This is a guest post by Nkatha Gitonga for Student Stories.
Collegial! This was the first description that came to my interviewer’s mind when I asked him about the company culture. The playing field was pretty much level and hierarchies were fluid. He went on to talk of the entrepreneurial nature of the firm, and how he had been involved in a little bit of everything during his stay at the firm.
I was excited. Terms like entrepreneurship and innovation, and their various synonyms appeared several times on my resume. I embodied what the company was all about. I was going to shine! 3 weeks later, I was hardly shining. In fact, it felt as if I was just scraping by, barely surviving. I had a great deal to learn. The most important lesson; although I valued entrepreneurship, and I had been described as creative and innovative, it took more than a few adjectives to get my career started. Here are a few lessons I learned on my road to thriving in an entrepreneurial environment.
1. Decisiveness and efficiency are highly valuable in an entrepreneurial environment
Whether you are working at a startup or a small firm, the number of tasks often times surpasses the number of employees, and sometimes, even their expertise. Your ability to encounter tasks, to take them on without reservation, and to reliably produce the expected results will get you ahead in this world. In a small firm, there will be fewer people with the will or time to constantly supervise you. Being efficient at your task, however, and adhering to a self-defined timeline will ensure that you can complete one project, and are therefore free for the next exciting project.
2. Don’t shy away from challenges or high-level tasks
Are you afraid you’re not good enough? Many people are, but they will never tell you, and because of that, they will not shy away from challenges that threaten to expose their inadequacies. Use challenges and high-level tasks as an opportunity to prove to yourself and others that you can be more than just good enough. When your knowledge and skills do not match the task at hand, invest your time and resources into learning the skills you need; take ownership for the accomplishment of the task, but when you run into specific problems, ask for colleague feedback.
3. Make teachers and friends out of your colleagues
The level of competitiveness varies across firms, but it should not exclude learning, and neither should it exclude friendship. Your colleagues have skill sets and knowledge that you do not. Show recognition for the tasks they do well and then desire to learn from them. Friendly competition offers a more learning-conducive and results-oriented environment than hostile competition. Be a proponent of friendly competition by focusing more on whether the quality of your results reflect your full capability, rather than on whether they are better than your colleague’s. And unless you have to, try not to decline invitations to colleague events, they’re a great way to connect on a more personal, rather than professional level.
4. Explore all avenues for growth
The entrepreneurial environment of a growing firm has many opportunities for growth. Your colleagues are potential teachers. The firm’s partners, founders or investors are all potential mentors. Each task is a chance for you to advance your knowledge and skills. So take advantage whenever possible.
Sometimes we are aware of what we need to do to grow, but we are unable to do it. Remember that you, like most people and institutions, are a work in progress.
About the Author:
Nkatha Gitonga is a senior at Harvard studying Sociology and Health Policy. She is interested in business strategy and entrepreneurship, and currently works for a Legal Department Management firm in Boston. Away from her academic and strategy ventures, you’ll find Nkatha travelling, writing, or exploring her still amateurish photographic genius.