My first year out of college was a whirlwind of lessons – I failed, I cried, and I eventually conquered. I had moved to Southern California a month after graduation and started my career in a sales associate role with PepsiCo. I made every mistake in the book so today I wanted to share four early career mistakes I made in my first year of working in the real world, what I learned from those mistakes, and some advice if you’re currently facing any of these experiences.
Career Mistakes #1: Caught in a white lie
In the first quarter of my new job, I made a mistake about not knowing about a certain date and lied about it. I was so freaked out trying to adjust to a new career that I thought a white lie wouldn’t hurt. My manager later caught on that I had lied about knowing the date and let me know that it was okay to own up to mistakes. She said it was better to own it that you don’t know or that you missed something because mistakes happens.
While that was a small encounter in my career, I still remember this experience because I’ve taken this lesson with me throughout my career. When I entered into finance at Boeing, I was clear with my manager and team that I was brand new to finance and had never really worked in excel before. Being honest with them about my skills and abilities allowed my team to train me as well as give me the time to learn the tools and processes.
If you’re just starting out and you run into a situation where you make a mistake or forget something, don’t sweat it. Let your manager or customer know that you missed x, y, or z, and that you’re writing it down and will work the action. Better yet, you can also ask your manager how they want you to perform in a situation where you truly don’t know something/or missed something.
Career Mistakes #2: Unclear understanding of success
At the end of the first quarter of my new job, I had finished training with other sales reps in San Diego and LA. I also traveled to Chicago to meet with my sales class and had a team offsite at Laguna Beach. All these on boarding events meant I wasn’t in stores selling and building Gatorade/Quarker Oat displays throughout my first quarter. So when I came in at the bottom of the scorecard (the rankings of who sold the most/least), I was shocked that I was scolded by my manager for my “poor performance”.
My second mistake I made during my first year was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of what my manager saw as a success. While I thought attending the mandatory onboarding sessions was a priority, she prioritize the amount of displays I built above that. She let me that I would probably have to pass on any other development/on boarding or team events because my priorities were to sell more displays.
When you’re interviewing with the hiring team or your first day when you meet with your manager, explicitly ask them: What does success look like to you? Is it selling more displays/recruiting and converting more hires/ or reporting out the weekly charts on time? Everyone defines success and their priorities differently.
Career Mistakes #3: I let my manager/team influence my mood and outlook
During my first year of work, a series of negative events between me, my manager, assigned mentor, and director really weighed down on me. For instance, I had a call with my assigned mentor because she wanted to talk about how my first few months were going in the role. Rather than giving me constructive feedback, she said “I don’t understand why you have a communication problem. My 17 year old daughter could this…” Conversations like this honestly scarred me the rest of the year.
Which brings me to my third mistake: I let my manager and team determine my mood and my outlook. I know I shouldn’t have let my manager and team get to me – especially since I became a top performer. I once had one of my girlfriends shake me one weekend and told me “Emma you’re manager is just your manager. You can’t let her affect you like this!” I look back now and I realize how much I let their words weigh me down. Words are powerful but your mindset is even more powerful. I should have chose to not let their words affect me – especially on the weekends when I was supposed to be having fun!
If you’re struggling to have a positive relationship with your manager and team, remember it’s just a job. You are at a place of options and you have the ability to leave. Don’t let their words or actions bring you down because honestly they’re already bringing themselves down. Find a friend or give your parents a call when it gets tough. But know you’ve got this.
Career Mistakes #4: I didn’t speak up until my exit interview
My last mistake I made early on my career was not speaking up until my exit interview. It wasn’t until had interviewed for 60+ jobs, went through final round interviews with 4 companies, and made a decision between 3 offers (you can read this full experience here) did I finally feel comfortable enough to speak truthfully about my experience. I shared with the HR director of the specific instances where I didn’t feel aligned with the PepsiCo culture, when I felt demeaned, and how I was discouraged to pursue the next step even though I had met my sales goals.
She told me during the exit interview that if she had known this was happening, she would have pulled me out of this role/team and moved me to another city.
I didn’t even know that was an option. From my perspective, the company weighed performance over everything so I didn’t think I could speak up until I performed (I hit 2nd on the scorecard the end of 4Q and 1st at the beginning of year).
If you’re truly struggling in your role and you don’t feel like you can turn to your manager, reach out to your human resources focal or find a mentor that can help guide you through the process. While I had my sales associate peers, I never ended up finding a mentor that could have been advocate and navigate my career. I think having a mentor or speaking with my HR director earlier in my first year could have helped me navigate challenges that I experienced with my team.
Though my first year in corporate America and the real world was incredibly challenging, I realize now how much those experiences and lessons have helped me in my career today. I’ve taken on two finance roles and a project management role since my time in sales and the consumer package goods industry. While these roles have had their own challenges, asking about what success looks like for my manager, owning up to my mistakes, not letting the work environment affect my mood, and learning how to speak up early have been incredible lessons to implement/practice in my career.
What career mistakes did you make early on? What lessons did you learn from those career mistakes?
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Photos: Karya Schanilec