You’ve just started your new job at a big engineering firm, fresh out of college.
You go in with an attitude of part-anxiety and part-excitement to show off your youthful energy, even though you know that almost nothing that you learned in the last four years is going to be put to use at this job.
The last four years wasn’t a waste, though.
You’ve learned how to procrastinate like a pro, how to take an exam with a solid three hours of sleep, and of course: How many beers it takes you to start singing karaoke.
But this is the real world. You’re a little fish in a big corporate pond, and you’ll be working alongside people that have been working in your industry for longer than you’ve been alive.
Confidence can be hard to come by at the beginning, but I assure you, with these ideas in mind, you’ll have a great mindset going in.
1. Accept Your Role as a Newbie
Going in, nobody is going to expect you to know how to do things. You’re going to have to ask what acronyms mean, how to file your reports properly, how to get on the boss’s good side, when the newbie gets to stop delivering coffee to everyone and anything else you might not know simply based on lack of experience.
As long as you make an effort to learn, people will want to help you.
You may be frustrated that you have to ask a ton of questions, but when you are genuinely curious and want to know something, you allow your more experienced coworkers the chance to show off their knowledge and give them the opportunity to act as a mentor.
Being a mentor can be a great feeling, and when you give your coworkers that opportunity you become a source of confidence and importance for those above you. This can provide a huge boost of happiness to your veteran coworkers.
A 2012 paper published by psychologist Cameron Anderson at the University of California-Berkeley found that happiness is best correlated with not how much you earn, but how much others respect and admire you. When you give your coworkers access to this happiness, they will be grateful for you.
2. Your Lack of Experience is Very Valuable
Believe it or not, your lack of experience can be incredibly valuable.
Many large companies have traditions that are incredibly hard to break, and you may often hear that they have been “doing it that way for years.”
So what happens when you, a fresh, young, ambitious mind comes in and gets introduced to all of these ancient processes? Gears start to turn in your head, and you may start to wonder why you don’t make it with high-strength plastic instead of metal. Why you don’t make it round instead of square. Blue instead of black.
The fact that your brain hasn’t been seeing these processes for years, like your coworkers have, makes you an incredibly valuable asset. You aren’t biased toward any particular way of doing things, and you have a ton of fresh ideas and insights that your bosses and coworkers can use to inspire their own improvements.
Even though you may not make a single improvement for months upon months of working at a company, you can learn a boatload by inquiring why certain things are done the way they are. In addition to this, your fresh ideas, coupled with the experience of your veteran co-workers, can be a recipe for huge innovation.
3. Don’t Base Your Value on the Bottom Line
Just because you aren’t bringing in truckloads of cash for the company doesn’t mean you aren’t an important part of the team.
Office environments can really suck. Cube life can be draining and monotonous. Annoying coworkers can drive you absolutely nuts. Jammed printers can make you want to beat something with a baseball bat. (Office Space, anyone?)
But if you are a positive source of energy and enthusiasm for all those around you, you add value to the company by improving the mood and productivity of everyone around you. It doesn’t take a scientific study to show that happy employees are more productive.
But since I have one handy, studies show that companies that are on Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For list outperform the stock market as a whole by a factor of 2 to 1.
Ron Friedman, PhD, and author of The Best Place To Work, has performed research with motivational experts at the University of Rochester on the effect of emotional contagion (how your emotions effect those around you) in the work place.
Dr. Friedman began the study by inviting some volunteers to do a timed set of word puzzles in his lab. Before taking part in the word puzzle test, some of these volunteers “accidentally” overheard a highly motivated participant (aka an actor hired by Dr. Friedman) discuss their experience with the puzzles.
Other volunteers overheard a highly unmotivated participant discuss theirs. Can you guess who was able to complete more puzzles when it was their turn to take part?
The volunteers who heard the unmotivated actors completed an average of 12.8 puzzles in the allotted time. Those who heard the motivated actors completed an average of 17.6 puzzles, an increase of 37.5 percent.
So even though it may not feel like it, your coworkers are greatly influenced by your emotions, and you are greatly influenced by theirs.
Let’s flash forward a couple of months.
You are still the new guy at work and are still being subjected to both the benefits and drawbacks of being that guy. There is still a boatload that you don’t know how to do, but there’s something about your presence that is inspiring to your coworkers.
You’re an eager learner, as you are consistently putting into practice the good habits of all the mentors you can take advantage of at work.
Your veteran coworkers love helping you out, because each of them know that they had a little part in helping you blossom. In return, you approach each day with a positive energy that can be felt by all around you.
Your mid-year review comes around, and you can’t help but smile as you leave your boss’ office after a glowing review.