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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Surprising Lessons You Can Learn From the Office Newbie

It’s hard not to pity new employees at the office. On those first few days, they’re often pretty nervous—with no idea of where anything is, what they’re supposed to be doing, or if they’re meeting expectations.

Thankfully, you’re there to help. You’ve worked at the company for a few years, which means you know the lay of the land. You have all the information that those office newbies need to succeed in their new roles.

But as experienced as you are, training a new hire isn’t a one-way street. There are actually a few things you could stand to learn from a brand new employee—things that can actually advance your career.

1. Never Stop Asking the Hard (and Obvious) Questions

Once you’ve worked in the same place for a few years, some things simply become the norm. You do things a certain way because that’s the way you’ve always done them—no questions asked.

The other day, for example, I attended a department-wide meeting where we talked about the results of the latest trade show we’d attended. The lead for that show talked through our fabulous new display, the snacks and beverages we’d handed out, and how many people walked through our booth—and at the end, quickly glossed over the fact that we’d generated just 300 leads from the event.

Immediately after the meeting, our newest team member approached our boss and asked, “Is that normal? Three hundred leads seems like a pretty small number for what we invested in attending the show.”

She was right—but no one else had brought up the issue because that was simply the norm. In many offices, new employees are often the only ones willing to question what everyone else has learned to just go along with.

Lesson Learned

New employees can often see beyond what the rest of the team sees as “normal.” In an attempt to better understand their role and the mission of the department, they’ll ask the most obvious questions—simply because they’re curious.

But honestly, that’s what every employee should be doing. Even the most seasoned employees should be able to look critically at their company’s processes and results and ask themselves, “What could we be doing better?”

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

I’d been writing my company’s internal, employee-facing newsletter for about a year when we hired a new writer in my department and decided to transition that assignment to her. I was ecstatic—the internal newsletter tended to be pretty boring; it was sort of a running joke that no one in the company actually read it.

To hand off the project, I prepared to meet with the new hire and explain to her how I compiled it each week as well as where I found the stories—but before I could even start, she was sharing ideas about what she wanted to do with it. In fact, she’d already started talking to people in other departments to find out what they wanted to read about in the newsletter and how she could improve it.

It was quite the wake-up call. For a year, I’d been doing the bare minimum to get the newsletter out weekly, but a new employee—who’d been with the department for just a week—was champing at the bit to take a risk and do something different.

Lesson Learned

Abiding by the status quo may get you by, but it probably won’t get you ahead. New employees often bring new ideas and aren’t afraid of suggesting ways to do things differently—and often, better. But as you get settled in your job, you can easily become settled in your ways and let your innovation and creativity take a back seat.

Instead, you should strive to look at your projects and assignments with the eyes of a brand new employee, asking yourself, “If there were no rules, how would I approach this?”

3. There’s No Time to Waste

How often do you see new employees goofing off on Facebook or pulling out their phone to answer a text? Almost never. Admittedly, this may partially because they’re not sure what the office norms are regarding cell phones and social media—but for the most part, it’s because they’re eager to fill their time with meaningful work.

New employees want to do whatever needs to be done. They start with their to-do list, and when that’s done, they ask their co-workers and boss what else they can help with. And even if that turns up no extra assignments, they figure out something useful to do. Just the other day, a new hire at my office had a few minutes to spare, so he poked around online finding recent articles that mentioned our company—one in a not-so-positive light. He emailed it to my boss and the rest of the team, asking how to best address the customer who wrote it.

What would I have done? Probably pulled out my phone to scroll through Instagram.

Lesson Learned

Sure, part of the perk of being a long-standing employee is that you know what’s acceptable—and maybe, a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook is perfectly fine. It’s actually nice to take a breather from your work every so often throughout the day.

The lesson here is that no mater how long you’ve been at the company, you should still be hungry—eager for new projects and responsibilities, willing to lend a hand wherever it’s needed, and driven to help the company in every spare minute you have. That’s the kind of motivation and leadership that’s going to advance your career.

It’s nice to be at the top looking down, but don’t get too comfortable. Embracing the eagerness and audacity of a brand new employee could be just the boost your career needs.

Photo of puzzle pieces courtesy of Shutterstock.