Thursday, June 26, 2014

3 Ways “Intern,” “Entry-Level,” and "Beginner" Have Power

Intern. Entry-level. Beginner.

You might think any position title with those generic words attached to it can just as well describe the people involved with green, wet behind the ears, bottom of the totem pole, or even the least Human Resources–friendly term of all, gofer. Intern or entry-level people may be all those things, especially if they are young adults or workers switching careers (though if I were you, I’d drop the soul-crushing gofer in both practice and word). But have you ever thought about how much power they actually have?

I worked summers while in college in the social service agency that hired me after I graduated. Later, after ten years at home with my children, someone I knew gave me a chance in a field I knew I would love: publishing. My temporary, entry-level position led to a twenty-four-year career in editorial management and, now, as a freelancer. So I’ve had my toe wedged in the door of opportunity as a beginner, and I have hired and trained—and yes, let go—many a beginner. 

I have come to the conclusion that beginners have often-unrecognized power. 

1.       Beginners have the power to make employers want to keep them. Internship and entry-level positions are fairly easy to fill, especially if many want their toes wedged in a particular door. But rather than endure a revolving door, employers like to pull good workers right through that door and keep them there. Starting over with someone new is expensive, time-consuming, and distracting. Beginners have the power to sway supervisors toward retention by mastering the basic “figure out what they want and give it to them” (within reason and ethical standards, of course).     

2.       Beginners have the power to surprise. Cajoling for opportunities as a beginner can come across as cocky, annoying, and lead to failure of point one above. But beginners have the power to surprise employers when a need arises and they know how to meet that need because they took any opportunity to learn on the job. “I can do that for you” might just be the sweetest six words an overwhelmed supervisor could hear.  (By the way, bad surprises can also lead to failure with point number one!)

3.       Beginners have the power to make decisions about their own careers. Sometimes a beginner does not want to become a seasoned, valuable, no-longer-a-beginner employee in a traditionally entry-level position no matter how many perks come along. I lost some great editorial assistants to other positions in the company because they had the power over their careers, not me. It did not take very many experiences like that for me to stop being a bit blind to the power beginners have over their own careers. And those beginners should not be blind to it either.

So did you think beginners have no power? Think again!

For writers and others, are you a beginner in your chosen field? What power do you think you have and might not have recognized until now?

For readers and others, do you enjoy reading about beginners and how they realize and exercise power? Can you think of a novel you enjoyed where the power of the beginner made a difference in a character’s growth?  

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