One of the most difficult parts of making the transition from college to work is waking up every morning and getting to the office on time. After you have mastered that, the next most difficult thing is the “what am I doing here?” problem. This problem has two scenarios. The first is you have the dumbest job in the whole world and you have idiots telling you how to do idiot work. In this case, you probably have fantasies of the second scenario, in which you have the perfect job and are surrounded by geniuses doing very important work. But what if you are, indeed, surrounded by geniuses and important assignments?
Often, people with little work experience feel stupid at work. And rightly so. Everyone has to teach them what to do. But the problem is that if you show that you feel stupid then no one will want to work with you. After all, the geniuses hired you thinking they could teach you quickly to add value.
So be the person they thought they hired. Stop feeling stupid and focus on ways you can add value even if you don't know anything:
Show potential. That excites people. They hired you for your ability to learn and they knew they'd have to train you. Let them know you're on the right track: Dress right. Say the right things. Show up to meetings on time. Don't be uptight. People will excuse that you don't know a lot because it's exciting to be the one to teach an up and comer.
Ask good questions. You might not have all the answers, but you can help narrow in on good answers by asking insightful questions. An ex-boyfriend, (who was actually a better catch than I had realized at the time,) once told me, “There are no right answers, just sharper questions.”
Don't try to be something you're not. It's OK if you are at a client meeting and have only one or two things to say. The client knows that she has 15 years of experience in her business and you have 15 minutes. But if you're invited, ask questions so that she knows you're engaged and interested and she can get a sense of how you think.
Compensate for your boss in small but significant ways. Think about the personality traits you have and your boss doesn't. Are you good with details? Someone who isn't will appreciate that you are. Are you good at small talk? Show that skill at an office get-together, and your social dolt of a boss will appreciate you.
Pay attention, and use slow times for synthesizing. You have time on your side. Older people have kids, mortgages and sick parents. It's likely you have none of those, which gives you lots of time to think. Creative solutions don't come when you're slogging though meetings or endless in-boxes. The new ideas come during quiet, unstructured time. Gain an edge by giving yourself these moments — you might come up with a truly brilliant idea.
For some, this pep talk won't put a dent in the nervousness you feel around bigwigs. Take solace in the fact that smart people have such a huge need to be right and add value that they sometimes never shut up. Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach and a founder of Alliance for Strategic Leadership cites the example of an ex-director of the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., who constantly added to other peoples' ideas, as in, “That's a good idea, but it might work better if …” People like that director are better off keeping quiet, says Goldsmith. Not every idea needs to be improved 5%.
So for those of you newbies working with geniuses who always need to say one more thing, recognize that sometimes these brainacs just like to hear themselves talk. The ability to see through such chatter is something you bring to the table.