I started my working life at the age of 17, with a job at my local estate agent. It was initially meant to be work experience over the summer between my first and second years at college. However, when they asked me to stay full time, I accepted, and never started my second college year. Looking back, it was a really stupid or really risky thing to do (depending on how you look at it). That job went pear shaped after about 9 months and I was seriously wondering if I'd made the biggest mistake of my life.
The estate agent and I eventually parted company and I drove home in tears, scared of what to do. I hadn't been earning much at all, and my mother was expecting me to pay rent. So when I got home I started to look for jobs in London. Since I lived about an hour out of London, it wasn't really a "normal" thing to do. I didn't know anyone else who commuted in, and all of my family had normal jobs in shops. But at 18 years old I made some appointments with recruitment agencies in London and went up there by myself. To this day I can't remember what was going through my mind when I travelled up there. London was somewhere I'd only ever been on school trips. Looking back, it was actually quite a brave thing to do.
On that day I went up, the first agency told me that they had something that I could be put forward for. I was really excited, and waited for their call. The call came a few hours later and they asked if I was still in London and could I go to the interview. I was overjoyed and said yes. After a 3 hour interview, I was offered the job! On the very same day I'd gone up there! I could not have been more excited.
I ultimately left home at 18 and lived in a shared house. But I had a good job and I was independent. Not many people can say that when they are only 18.
Now, more than a decade on, I often wonder what a mentor might have said to me back then. As a mentor now, what career advice would I have given my 18 year old self?
1. You don't have to hate your job
That first job was awful and I left just three months later. I sat in a glass office with five other people who barely said two words to each other all day. No-one ate lunch together, and my boss gave me a whole load of grief for not having a legible signature. Since the walls were glass, I could see into the office opposite. They had Dress Down Fridays, chatted to each other by the water cooler, and had cakes when it was someone's birthday. They had quite a few more people in their office, and it looked so fun. I stared at them all enviously every day while I sneaked chocolate buttons out of my drawer (because I wasn't permitted to eat anything at my desk).
My last job was great. I worked with loads of really nice people; I worked in a lovely area; and I genuinely enjoyed my job. I never woke up wishing that I didn't have to go into work (apart from when it was snowing and I wanted to stay snuggled up in bed!). Sitting in a fish bowl with no conversation is not forced on you. Nothing is stopping you from going and looking for something else. Even if you have only just started there. If it's a horrible environment, you will end up resenting your time there and you won't work your best.
My career advice is that you don't have to love your job, but you should never hate it.
2. Don't be afraid to speak up
Your opinion is just as valuable as anyone else's. If you are sitting in a meeting and someone says something you don't understand, ask them what they mean. You have as much right as everyone else to know what is going on. And, at 18 years old, people are going to assume you will ask what you don't understand. My nana once told me that she got herself into trouble for invoicing £20 when it should have been £2000. Back in the 50s, she was a secretary and worked near Bank. Part of her job was to send out invoices for the machinery that her company built. She told her boss that all the secretaries should be given a tour of all the machinery so that it meant a little more to them than just a code in a book. From that day forward, all secretaries were shown around on a regular basis.
My career advice would be that you have the right to speak up, and if you are told that you don't, you are not in the right company.
3. You are the expert at what you do
Even if you don't think you are, people will expect you to be. On my first day working at an investment bank, the printer broke and I was expected to fix it. I was also expected to know what flights my boss wanted for her trip to Hong Kong that following week. Of course I didn't know, but as Secretaries and PAs, we become masters at these kinds of things.
People will try to tell you how to do your job. I always say that as long as you can explain why you have done something and you can show a logical trail of thought, then you have made an acceptable decision. Whilst I will always encourage people to challenge me if they don't think what I'm doing is right, no-one has a better knowledge about my role than I do.
My career advice would be that you should have confidence in your own ability.
4. Learn about the business you are in
One of the best pieces of career advice I received came in the form of a question. "How does your department make money?". At the time of being asked this question, I didn't have a clue. But it wasn't until I could fully answer it that I understood what my team did.
So ask yourself. How does your company make money? If you don't know, you don't know your business. Ask your boss. Ask their boss. Even ask THEIR boss. Ask anyone and everyone to explain what they do and how they fit into the organisation. There aren't many people who won't want to tell you what they do.
My advice is to understand your company from the bottom to the top. If your company is massive, at least understand where your department fits into the organisation.
Read the rest of the article here, including the best career advice I could offer.