If you have graduated with a major in the arts or social sciences (including but not limited to: philosophy, fine arts, anthropology, politics, history, communications, linguistics, any language) chances are you have had a job since finishing college that is only very loosely, or not at all, related to your degree.
Often this is some kind of reception or administrative assistant job- it feels like it’s a step up from serving or bar tending, and usually pays a little better. But when you’re refilling the coffee machine or taking coats from important guests you start to wonder why you stayed up until 4am writing essays on the leaders of the Chinese revolution. It’s not all bad though- there are some lessons about work, life and people that can only be learned while at the bottom of the totem pole. Here are just a few.
1. Really smart people sometimes struggle a lot with the little things.
Like printers or staplers. How can someone who makes terrifying amounts of money doing things I can’t even begin to understand not figure out how to print double sided? It’s equal parts terrifying and comforting.
2. The support staff knows everything about everyone.
For some reason, everybody thinks that it’s okay to tell the assistant everything that goes on in the office. Every staff member seems to think that the assistant is his or her own personal confidant…meanwhile, you just sit there compiling a six-season soap opera’s worth of office gossip.
3. Some people are just rude. For no reason. All the time.
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when they’re being rude. Maybe their boss yelled at them, or they missed their train, or maybe they had a disappointing avocado for breakfast. But some people really are just bitter and nasty for no reason.
4. No matter how efficient or helpful you are, those people will keep being miserable.
It’s best to just stop wondering what you did wrong- the answer is nothing. Just avoid them in the break room and find a work wife to bitch to.
5. Being judgmental is basically a part of the job.
People think that an interview starts when you’re being questioned by your future boss- wrong. The judging begins when you walk in. Are you five minutes late? The receptionist notices. Wearing bad shoes? You will forever be known as holey-sneakers guy. And if you’re rude to the receptionist- bye, bitch.
6. Being nice goes a long way.
And being just a little bit nicer than necessary goes a REALLY long way. Who doesn’t want to be remembered as the smiling girl who always asks about everyone’s weekends?
7. There is such a thing as too nice.
When my boss saw a train of emails that involved me repeatedly apologizing for something I had no control over, she marched over and told me to never, ever apologize for something that wasn’t my fault. You might think you’re just being polite, but when shit hits the fan and blame is being tossed around like a hot potato, it will land on whoever’s willing to catch it. So if you don’t deserve it, drop it right there and strut right out to lunch.
8. You will end up doing SO much shit that isn’t your job.
By the end of this job you’ll be able to add receptionist, administrative assistant, caterer, building maintenance, cleaner, IT personnel, customer service, research assistant and stock manager to your CV. Plus a few unofficial titles such as office stylist, supplier of tissues, expert coffee-machine-fixer and Ask Annie of the office.
9. The view from the top might be pretty, but the view from the bottom is revealing.
There are people who make more money than I can even fathom who chat to me over lunch as if I was just sitting at the board meeting next to them, and there are those who sit barely half an inch above me in the hierarchy and wouldn’t give me the time of day. The way a person treats someone they perceive to be lower than them is very telling- so in the game of character judging, you have the best seat in the house.