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Paying your dues...or not

by Douglas E. Welch

July 30, 1999

© 1999, Douglas E. Welch

Paying your dues. If you haven’t done it yet, you will. In most companies this consists of shuffling paper, fetching coffee or answering the help desk hotline. These entry-level jobs can make a new college graduate feel a bit depressed. After all the work of college you suddenly start all over again…at the bottom. While this may seem unfair, there are good reasons why we all need to pay our dues. Good reasons for both you and your employer.

Maturity Test

As stupid as the tasks may seem, entry-level work helps you establish your maturity as a professional employee. Too many college graduates seem to think that their diploma qualifies them for a $100K/year job and all the perks of upper-management. In truth, it is a rare person who matches that description. In fact, most new employees take a little while to shake off the fantasy of college and face the reality of the work place.

Entry-level jobs allow you to prove your professional maturity and allow your employer to see that, yes, you can show up on time, dress appropriately and not take two hour lunches. It sounds basic but there are some people who have not yet figured this out. Placing anyone is a position of any power before you know these basics could lead to major problems.

Moving up and out

After establishing your basic professional maturity, your next goal should be to move up and out of the entry-level work as quickly as possible. Show your employer that not only do you do your work well, you do it quickly…and ask for more. Your job becomes and relentless cycle of doing more and more, better and better. If you do this you will quickly start to rise out of the mass of newly hired employees and establish your own career. To me, this is a true sign of a good employee.

Those who tend to complain the most about entry-level "scut" work are usually those doing the least to escape it. This work is not your destiny, it is a test. Just as in school, passing this test allows you to move to the next level.

New programs, old headaches

Employers have their own troubles when it comes to entry level employees. In an effort to reduce the amount of entry-level drudgery many major corporations are developing new programs that elevate certain employees to a special level. By allowing these employees to jump above the entry-level work they are trying to attract the best and brightest. The employees are given special privileges, assigned to mentors, and allowed to work in many different areas of the company so that they can find their niche. While the goals of these programs are admirable they can lead to larger problems.

Giving some employees special status helps to create an "us versus them" mentality in the work force. New hires that aren’t in the program can feel resentment and be even more unhappy in their entry-level work than they might be normally. Special status can also lead to a certain amount of arrogance in the "gifted" employees. I see a problem when arrogance about lower-level work is instituted so early in a person’s career. It seems that some companies are breeding extreme arrogance into employees that might eventually become executives. If these people can’t relate to lower-level employees when they start, how do they hope to relate to employees when they are in management?

The aim of these programs is good but I would like to see them applied to all new hires, not just a select few. Give every employee the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits. I would ask companies to not pre-judge their new employees based solely on test scores or the colleges they attended. If they give everyone an equal chance they just might be surprised.

Entry-level work doesn’t have to be forever. In fact, if you aren’t progressing out of an entry-level position you might have to do some hard self-analysis. Does the problem exist with the company, the job or with you. There is no shame in realizing that you don’t fit a particular job. The goal is to make this realization clearly and quickly so that you can move on to a career that is more suited to you and your desires.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/

He can reached via email at douglas@welchwrite.com

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