They teach you a lot in college, but nothing really makes up for real-world experience. Unfortunately, that means that when you start out, you’re apt to make mistakes. The same was definitely true for me. But, good sport that I am, I’ve composed a list of the biggest lessons I had to learn the hard way, so that maybe you won’t have to.

1) Always, always, always make a plan. I know this sounds obvious, but many business professionals, including myself, get excited about a project and quickly jump in, without really thinking things through. In my particular role, this presented itself in the form of hours upon hours of coding, just to realize that my solution wouldn’t work (Yea, that stung). Map out your project, including any potential problems you see. If possible, have someone else look at your plan and poke holes. The stronger your objectives and timelines, the less chance of a costly mistake like the one I made.

2) Have clear, objective measurements of success. This is applicable in so many ways. I’ve encountered this both with personal goals set by my boss, project deliverables, and in campaigns we’ve partnered with our clients to complete. Before you dive in, you need to know how to tell if you have succeeded, or failed. Whether that’s setting a number of jobs you need to process, deadlines you have to meet, or number of sales you need to make, having clear-cut measurements is essential.

3) Make sure that everyone is on the same page. This is something that I have seen time and time again being a problem. Communication is something that most businesses and people could do better. Too many times I thought I knew what was expected of me, just to realize that my boss or the client had something very different in mind. We’ve employed a strategy where we repeat back what we are supposed to do, allowing the other(s) to agree, disagree, or suggest changes. This has helped clear up a lot of misunderstandings and saved time and money.

4) Never say the words “I don’t know.” When I first started with Fraga Graphic Solutions, I was in an assistant position, fresh out of college, and very unsure of…well, everything. So, I said “I don’t know” a lot–because I didn’t know. In my first review, this was one of the things my boss focused on. After receiving feedback, I worked on it and found alternatives to those three words. Instead of “I don’t know” I say “Let me look into it” or offer my opinion: “I believe the answer is this, but let me verify that and get back to you.” It’s the same idea, I don’t have the answer. But by switching how I speak, I appeared more knowledgeable and even felt more knowledgeable myself. Sure, I didn’t know the answer, but I did know how to find out and trust my ability to do so.

5) Don’t trust a process until you’ve had at least three people try it. When I first transitioned into data work, I was the only person in the department. This made processes pretty easy — I was the only one who had to follow them. When we hired another data processor, I found my process didn’t actually work that well. Things that I assumed were common knowledge definitely weren’t, and what I took to mean one thing, he took to mean another. We revised the processes so that they made sense to both of us, but once we added another processor, we had the same problem. The more people who can look at your processes the better. It’s especially helpful to involve someone who doesn’t know anything about the process. They’ll help you develop clear and concise instructions.

6) Understand the importance of quality over quantity. I used to feel like I needed to compensate for my lack of experience by working the latest and doing the most. What I realized, though, is that when I stretched myself thin trying to do more and more, the quality of my work suffered. I’ve come a long way since I first started with my company, and I put in a lot less time now than I did when I started. However, the time I do put in helps us to become more efficient and less error prone, increasing our capabilities and our ability to keep clients satisfied. Do what you do well, and quantity matters a lot less.

We like to give credit where credit is due. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM.

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