Paulette Perhach, whose new book aims to help aspiring writers start out, didn’t learn anything from her high school job at the skating rink. There are regrets.
Paulette Perhach didn’t learn anything from her high school job at the skating rink.
“It was awful,” she says. “I had to clean the bathrooms to the tunes of Shania Twain, which my boss just loved.”
Still, as she reminisces about her most unappealing employment experience, there’s a hint of regret.
“I didn’t really give my all in that job, to say the least. I remember calculating how to be five minutes late, and maybe if I’d used that opportunity to get in the habit of being five minutes early, things might have been easier later on.”
Today, Perhach is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose about-to-be-released book, “Welcome to the Writer’s Life: How to Design Your Writer’s Craft, Writing Business, Writing Practice, and Reading Practice,” aims to help aspiring writers take their first steps into the industry. The sum of Perhach’s experience is a belief that there are growth lessons to be learned from any entry-level job. Here are a few ways to get there.
Focus on the fundamentals
“In the Venn diagram of almost every job, there are going to be skills that will overlap with your dream job,” Perhach says, and new hires would do well to improve theirs quickly.
A 2016 PayScale survey of 63,924 managers found that 60 percent believed their new graduate workforce lacked basic problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and 46 percent highlighted sub-par communication skills.
Other areas that required room for improvement included working in teams, basic writing skills, relevant data analytics and a general knowledge of programs like Microsoft Excel.
Perhach notes that acquiring these skills isn’t supposed to be intuitive. “There are best practices that you aren’t born knowing, and learning those early will save you time later when your time is more valuable,” she says.
Create personal value
The nuances of a position often extend beyond the initial job description, and filling those gaps is a great way to become indispensable.
“It’s best to think of yourself as a Swiss army knife,” Perhach says. “The one that has one blade and a little can opener sells for $20, and the one that has 20 different blades and the cork and the tweezers and the toothpick sells for more than $100, and that’s because it can solve more problems.”
Your efforts to solve those problems aren’t likely to go unnoticed, according to a VitalSmarts study, which revealed that in addition to strong interpersonal skills, openly caring about your company and providing meaningful contributions are the three qualities that will get you promoted quickly.
Fast learning pays dividends in workplace confidence, a trait Perhach says provides freedom as well. “The more you build up your skills, the more valuable you are, and the more you can take yourself to the market and know that you can find another job,” she says.
Build a network
Perhaps the most powerful source of growth potential in an entry-level job is the people you meet along the way, both in and out of the office.
“The bigger your network is, the more people you’ll know who will be interested in your skills,” Perhach says.
Developing relationships with your boss, co-workers and business contacts will prime you for the next step in your career. Often, those personal connections are crucial. Employee referrals accounted for 45 percent of all hires, according to a 2017 report by SilkRoad, a Chicago-based talent management software company. Maintain your visibility by staying in touch with current and past business contacts via LinkedIn and Twitter, and consider joining business groups to expand your networking pool.
Entry-level work is rarely ideal, but with the right perspective, it can serve as a training ground for a more satisfying career — a lesson Perhach learned on the path to hers.
“The thing about your work — your true work — is that it will really show your dedication. I think having pride in what you do is nice. It’s a better way to live,” she says.