A screenshot of Erica Corder smiling and looking into the camera.

Five things I learned in my first year on the job

Erica Corder Blog, On Life, On Work, On Writing

Today marks exactly one year since I started my job in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.

It’s somewhat hazy to remember what my life was like before this job. All I know is I was stretched pretty thin, managing several freelance gigs, two part-time jobs, and a publication I cofounded.

As hard as all of that was, I’d do it all over again to get to where I am now. I’ve been thankful for this job since the day my boss called to offer it to me — but even then, I had no idea how incredible this position would turn out to be.

I’ve been able to develop far stronger writing, photo, and video skills (the latter two using a shiny new Canon Mark IV), to gain a boosted knowledge of scientific and engineering concepts, to grow professionally and recognize opportunities for further growth, to meet and work with dedicated, passionate colleagues who genuinely inspire me, to grow an unshakeable confidence in the quality of my work, and to travel across the U.S. and across the globe in pursuit of stories.

And that’s just the SparkNotes.

In honor of this milestone, I thought I’d share a few crucial things I learned since starting my first full time job, in the hopes that some other young or aspiring writer/photographer/videographer or college communications professional can benefit as I reflect on the ways I’ve grown and changed over the course of the past year.

  1. Don’t take on too much, too fast.

Coming from my background of working pretty much all my waking hours, I was used to an exhaustive schedule. The whole point of that previous schedule, though, was to land a role full-time, where I could focus on the demands of one job, rather than five.

Especially as you’re learning the job and the culture of the company or office, ease into the role. Rather than stay in the office until 8 p.m. your first week at work (I was excited to have my own office, okay?), start to build a work-life routine — one that’s balanced, healthy, and energizing.

  1. About that work-life balance…

Time and time again I was told to slow down, to work less. It took me until recently to understand just how crucial it is to work only the 40 hours I’m supposed to (granted, there will be weeks I work more, it just comes with the territory). Going above and beyond is great, but sets unrealistic standards that will lead to fatigue and burnout.

Besides, someone told me that it makes you seem less productive if you can’t fit everything you need to get done inside your 40 hours. While I still have trouble believing that and struggle each week with wanting to do more, I’m finding ways to maximize the time I do have.

Taking care of your health also pays dividends at work. You’ll have a clearer mind and better focus — both crucial for a writer. You’ll also just be even happier and more satisfied with life, and that positivity will work its way into the product you’re creating.

  1. Hire interns! Delegate when you can.

If you’re fortunate enough to work in an environment where hiring interns is a possibility, you should take full advantage of that. I’ve started to build up my own intern army to help me accomplish some of my more time consuming tasks that have to be done, but don’t move the needle as much as other opportunities, ones that my talents are better served doing.

There’s a reason you’re working in the full-time position that you are. Identify your strengths, then maximize the time you spend doing tasks that fall within those strengths. If at all possible, delegate the rest.

  1. Ask a lot of questions.

It’s okay to face a steep learning curve. I walked into a role knowing nothing about engineering other than the fact that I once applied to Virginia Tech to study it (long story, but I switched into my current field mid-way through my senior year of high school).

Now, I speak internally in acronyms and can tell you just about anything you might want to know about the tech powering a Hyperloop pod, about groundbreaking new research on atmospheric compounds, about autonomous vehicles — and the list goes on.

The knowledge will come, but only if you ask a ton of questions. While you still need to be cognizant that there is a time and place for asking those questions, you should leverage the new-kid-on-the-block excuse as much as possible in your first year and ask away.

  1. Be a sponge

While you’re busy overcoming the learning curve, it’s a good time to look into training. Try to schedule some kind of new training each week — keep your brain learning one new thing that will help you do things better when you can.

I sign up for classes through our human resource department’s professional development series. I also joined a few professional societies, and try to make a point at least every other week to sit down and read materials from these societies. I’m also fortunate to work in a place where I can sign up to attend conferences, too.

Even if you don’t have that kind of budget, just reading magazines, newspapers, and books can help you hone your writing skills. Thanks to public libraries, that’s all free knowledge you can tap into starting today. No need to wait until next year’s conference rolls around.

When you’re just starting as a young professional, you likely haven’t been molded into any (potentially bad) habits or expectations just yet, so it’s a good time to improve and hone your crafts whenever you can find the time. Just try to carve out half an hour each week in your calendar, then stick with it.

Final thoughts

Realistically, this all applies to professionals across the board, whether you’re brand new or you’ve been at your company for awhile. Still, I hope it benefits younger professionals especially, because there is absolutely a stigma for us twentysomethings — there’s a reason the word “millenial” has such a negative connotation.

But there doesn’t have to be. Own the work you do to the best of your ability and always reach higher and higher. If you’re also just starting out and reading this, I hope you develop the confidence in your work and abilities that I’ve grown more comfortable with myself over the past year. It really is amazing what a year will do — so here’s to progress, to constantly growing, and to celebrating the milestones along the way.

Have any tips for other young professionals? Feel free to tweet at meemail me, or leave a comment below.