MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest mistake you see new hires make? is written by Adena Friedman, president of Nasdaq.
Starting a new job can be nerve-racking, but it’s also exciting. You’re embarking on a new future, positioning yourself to write a fresh story on a clean slate. That’s both thrilling and a bit gut-wrenching, and if it is not that could be the source of the most common mistake I see among new hires: a tendency to act as if they’ve landed rather than just lifted off. The result? They leave their intellectual curiosity at home when they walk through the office door. You have finished school. This is the real world now, with a title and a paycheck to prove it. But too many new hires fail to regard their job as the adventure it is and ought to be. Perhaps it’s ego or a sense of entitlement that jades them, but whatever the cause, it can prove very damaging to their career prospects.
I’ve seen it any number of times: disappointment or even annoyance at being assigned a task that either seems mundane or clearly has no direct impact on the bottom line. The response? Too often, it’s to rush through it and get it over with; the aim is to move on—fast—to something more consequential. If it’s a cliché to say that intellectual curiosity keeps your mind sharp, your senses alert and your capabilities cutting-edge, that’s because it’s true. Even the mundane task may have something to teach you; especially if it’s a task you haven’t performed before.
And even the seemingly impact-free assignment is likely to have an indirect impact on the work of the organization in some way; that’s why it has been assigned. Even if it is not, I can assure you that your manager is watching how you perform. In other words, by looking at every task as a potential adventure—and certainly as a potential lesson in how your new business works—you benefit yourself, if not right at this moment then surely somewhere down the line.
If you’re not making use of even the most routine assignment to learn something, realize that many of your colleagues and coworkers are. Assume that they are taking every conceivable opportunity to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. Your best bet at keeping up—not to mention at standing out—is to exercise an embracing curiosity about every aspect of the business and to demonstrate a willingness to dive in headfirst to whatever needs doing. Even if not an attention-grabber, the thing that needs doing will offer an opportunity to discover something you had not been aware of before or to gain a skill you did not yet possess; in a competitive environment, the edge in knowledge and skills can be a powerful tool of advancement.
The point is: You are the new kid on the block. Doesn’t it make sense to absorb all you can any way you can from anyone or anything that offers a chance to learn? Your first day on the job is in fact just like the first day at school, only now, the bell that’s ringing is summoning you to a learning experience on which your future depends. So, just as in school, bring your curiosity with you—and pay attention.