| 4th August 2017
“We learn by asking questions. We grow by reaching too far. We improve by taking risks”
Recently, it seems like there has been an explosion in the number of articles that all follow the same, click-baiting theme – “5, 10 or 15 (etc.) things I wish I knew in my 20s”. The profile of the author is usually the same – wealthy, entrepreneurial, and most importantly and annoyingly, in their 40s.
There are a couple things that somewhat irk me about those articles. Firstly, it’s nearly always written by people in their 40s or 50s. No, I’m absolutely not saying that their advice isn’t valid, and in-fact, I vehemently believe it should be encouraged. My problem with these types of article is that previous generations have not faced the same challenges my generation is facing. Be it decreasing work-life balance, real-term salary decreases, increasing competition for graduate positions, increasing house prices or increasing cost-of-living. I could write an entire article on these alone.
You can disagree with some of the stuff listed above, but the incontestable truth is that people leaving school or university 20 years ago are not in the same situation as we are in now. The second thing about those articles that grinds my gears is their inexplicable need to round off their lists to a nice, even number.
Fair enough, if you’re even still reading by this point, you probably think I’m a bit bizarre, and I’ll be inclined to somewhat agree with you, but for reasons other than this! The fact is, in real life rarely do things line-up so perfectly to form a pleasing, round number.
Either the authors are adding an additional point that isn’t really true, or they’re taking away an important point to make the link more clickable. And this is why I’m here, right now, writing this article.
I graduated two years ago, and I can’t say I’ve had extraordinary career progression, in any sense of the word. I’m completely normal (in this case at least). I can, however, say that I’ve learned some extraordinarily valuable lessons in the last two years working with GE Healthcare and Blue Latitude Health, and I’d love to be able to share these from one normal person (sort of), to another.
It’s absolutely fine to be unsure of what you want to do upon graduation, but it’s not fine to avoid researching your options. Looking aside from the fact that we live in age where everything is at the tip of your finger, we’ve spent 3, 4, 5, or more years getting here, spent thousands of hours studying, and somehow we can’t bring ourselves to invest 10 or 20 hours researching into potential careers. I hate to brag (that’s a lie, nobody hates to brag), but I spent countless hours researching (reading online or actually speaking to people) about career options. Be it work-life balance, salaries, day-day tasks, progression, travel opportunities etc.
There are impartial, spiel-free resources for each of these. Take a look at glassdoor.com before you apply to your next job and have a read at employees describing their bosses as either delightful mentors or vindictive F@!%ers. Get on LinkedIn and learn about people’s career progressions and their qualifications before they applied for a similar role, and where they went after they left their grad-role. This is what years of Facebooking and Instagraming has trained us to do! Repurpose those stalking skills into career stalking.
Look, we’ve all been there. I’m still there in a lot of situations, but admittedly I’m working on it. Fresh out of university and you find yourself in a meeting with eight people who have a combined 160 years in the business. It’s understandably intimidating. With the fear of saying something stupid, it’s easy to sit there silently.
You’re absolutely not alone in that feeling. Remind yourself that there’s a reason you’re there. From my experience, the more you stay quiet in a meeting and avoid asking questions, the longer it will take for you to be able to have a strong enough understanding of what’s going and have an impact. In-fact, the more you wait to speak up, the longer it will take for you to move on from being the one asking the questions, to the one answering them.
This is perhaps the most important lesson and the one that hit me the hardest in my first job out of university. Without going into specific examples, I’ve seen people accept their junior job-title and eagerly act as a sponge for new information. I’ve also seen people come out of university thinking they know everything there is to know about everything. Guess which type of person progresses fastest and furthest, and has a good time on the way there too?
I have to be honest (perhaps to my own detriment here) and admit that in the first week of my internship at GE Healthcare, I was definitely the latter. Although I quickly moved into the former category (thankfully), it’s easy to see how your attitude to learning can have an impact on your career. If you’re adverse to it, you tragically miss out on the opportunities to improve yourself, to build relationships with new people and to take on the best aspects of the people around you. If you’re open to it, you’ll keep growing as a person, as well as an employee.
This is somewhat similar to point two but still valid nonetheless. Graduates often feel constrained to just getting on with the task at hand without asking questions. This is usually for one of two reasons: you’re either shy or you want to prove that you can do the job without any help. I have to emphasize that this causes a number of problems.
Firstly, if you’re not asking questions, then you’re thinking too much about how you’ve been told to do something, instead of how the task should be done. Secondly, the person briefing you on a task will not fully trust that you understand the task if you’re not asking questions. Thirdly, if you’re unsure of something, and are hoping you’ll figure it out as you go along, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to learn from your colleagues. Asking clarifying questions and challenging assumptions can be the difference between a good and a great piece of work.
The most enjoyable part of being an intern for a year was that I was allowed to make mistakes. Without making this a public declaration of love, my bosses to date have been great at allowing us to try new things and make errors.
A previous colleague, who was a very senior manager in his division at GE Healthcare, once said to me after 6 months into my internship, “I want you to look back at your last 6 months. I want you to think about your mistakes. If you can’t think of a lot of example of mistakes you've made, then you’re probably not taking enough risks. If you can think of too many, then you’re not asking enough questions”. We learn by asking questions. We grow by reaching too far. We improve by taking risks.
This is perhaps the easiest and one of my most valuable lessons on this list. Proactivity is simply thinking ahead and acting on it. You’ll find that the vast majority of the people around you at work are so busy (and quite rightly) thinking of the problems at hand that it’s difficult for them to think ahead.
As the junior person on the team, you’re exposed to enough of the process/project to be able to see upcoming challenges and have the flexibility (time-wise) to deal with it, or at least flag it. Being pro-active will also expose you to projects or work-streams that you might not have been otherwise exposed to. In terms of a cost-benefit ratio, this is definitely what you'd call a ‘low hanging fruit’ for your personal development.
It may sound strange but in your role as the junior person in the team you have an inherent responsibility to manage the person above you as much as they manage you. This means identifying areas of improvement in their work, coming up with suggestions for said areas of improvement, and evaluating their performance as much as they evaluate yours. It might seem abstract, but they are likely to also be in a position where they are still learning as much as you are (although in different ways), and will appreciate and respect your input.
Our generation was brought up being told that we could have anything we wanted, so long as we wanted it enough (Simon Sinek has some fascinating thoughts on this). We have a tendency of wanting to progress too quickly. It’s important to take your time to ensure you are learning in your current role as much as possible, particularly from those above you, before pushing ahead.
Now don’t get me wrong, there will come a point where you need to push for what you want (i.e. a new role), but the argument I’m making is not to bring that point too far forward. Enjoy being the junior person in the team. Take risks, make mistakes, make friends and learn from the people around you. So when the time comes where you genuinely feel you’re ready, push for it.
Are you interested in working at Blue Latitude Health? Find out about our latest opportunities and what we look for in our new hires today.
| 13th April 2017
Co-founder and Managing Director Martin Brass will join a panel of industry speakers at the PM Society event ‘Maximising the agency and procurement relationship in pharma’ on 25th April at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.