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In my first job after uni I had "gut-feelings" about challenges or short-comings in the marketing department. I couldn't put my finger on the problem and I didn't know what I didn't know. So I tried to fix it, fell on my face, and figured out the hard way how NOT to be constructive or helpful. It wasn't appreciated from someone who didn't know what they were talking about. In other words, I was too young to have an opinion or to be taken seriously.
Speaking to my peers back then and even now, they often feel the same way. They can see a problem or gap, they know how to fix it or at least want to raise the issue but because they are young they either aren't given the opportunity to or aren't taken seriously.
Recently, I witnessed first-hand an individual trying to find their voice in the world. They were me 5 years ago, desperate to come across as worth the new salary they were paying me and to appear as a true advocate for the new company that I now worked for.
Here's what I'd tell myself now, and what I've shared with that person...
#1 Speak up in meetings, and that includes asking the "silly" question.
This advice was given to me only recently, for someone else. It was something I has always done but hadn't thought to pass the advice on. Being present and a voice, in bigger departmental meetings means people learn your voice, learn your name, and aren't quick to swat you down when you do finally decide to pipe up on an important subject. Even if it's to clarify something you don't know, it's important to be present and active.
Note: It's also important to know when is the RIGHT time to "raise your hand" (don't actually raise it) and ask your question. Sometimes time is short, people are stressed and it's best to seek out an individual after to ask.
#2 Ask for 1-1s with people in the know.
We are only human. More experienced (older) colleagues can seem mesmerising and intimidating. But they have to eat and they have to drink. Offering them a 10-minute coffee break from their busy day (you're buying) gives you a chance to pick their brain, ask questions and form "mentor-like" relationships with respected members of the team. Next time you're in one of those meetings? They might think back to that 10-minute coffee break and ask for your opinion.
Note: You will definitely be able to do this, but not with everyone. Sometimes people are just too busy.
#3 Make friends with everyone who will have you.
Even in this day and age businesses still struggle with communication. Departments don't speak to departments, communication is curt through email or meetings. By befriending people across your business and bringing them together, you learn invaluable insight and are also at the core of cross-department conversations. Not to mention you now have some work friends!
#4 Stand your ground.
It can be hard, but the more people you speak to, the more times you ask questions and the more you take your own initiative to learn, you'll soon be able to form and debate your own opinion further cementing you as a crucial part of the the business.
Note: Standing your ground and being sure of your argument should be a positive characteristic. You also need to understand when to stop and when your opinion is not needed. It's great to have one, but it isn't always helpful or productive.
#5 Ask to join other meetings.
Unless they're private meetings, ask to join in on other departmental meetings. This is the fastest way to build a picture up of the company, form an opinion, and be thought of in these important conversations.
Note: There will be some people who will just say no. They aren't trying to be difficult but they made need to discuss things in there that aren't relevant or are best kept within a smaller group. Be understanding and keep asking to sit in other meetings.
Learn, take criticism, always take advice, and be certain about where you stand and people will forget your age and look for your guidance and conversation in no time.