Lessons from the New Kid

Erin Lewis

Working for a new company in a new industry can be daunting. When I started with Bright Umbrella, I was interested in the web and had some experience … but not much. I was essentially starting from scratch. Over the past year, with Emily’s and Lea’s help, I learned some important lessons that would have been nice to know from the git-go.

Lesson #1: Figure out exactly who you’re working for

This sounds like the obvious advice for starting a new job, right? But it isn’t that obvious in practice. Prior to actually starting with the company, Emily and Lea recommended that I listen to all of the CTRL+CLICK CAST episodes and review some case studies to get a sense of the business (this was all before they launched the rebrand). This helped me gain an understanding of what they did, but I still didn’t get the philosophy behind it.

My first set of responsibilities for Bright Umbrella was writing for social media, and I really struggled to get a sense of the tone we wanted to convey and, more importantly, the purpose behind that tone. It suffices to say that I spent an inordinate amount of time on a succession of 140 character sentences.

Bright Umbrella’s brand guidelines (PDF)

Then one wonderful day, Emily and Lea shared with me Bright Umbrella’s brand guidelines. The clouds parted and where there was once darkness, I saw light. Everything I needed to know about tone and style and purpose was there, all in one lovely place that I could refer to as needed.

If your new employer/team doesn’t offer you a set of brand guidelines or something akin to that during the onboarding process, ask for it! If they don’t have such a document, engage in a conversation about tone, style and purpose. Get specific. Not only will you impress them with your interest, you’ll have a deeper understanding behind the work they do and the work you’ll do for them.

Lesson #2: Figure out what you don’t know and then ask

I struggled not only with finding the voice of the company, but also with vocabulary and concepts about many parts of the web (I told you I was a newbie!). Although I spent a fair amount of time just looking things up and listening to industry podcasts (The Web Ahead and Hanselminutes are two that I found useful), I also got better at asking questions.

This helped all three of us figure out the gaps in my knowledge, as well as the weak points in our communication. Once I realized that asking questions was as important as listening and trying things out, I began to have more confidence in my work. Admitting that you don’t know something, and asking folks who do, puts you on the fast track to figuring it out.

Lesson #3: Relax, we’re just making websites

Initially, I would cringe and obsess about mistakes I made. I would read and reread and rewrite until I’m sure I was giving myself premature wrinkles between my eyes … and I was only writing some posts for social media! This was in part, due to my personal need to be perfect and awesome in every way (impossible) and because taking on this internship is really important to me.

I must have seemed stressed one day when talking with Emily about a problem, and she said the magic phrase: “Relax, we’re just making websites.”

I felt a little weight lift off of my shoulders, and I think (unless you are actually a brain surgeon) that you can apply this sentiment to any project or job. Accept your process. Make your mistakes and live on to make new ones. Just learn from them for tomorrow.

Find Your Place, Prove Your Value

It’s never easy being the new kid at the lunch table, but taking initiative, taking stock and taking it easy on yourself can all help smooth the edges as you find your place. The folks you are working with hired you for a reason. With a little initiative and self-awareness you can prove them right … and then some.

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