The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Michael Roman, executive vice president of 3M’s Industrial Business Group, has answered the question: What three big things does every person starting their first job struggle with?
Whenever you begin a new job, especially your first job right out of school, you want more than anything else to get off to a great start. The companies you’ll end up working for will want to see you learn, grow, and succeed. Despite this—and the fact that hundreds of thousands make this transition every year in the United States alone—most struggle with the same things. At a minimum, the highlighted challenges can be the cause of significant frustration and even disappointment. The good news is that new hires can address these challenges head on, even when—or especially when—they’re just starting out.
Put time into getting to know your supervisor and co-workers, and learn how to get things done: company systems, structures, and procedures. Plan on compiling your own “manual,” as much of what you will need to know probably won’t be written down.
You need to be ready to invest a significant amount of time into learning and getting comfortable—a first step toward confidence—in your new surroundings. I suggest that you take whatever you think will be required, and double it. Expect this to take months. My own rule of thumb is that it takes six months to feel comfortable and one year to feel like you’ve always been there.
Make sure your roles and responsibilities are clear.
Your job and supervisor will define the basics here, but you may be surprised to find out that you will have room to define and redefine your job for the better to help achieve the department or company goals.
Maintain regular and open dialogue with your supervisor. Don’t wait for annual performance reviews to clarify your roles and objectives.
It’s up to you to manage your time and your work plan—and the milestones where the two intersect—to achieve your objectives.
This will be different than what you were used to in school or at summer internships. You will be moving to longer, overlapping projects. While your work will have hard deadlines, many won’t be as clear or fixed in time as you might have been used to in school, where everything was complete by end of term. You will also need to manage your tasks and time as part of a much larger team.
Be aware of these common mistakes: getting so frustrated with bureaucracy that you slow your own progress, deciding to go it alone because the team doesn’t meet your speed, and sitting and waiting for others to come to you. A proactive style of communication is the key here—with your supervisor, project leader, and teammates.
One more thought to leave you with: Your working style is important, sometimes as important as your work itself. Teams perform best when they have diverse and complementary members, but there should be an underlying, common focus on collaboration and teamwork. This is one of our six 3M (MMM) leadership behaviors and the one to keep front and center as you start your first job. Good luck!