Excelling at A New Job: Stories from The Front Line

first-5-icon-07The first few weeks of any job are stressful. You have to learn new ways of doing things, adapt to office culture, and establish a new network. These challenges are exacerbated when it’s your first full time job.

I talked to former GovLoop Marketing Fellow, Natasha Dabrowski, about her experiences with her first few weeks. She recently started a job as press secretary and communications aide for a coalition on Capitol Hill. Her responsibilities include updating and managing the website and social media accounts as well as handling press inquiries and events.

What questions did you ask before the job started in order to be prepared for your first day?  

I asked a lot of questions about what people expected of someone in my role. Not only would I be working with my team on a daily basis, but I’d also be working with other Member offices. To me it was important to get a sense of what I was stepping into on day one. If people had complaints or strong opinions on any given topic, I would likely hear it without having to ask. I framed my conversations around the work I would shape in this role, focusing on potential improvements rather than past failures.

The following questions guided my preparation:

  • What did the person before me do well with this position? How did they work with you or your office?
  • Who do you look to for advice on legislation, reporter outreach, or general professional advice?
  • What resources (websites, other organizations) do you find most useful?
  • What are your communications priorities for the coming year?
  • What challenges do you or your office face and are these something I can be helpful with?
  • How can I, in my role, help you achieve your goals?

What expectations did you have going in? How have your first weeks differed from your expectations?  

I was expecting to be inundated with bureaucracy and procedures I’d have to follow on a daily basis. Though the interview process had inspired me to critically think about what I would bring to the position, I was skeptical about my ability to enact all this change right away.

My first few weeks have been far from regimented. My outlook on government has completely transformed because I’ve been able to adopt my ideas into current practices. My new ideas are valued, and I’m reassured that the government is trying to make waves in our increasingly digital world. I am still actively learning in my role, but my unique millennial perspective will help connect our work on the Hill to others beyond the walls of the Capitol.

What have been some challenges?

It’s been difficult navigating the Hill. There are so many buildings and tunnels and it made my head spin at first. I still take a few extra minutes to get to meetings because at times I think I’ve taken a wrong turn and have ended up in a Hogwarts passageway. While sometimes I wish I had a magic wand and could create my own pathway from point A to point B like they do in the movies, I’m hopeful that I can navigate the Hill more quickly in no time.

What have been some successes?

During my first week, I was given an awesome opportunity to help plan an outward facing communications event. Mind you, I had not yet navigated through the halls of Capitol Hill and now was the point person for a live-streaming event. I coordinated with several Member offices, responding to texts and emails even during the event, to pull off my first live communications event on the Hill.

Government work is low budget, and because of my past experience working on several different campaigns, I have found ways to get creative with free resources and my own ingenuity. I’ve utilized those skills and online resources to work on digital media, such as videos and high-quality photos, to drive attention to our digital content.

How are you adapting to the new office culture? How have you gotten to know your coworkers/managers/peons?  

My entire hiring process was very much about assessing my professional and cultural fit into the office and the work that they do. Government work is values-based, so it was important that I align with the ideas I’d be promoting on a daily basis. That meant, too, that I had a lot in common with my coworkers from the start.

I have gotten to know my coworkers through my actual work, first and foremost. I’ve been asking a lot of questions and seeking feedback on my writing. This has been helpful to get acquainted with coworkers on a professional level.

All of my coworkers are very personable, so getting to know them has not been difficult. I walk to meetings, go to events, and grab coffee with them often. The concept of “grabbing a cup of coffee” has replaced “talking at the water cooler”…mostly because we don’t have a break room but we do have a new Dunkin’ Donuts in the basement.

How did you work to make the best first impression possible?

Aside from ensuring I was properly caffeinated each morning, I did my research before each introductory meeting on my calendar to make the best first impression possible. I wanted to be seen as someone who does their homework and can engage in conversation on issues that matter most to others.

It’s important to build relationships as it makes working with people day in and day out much more enjoyable. Beyond this, it’s important to be able to trust others. I recognize that, having not worked on the Hill before, I was coming into this position as an outsider. This was a challenge I sought to overcome through making sure that I was leaving people with a sense of what I am capable of.

What do you wish you had known?

I wish I would have known about all the trainings and resources that would be available to me in this position. I hope that others starting on the Hill or in other jobs take time to ask about all the resources available to them. Though I’ve been inundated with emails, I always make a sincere attempt to attend any and all information sessions, trainings, or meetings. There are always new things to learn in our ever-changing workplace, and I think time in these meetings – especially as I get started in my role – is time well spent.

If you have any advice or stories about starting a new job, please share them in the comments!

This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.

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Stacia Marcellin

This is was a great piece. I enjoyed hearing Natasha’s perspective. She showed a very positive attitude and entered her new job with a sense of purpose. Impressive!