What was your first “real” job? Do you remember it? Of course you do.

Mine was post-college, auditing newspaper circulation for advertisers, in an industry I didn’t know, working with people significantly older than me, dealing with department heads who were proud members of the old-boys club.

Due to my despised job function (“I just LOVE my auditor!” said no one, ever), my youth, and the fact that I’m female, I didn’t exactly fit in. I quickly realized that this put me at a big disadvantage.

In Robert Dilenschneider’s book, The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life, he points out that every newbie faces this, to some degree.

And he recommends they learn the ropes of the work place – as quickly as they can.

Learning The Ropes

So that’s exactly what I did – learned the ropes. At every new client’s office I visited. Week after week.

I quickly discovered that my best bet was to initially observe & analyze their team, taking time to carefully plan my interactions with people.

At its best, this strategy consistently delivered a positive, productive week with a client’s team. And for those times when things got a little hairy, it at least ensured that I survived my time there without any giant missteps.

The Critical Early Years

As part of learning the ropes, Dilenschneider provides valuable advice and actionable steps on topics like running a successful job search, accessing the office grapevine, networking effectively, and recovering from setbacks.

Each of these chapters are highly valuable to someone just starting their career.

But there are three areas Dilenschneider includes that I would argue are valuable to folks at any point in their careers. Here they are:

    • assessing the culture of a company or department
    • connecting well with generations beyond your own
    • successfully managing your boss

Why do I consider these the most valuable in learning the ropes?

Because these are ongoing issues, and are constantly changing – they are moving targets.

And we see them quite often with our coaching clients.

These are clients who have been highly successful in certain areas, but who have now hit a barrier of some kind in their career and they’re stuck.

And many of these barriers tie back to one of the big three mentioned above.

So although Dilenschneider’s advice is right – these skills ARE important to acquire during the critical first years of our professional life, they often don’t get mastered.

In general, we gain enough skill to create success at a certain level, or in a certain situation. It feels like mastery, but it’s really just mastery at that level, for that scenario.

But then something happens. We get a promotion. A demanding new boss arrives. New – and difficult – team members are added.

And suddenly, we face a barrier to our career progress. Continuing to develop our muscles around these ‘big three’ will prevent that barrier from stalling you very long. So be sure to carefully read the chapters on those topics.

Highlights From the Book

Admittedly, the main reason I appreciate this book so much is that Dilenschneider’s content and advice ties closely to what we teach here at Careertopia.

Here are a few excerpts that resonated with me:

On the topic of job fit. “When you know who you are, you’ll be able to evaluate which organizational cultures fit you. If you find the right fit, you have a shot at being happy – even in these crazy economic times. Self-knowledge is the beginning of happiness in the workplace.”

Regarding empathy. “When I learned to empathize with the pressures my bosses and clients were under, my relationships with them improved 200 percent. So many conflicts in the workplace happen because we are looking inward at ourselves rather than outward at the context we’re operating in.”

The secret to success. “Careers are built primarily on relationships, not expertise. Focus on your professional relationships, and you’ll have access to all the resources you need to get your work done.”

 There’s some fantastic wisdom and guidance in this book, whether you’re just starting out in your career, or have been in it a while.