We’ve just finally got our foot in door to what’s supposed to lead to our dream job. Finally, our careers are taking off! We march in our first day, head held high, notebook and pen in hand, ready to take all important notes that are guaranteed to come in handy while we’re rapidly rising to the top. What’s that? You need me to shred documents for the next three hours? You need double cream in your coffee? The printer needs unjammed and the copy machine paper needs refilled? Not exactly what we were expecting, right? These menial tasks might be driving you up a wall. Why are we wasting our time in these places where we’re undervalued, underpaid (if we’re even paid at all), and overqualified? Well I’m here to list five reasons why this is the most important phase of our career journeys by using everyday examples from my actual job.
1. 100% effort, 100% of the time
We are constantly being asked to do things that a trained monkey could do. My biggest task when I first started working in my library was making signs of our open hours, as they changed throughout the year. I downloaded a template off of Microsoft Word, changed the images around, and voila. I was done in approximately three minutes. My boss never mentioned what he thought about them, but he can’t make a numbered in list in Word, so
It’s beautiful, right?
I take all of his opinions lightly. Even though it was busy work, I still made sure the signs looked nice, and hung them up in appropriate places around the building. Next thing I knew I was making signs for different events. Then I was put in charge of the library’s social networking. Next came putting me in charge of which new fiction books and DVDs to feature display, and now I’ve been allowed to order my own piece of furniture (a big deal in libraries when budgets are tight and getting tighter) to build on my featured DVDs display (sadly DVDs are all they care about, it’s more likely that students will use the books in the library to fan themselves than to read) Do you see what happened there? When you put in effort, someone is going to notice. People that put in effort get bigger assignments. This knowledge is important for every stage of a career.
2. Efficiency is key
Another key part of my job is making sure the printers in the computer labs throughout the building are filled and operating (after applying for this job, each of my professional references that was contacted was asked if they thought I’d be capable of frequently unjamming printers. I’m glad they left off the fact that I used to shake and bang on the printer at my last job each time it was jammed). Every hour, I get up, do a walk through the building, and check the five printers throughout the place. I also spend time showing my boss how to use Microsoft Word (making number lists, inserting headers, etc.) No, I don’t think learning the ins and outs of industrial sized printers or giving mini lessons on document making in Word is teaching me anything of value. What I have learned is, the quicker I get them set and ready to go – the more time I have available to dedicate to personal professional growth (reading library journals, blogs, updating the social pages, etc.). It’ll be more important in a few years from now when professional work is piling up to remember that the faster I get the little things done, the more time I’ll have to spend working on the big picture.
3. Presence is everything
As I mentioned above, each hour I get up from my desk and take a tour of the building (four floors in all, approximately 80,000 sq feet). Needless to say, many of the people that come to the library recognize me. I’m logging a lot of facetime when they’re here. Now when students have questions, they’ll come right up to the front desk and ask for my help. It’s not very often that they’re wanting research help (which would actually be good practice for when I move up from the bottom), but regardless they’re feeling comfortable enough to come to me and ask. How is this helping my future career? Being familiar with a target population is important. When people see what kind of presence you command, they’ll want you around group setting more often, who knows what you could bring to the table!
When in doubt, always refer to Joan Holloway. image from iMDB.com
Most careers are driven by customer interaction and what better way to keep them around (and what better way to network – everyone’s favorite career advancing move) then by having a presence in the community. Right now, my community might be just a medium sized university’s students but who knows what the future will bring. When I make it to the Library of Congress, I’ll be happy I had the experience and practice developing a presence within a small community.
4. Value everyone
Every manager, full timer, part timer, and intern matters. Have I mentioned that my boss (that’s been in this position for 15ish years) needs my help making Word documents occasionally? Rather than getting irked that he is occupying a job I am clearly for qualified for, I value what he has to teach me (no matter how advanced technology gets, there will always be someone around to help me out). I also have employees that are below me on the ranking scale (student workers/interns). Rather than scoff at them and laugh while they do the menial work I used to do (I’d rather refill 500 printers than sit and clean DVDs for an hour), I use the chance to learn from them as well – I’ll save the story of when I had to fire one of their poor souls for another time. They range in age from 18-24 and they keep me informed on what people their age like and I can then use this information to improve on my tasks and keep the students coming to (and enjoying) the library. My boss and the students are teaching me important qualities that will push me into career advancement: I’m learning patience through my boss, and I’m learning how to lead by example with my interns (if I can do it, they can do it and vice versa). Both will be essential qualities when building relationships as my career advances.
5. Being humble can get you everywhere
The number one mistake we’re making as twentysomethings, is feeling entitled. Just because I’m a degreed librarian doesn’t mean I deserve the head reference librarian position (or better yet, library director – basically library royalty) right off the bat. Being at bottom is teaching us to work for what we want, and in turn appreciate what we have. Have I mentioned my boss can’t make a numbered list in word? Reporting to someone that works in a field that revolves around technology that can’t use a program I’ve been using since middle school is humbling. Feeling like you’re entitled to something makes you look like an asshat. End of story. And asshats don’t make it anywhere.
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Did I really need a master’s degree to be able to do any of the work I’m given? No, definitely not. But is it helping in the long run? Yes, absolutely.