Tips For Learning On The Job

By Erica Irish

Starting a job is often the hardest part. Thankfully, it’s not as scary as it seems: Hold on to these tips for how you can learn while you work. 

In Orr Fellowship, being a young professional in your first two years on the job can be daunting. You’ll inevitably have a lot to learn—if not about how to do your job, you’ll have to learn what it’s like to navigate a new organization, with new colleagues who have more experience than you. 

But rather than give into fear and insecurity, embrace a perspective shift. Recognize that you have a lot to learn, and then, make a plan & keep your eyes open. 

Better yet? Seek wisdom from the Orr Fellows who’ve been there before. 

Tip 1: Admit, And Accept, What You Don’t Know 

Carlos Salvador is a revenue operations assistant at Terminus. Unlike most Fellows, Carlos came to the Fellowship with several more years of experience under his belt, including 6 years with the United States Marine Corps and several more years with Apple while he completed his education at IUPUI. 

In any context, Carlos said he believes young professionals best prepare themselves to learn on the job by first saying, “Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know.” 

“I’ve heard this time after time after time, and to this day, it stands as the BEST advice ever,” Carlos explains. “It is completely understandable to not know stuff or ask for clarification. What isn’t okay is to fake an answer and provide false information.”

Carlos practices this mindset in a new workplace by being a sponge in all things. By this, he explains, young professionals should see their earliest days with a company as the best time to soak up as much information as possible—both inside and outside your role. 

“I observe the way my colleagues use humor, their tonality, eye contact and body language,” Carlos said. “I want to learn as much as I can and take as many notes as I can. Over time, the notes become less and less; next thing I know, people come to me and ask for my input on future projects.”

Tip 2: Write It Down 

When you’re in “sponge mode” at your new job, don’t just keep what you’re learning in your head. Be an avid note-taker and document everything. This helps to not only remember specific lessons—it’s also a great way to see how you’re growing over time. 

How you document what you learn is up to you. Some Fellows love handwritten notes in journals; other times, it can be valuable to record meetings and listen back to them, so you can hear with a fresh perspective how people interact and what is valued. 

“I’ve found that recording conversations can be a great way to learn,” says Matt Fajt, a second-year Fellow working at Jobvite. “Not only does this allow you to listen and have a quality conversation without scrambling to jot down notes, you can go back and learn some things you may have missed during the meeting. It gives you the chance to learn at your own pace and even analyze how you act in a conversation.”

Tip 3: Think Out Loud 

Intentional learning often requires us to be vulnerable. And in the workplace, one of the fastest ways to learn is to get out of your silo and think out loud with your colleagues. 

In her role at Offprem Technology, first-year Fellow Martha Reifenberg had much to learn about her company’s highly technical work with Salesforce software. To serve her company’s clients, Martha had to understand the work inside and out, and fast. So, she leaned into conversations with her work mentors to help. 

“My best advice is to ask all the questions that come to mind,” Martha says. “Think out loud. Let your sentences be convoluted. For all chronic over-achievers out there (myself included), learning is a vulnerable thing. Accept criticism, thank people for their time, and be kind to yourself if you make a mistake.” 

Tip 4: Learn Beyond Work 

Lastly, don’t forget that all of us are learning beyond our jobs, every single day. We’re all experiencing the “school of life,” after all. 

To keep your cup full and truly adopt a learner’s mindset, remember to think about your learning off the job. Now’s the time to try something new and give yourself permission to tinker with something imperfect. The more you experiment—because learning is always a messy process—the more comfortable you’ll be with stepping out of your comfort zone in your job. 

“As a young professional, you don’t have to sacrifice your time and mental health to be successful,” Martha says. “Set boundaries. Adopt hobbies that you aren’t great at, but enjoy doing.”

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