Why culture should be your #1 priority at your first job

A safe and supporting environment to transition from school to work life

Making the jump from school to professional life is not necessarily an easy one. The principles in school are vastly different from real life, even if you're working in a niche field like design. There is a myriad of changes to adjust to; Like the simple fact that you don't have an endless stretch of time to work with, or the ability to work all night and sleep all day if you get into a flow. Also, of course, the pressure shift from exams that are solely focused on you as an individual or your group, to money, clients and reputation.

Going from school to work life, it’s a jump

No matter how you spin it, the transition from school to professional life is a jump that's going to need some adjusting. Even those who say they didn't think it was a challenge will feel a transition. So with all of these new factors to consider and changes to navigate, there is one thing that determines your experience of this in my opinion, and that thing is organisational culture.

The reason that culture at the organisation that you work for is so important at your first job is that it will determine how comfortable you feel going through all of the adjustments that you need to, progressing as a newly educated professional, and continue learning. Everything from failing, daring to be vulnerable and even daring to apply your skills.

A workshop I had the opportunity to co-facilitate in my first few months of work, about raising living standards through a design-driven approach.

Doing it wrong is just as important as doing it right

Failing is an essential part of learning. It’s said that you learn more from the things that don’t go well than from the things that do go well. So naturally, as a newbie, you need to be able to fail and feel supported in doing so. An organisation with an open and supportive culture will make its new talent feel more comfortable taking risks and daring to take on responsibility.

Being enabled to take on risks and the potential failure that comes with it is an immensely empowering gift that a company can give its recruits.
Sanna Nordin

Imagine the learning curve you could have and the experienced employee you will have the capacity to become, in such an environment.

Failure doesn't mean stupid mistakes. It's about healthy risk-taking

Of course, there are limits, clumsy slip-ups should be held to a minimum (although they are human), but positive risk-taking that helps you evolve as a professional should be accepted. As a result, you feel more comfortable taking on responsibility, working innovatively and tackling new challenges. So looking out for a company that values mistakes for their learning potential will give you an impressive booster in your career, and maximise your future output. It’s a win-win.

Having a work environment that supports you as a human being

Next up we have compassion (one of my all-time favourite topics). It’s the mechanism that allows you to be vulnerable and take on the risks and failure I mentioned earlier. Modern organisations are beginning to open up to the fact that we are not robots but in fact sentient beings. This, of course, implies that we have a plethora of emotions, and your first job will most likely stimulate at least a few of these.

It’s vital that your first workplace is a compassionate one for two reasons. One, to develop to your full potential you need to feel comfortable being professionally vulnerable. That means asking for help, and admitting you don’t know something.

Being able to ask for help and learn from the experts, instead of frantically trying to make ends meet on your own is a great asset to new employees. It’s like school on steroids. You get to see the methods done by the best and applied in real life situations while also getting to take part. Could you ask for a better learning experience?

And two, I firmly believe that an essential part of our happiness as human beings, and avoiding workplace-related illnesses like burnout, is to express our feelings. Now I don’t mean that you should have a tantrum at work when things don’t go your way. However being able to say “you know what, I am having a terrible day today because of XYZ” and recognising the emotions that are a regular part of life, and not having to be Hollywood-style happy all the time is a prerequisite to a healthy career and successful teamwork.

Compassion is essential to your progress as a new employee

Now, why is compassion especially important in your first job? It is crucial because it will give you a nurturing environment to kick-start your career in, so you can build a solid base as a professional. Being able to express insecurities, worries, or even just your mood in a constructive way is something I believe is underrated, but a significant part of developing your professional self.

A company with a compassionate culture will more likely create a positive environment to start your career in, and ultimately avoid confidence breaking situations that might stunt your development.
Sanna Nordin
At EGGS Design we work hard, but we make sure to take time to enjoy each other’s company. This is from a trip to the fjords in Stavanger that was organised so we could enjoy the great weather while getting some work done.

Applying your skillsets in an inclusive environment boosts your learning

When you graduate, you have a pretty impressive toolkit. A big part of developing this skillset is getting to apply it in a real-life context. The way forward with this is as flat of a cultural hierarchy as possible. Even as someone with one day of professional experience, the culture at your future employer should value your input.

I know most of my colleagues at EGGS Design are thinking “duh” while reading this part of the article, but I know from my extensive network of young professionals that having your input valued and respected is nowhere near a given for newbies. For you to speed up your development, you need to be able to voice your opinions and get a chance to try out your skillset in real life situations. At a company with a tradition of collaboration and a flat structure, you are more likely to end up with co-workers who let you participate in projects on an equal level. Actively applying your skills is a crucial stepping stone to the next level in your career and something that is determined by the culture of the company you work for.

With these reflections in your back pocket, whether they be new or just a reminder for you, I hope all you eager new grads look at the culture of the organisation on par with the company’s achievements and status.

Working for a company with an accepting, compassionate and flat structure will give you the most significant potential to develop in your career. I promise you.
Sanna Nordin

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