Lessons From My First Job, Part of Amplity’s Women in Leadership Blog Series
I remember my first job right out of college. I was 21 years old and had accepted a position in corporate insurance sales, a role that was dominated by men. I walked into the office in my skirt suit and pantyhose and pretended that I was ready to take on the world! Secretly, I was terrified. Have you ever been at a point in your career where you felt overwhelmed, in over your head, and unsure about your direction? I sure have. It was exactly how I felt in that particular moment.
Though I felt unsure in the beginning, I ended up being very successful in that first job. Looking back, I believe there were three things that made that experience a success. I have carried these three lessons with me since those early days and continue to use them as signposts to guide my career.
1. Find a Mentor
I was fortunate that my office was led by one of only four female managers in the company. A woman named Robin quickly took me under her wing and began to teach me everything she knew about navigating the company, and in business, as a woman.
At the onset I didn’t recognize the value of having such a mentor, but I do now. And ever since that first positive experience, I have diligently sought mentors throughout the remainder of my career. I have been fortunate to know numerous strong women through the years, and I’ve formally sought mentoring relationships with several of them.
Don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder and offer their time and support. Seek them out! I have never had anyone deny me their time when I have asked but I have squandered opportunities to learn from people along the way because I failed to reach out for their help. Do not hesitate to ask.
2. Negotiate: Speak Up About What You Want and What You Deserve
My first job offer was based in my hometown. Though I was excited about the job, I was not at all excited about staying so close to home. I could not think of a fate worse than living in the same city I had known all my life.
When I received the offer, I accepted it, but with one key condition: I would be transferred to a different office location within the next 12 months. I knew this could very well be a deal-breaker, but my happiness was dependent on the risk – the worst thing I could do was not ask, the worst they could do was say ‘no.’ Fear can be paralyzing, but ambition is invigorating. I knew what value I was bringing to the company and I was willing to ask them for the opportunity I knew I deserved. I was one of the most sought-after students in my graduating class and I knew my worth.
Turns out, they did, too. The company accepted and I transferred to our Chicago branch exactly six months after I started with the company.
I have negotiated in every role since. Sometimes I’ve negated about salary. Sometimes it’s been about benefits. Sometimes both! That first experience taught me that a company who truly values you and your talents will meet your communicated needs. I still believe that. I walk into each negotiation knowing that I have a unique skill set and knowing the value that I will bring to the role and I’m not afraid to ask for what I am worth and for what I need to be successful in the role.
3. Follow the Playground’s Golden Rule
Lessons I learned on the playground served me well in life. If you’re like me, before you were taught to read, you were taught that you should treat others how you would like to be treated. The truth is that the golden rule is just as relevant in the corporate world as it is on the pre-school playground. In fact, in my experience, it is even more important in the corporate world to treat everyone as you would want to be treated.
One particular role had me traveling to meet clients 4 out of 5 days a week. Because I was only seldomly in the office, I had to rely on our office teammates to help me with administrative tasks like generating proposals and fielding customer service calls while I was on the road. I came to realize that I was only going to be as good as the team supporting me.
Unlike some other sales professionals who would saunter into the office and dump a load of work on the administrative staff without giving anyone the time of day, I got to know everyone on the staff and treated everyone like the integral member of the team that they were. Not surprisingly, members of the team were willing to help me when I needed it. Happy to help me when I needed it. When I called in with an emergency, they all pitched in to help! I treated our team members with respect, and they helped me get my job done well!
Though I am no longer that same young, inexperienced girl managing her way through her first corporate experience, I still hold these simple lessons dear. They have helped shape my character and my career path.
This is the just one in a series of stories written for our “Women in Leadership” blog, all authentically shared by Amplity’s female leaders. We feel there is power in sharing this authentic collection of female stories in hopes they’ll inspire and uplift the next generation of women currently growing meaningful careers. Check out Amplity’s Chief People Officer’s story linked on the right-hand side of this page.