October 5, 2015
What’s a Great First Job?
A senior high school student recently paid us a visit for an informational interview. After giving her a tour and showing her some of the work we have done, she had a list of questions she wanted to ask. The question that stood out to me the most was “What is a great first job?”
When I was first looking for an internship while in school, I wanted anything I could land on. I was after experience and bullet points for my resume. Looking back, that wasn’t really the best state of mind to be in. I was lucky that my first internship was very educational and became a big stepping stone to the career I have now.
After giving it some thought, here is my answer: A great first job is one where you get great mentorship. Whether it’s at a large agency or small nonprofit, the point of an internship is to get groomed both in field skills and professional conduct. A great first job is where the people around you understand you are a novice. They are patient in teaching both the simple and complex things that are not taught in school, but at the same time give you the challenges you need in order to learn by doing.
Here are some of the highlights from my first jobs that made me a better professional:
They let me interact with clients and vendors. Sometimes when you are at the bottom of the totem pole, it’s hard to see the big picture and understand why you are working on a certain project. By getting the chance to sit in on client meetings, I had a better viewpoint in approaching solutions to projects. By interacting with vendors I learned cooperation and compromise.
I had to present to a room full of people. Public speaking is my worst nightmare. I’m not going to go on about the benefits of public speaking (confidence builder, leadership skills development, etc.). Those are a given. What I want to note here is that my mentors realized my weakness and gave me opportunities to overcome them. They allowed me to grow.
I was forgiven for a mistake even though it cost money. Typos happen in the design world. It’s horrifying when it’s your fault and the guilt of knowing a print job had to be repeated because of your mistake is overwhelming. And to be forgiven because people understand that you are learning is even more overbearing. But I guarantee you that from that point forward a document has never left my desk without a spellcheck. Of course that wasn’t the only lesson I had to learn the hard way; many more followed. But the point is, I was treated with compassion. In turn, I try hard to avoid mistakes—not out of fear of losing my job but out of the understanding of what it would cost the company. And when you look at your work from a non-selfish standpoint, it makes a big difference in the quality of your output.
I was shown how to write my first email. As simple as it may sound, this had a big impact on me. This is one of those simple things that they never teach in school. But there are so many things to consider with emails: how to be polite, when to be casual, how to make a first impression, when to cc, how to introduce someone to a string of emails, how to follow up, etcetera etcetera.
I learned to understand myself as a professional. The first jobs I had were also personal journeys in understanding what I really wanted to do with my career. The first three years made me truly discern my strengths and weaknesses, figure out what kind of person and professional I am, and know what I really want to achieve.
Like all other designers, I’m still learning. I’m thankful to have stumbled upon great leaders and mentors early on. If you are new to the design industry, I hope I helped you understand what internships are all about and what you should be getting out of them. More importantly, I hope you can determine if that first job is a great one.