My first big kid job out of college was in a department on campus I had worked as a student. My former boss had too much on his plate, so they divided his responsibilities and hired me. It was an interesting dynamic, but he was great and I learned a heck of a lot from that job. It was a strong foundation for where my career has taken me since.
That being said, holy Hannah was I green! I had several “lead supervisor” and “head ____” positions before, but nothing with the type of responsibilities that come in a position where you can give raises and fire people. Though I left that position five years ago, I have frequently reflected on what it taught me. There were lots, like “Make sure you check that your volunteers don’t have a criminal record” and “Don’t hire someone you wouldn’t hire if you had other options,” which were fun, but I want to share some of the most valuable things I learned as a first-time boss.
BE the boss
Don’t act like you’re not the boss in an effort to build rapport with your employees or even your bosses.
I had worked there as a student employee over a year before. I had a crush on one of the supervisors back then and flirted shamelessly. Returning as his newly married boss was slightly mortifying. My employees were all within 3 years of my age. I had to remind myself a lot that I needed to set better boundaries of professionalism for myself so that I could better communicate and enforce expectations. That was a weird one to navigate.
Our department utilized hundreds of community volunteers each week, Some volunteers were shift leaders and worked much closer with me than regular volunteers and were typically upper 40’s to 85 years old. So I was telling someone’s grandma and gramps what to do all the time, when I just wanted them to listen to their stories. But I also needed them to do their job.
Even with my superiors, it was hard to own that I knew my department needs better than they did. It took realizing that I hated having to baby my employees because they couldn’t figure out how to do something. I LOVE when my employees let me know they’ve identified a problem and found a solution. Why would my bosses be any different? They typically don’t want a “yes-man,” they want someone with fresh ideas who can take care of things.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with your coworkers, but there are boundaries. You are their boss and remembering that makes being in management a lot easier.
Make key departments your buddies
I did not study business in school, but it’s pretty vital to know how things run. Especially HR stuff when you’re the boss. I called all the time to ask questions about payroll issues, compliance, and especially the ACA regulations that came out during that time. I used them so much they probably should’ve been on my payroll.
The IT office there deserves donuts on a weekly basis for the hundreds of calls they took from me. They were fantastic and I always made sure to let them know how much I appreciated them. My issues generally got fixed pretty quickly.
HR and IT helped me function in my position and I would have been way worse off without them. Figure out what other departments help you do your job better and become friends. .
I loved that job, but there was so much sexism. It was very male-dominated, but I didn’t feel like I experienced that as a student employee. Soon after I was hired, my boss was transferred and my new one was much different. Honestly, I don’t believe it was intentional or that he realized what he was doing. It also wasn’t just him, but I didn’t feel supported enough to talk about my concerns.
And that’s where I fault myself: I cared about what I did, so I kept it in and tried to deal with it. It took a while for me to even recognize that it was sexism. Thank heaven for my co-manager who always made sure people knew I was his equal and not his secretary.
But when it got to the point that my boss wouldn’t listen to my ideas and I had to have a male co-worker present them to get what we needed approved–I was done. I was sick of crying the whole way home from work. We moved to Arizona to start my first advising position.
I wish I’d talked to HR to figure out how to approach this. I wish I’d talked to my boss or his boss. I wish I’d had the type of women in my life back then that are now, to tell me it wasn’t okay and give me confidence and words to face it head-on. I wish I’d been prepared to deal with it.
But at least now I know and do things differently. I have loads of women I can talk to about this stuff. I’m more confident and understand what it’s like to be supported in the work place by male colleagues. I talk about sexism, family leave and pretty much anything to do with what I write on this blog with female and male students. Everyone should understand this.
No matter how good of a job you have, when it comes to networking, we can never be “off.” I participated in hiring committees where the ones hiring were 95% sure who they were hiring before they even started interviews because of who referred the applicant or how much they had interacted with the applicant before the job even posted. These weren’t for student job positions, these were for management. The more people the applicants knew well on the committee, the better for them. It was fascinating to watch. It’s critical for upward movement in your company, but also for when you want to move elsewhere. Get your LinkedIn set up well and stay connected with the people you meet and have had positive working experience with!
That’s it–some of the most valuable things my first real job taught me about being the boss. What would you add to this?