If you’ve ever changed careers, you know what a challenge it can be to settle in to a new position.
But what if you’ve been in the workforce for several years and suddenly find yourself in an entry-level job? Whether it’s a desired change or one forced by cutbacks in your previous field, experienced workers are finding themselves in entry-level jobs with coworkers right out of college. While this can be a difficult situation to navigate, a few simple strategies can help you survive and move up.
Yes, you have years of experience, and from those years of experience, you know that any experience—whether it’s work or life experience—counts for a lot. That said, you likely have a lot to learn about your new field. Share ideas about managing projects or workflow with your coworkers and managers, but also show your openness to suggestions and critiques. Compliment people on their knowledge or expertise.
Do your homework
Don’t underestimate the power of knowledge. This is where that “self-starter” buzzword on your resume kicks in. You’re likely learning a lot in your new position, and you should seek out information at every opportunity.
Read daily publications with news about your field. If you don’t know how to do something or need background information, do some research before simply asking. That way, when you do ask for help, you’ll be asking for clarification rather than an entire tutorial on a new subject or task.
Find common ground
It may feel as though you have nothing in common with your younger counterparts, but you’re all in the same field, so you’re bound to have some similar interests. Instead of working through lunch every day, make plans to go out with your coworkers. If you can, attend happy hour after work, or schedule a team activity like bowling so you can spend some time together out of the office.
You may not be partying with them on Saturday night, but you don’t have to be an old fuddy duddy either.
Observe how your coworkers and managers interact with one another. If you can, see how managers interact with each other, too. This will tell you a lot about your company and your field.
Mirroring positive interactions and modeling your exchanges after your observations will build trust with your coworkers as well as your manager. If people see you as someone they can rely on, you’re already on the path to advancement.
Ask for more responsibility
When you start to feel more comfortable in your position, seek out other projects to take on or take the initiative to start something new. If something doesn’t obviously present itself, talk to your manager about taking on another task or role. Better yet, come to the manager with an idea and an action plan to demonstrate that not only are you ready to take on something else, but you’ve also considered how you’ll manage your new task. If your company has management training, find out how to get involved.
While there may not be an opportunity to take on more responsibility immediately, showing your interest in doing so goes a long way.
Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw, one of the premier law programs offered through Washington University in St. Louis that allows foreign attorneys to earn their LLM degree online. You may find her on Twitter @hungryhealthyMJ.