Learn how to earn money by working hard for those who will actually thank you for your service.

  4. Daquan Wright on the 3rd November

    It’s all about attitude, think about the endless dividends that can stem from your positive achievements.

    Of course that is easier said than done, but you need to keep that in mind before you fuck up. That’s why you should shoot for a job you like. If you’re doing something you hate and then you hate the tasks you’re given, it’s pretty hard to be bright about that. Even if internally you have a good attitude, you wouldn’t be happy.

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