When I first joined Options there was no such thing as a graduate scheme and my very existence as a ‘graduate’ hire clearly puzzled many of my new colleagues. That said, following a conversation with Options COO Danny Moore, during which he asked me if I fancied six weeks away from the Belfast office, I was quickly thrust into the thick of things. That was May 2013 and I’m lucky now if I make it back to Belfast for more than a week every couple of months!
My travels have taken me to the U.S., via New York and Minneapolis, and back to London, with pit stops in Paris and Zurich to boot. For that first year, I mainly worked alongside Options’ senior project managers and turned my hand to all manner of tasks, both in the office and onsite with clients. It amounted to an accelerated learning experience, and one that has left me far more advanced, across a range of technical and non-technical skills, than any other graduate scheme I could have applied to.
While Options’ growth rate has been one of the key factors behind my development, I also adopted a rough set of guidelines to get as much from the experience as possible.
1. Say Yes To Everything
This really is the golden rule, and your greatest weapon. In any company worth its salt, senior staff will, at some point, offer to teach you a new skill, take you for a drink, or bring you along to a meeting - say yes to every single offer. It shows you’re keen, hungry and possess a positive attitude, and other than missing another evening in with Netflix, there is zero downside.
Saying yes is the easiest way to differentiate yourself and don’t think that because you may not have experience in a certain task, you shouldn’t take it on. If someone is asking for your help, it is because they feel you have what it takes to succeed. You are sure to learn a heap of new things and get some valuable brownie points in the process. (This last point is especially true if the project involves evening or weekend work!)
2. Ask Questions (And Question Everything)
If you don’t know what exactly you are supposed to doing, stop and ask. If someone gives you their time to help on something, make the most of it and get as much information from them as humanly possible. After all, learning the skills necessary for you to be a success is as much a benefit to them as it is to you. As the saying goes, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, they’re easier to handle than dumb mistakes’.
To that end, when learning about different processes and the way things are done, don’t be afraid to ask why they are done that way. At the very least you’ll validate the process, and you may even help to improve things.
3. Get Some Context
All the grads here at Options have the opportunity to travel in their first year. I was in London in my first week, and NYC in my first month. My advice is that while you’re there, get coffees, arrange phone calls and swap emails with as many of your new colleagues as you can. Do some internal cold calls if you have to, just to introduce yourself. This is a vital part of being the newest guy or girl in the company and crucial to your overall development.
During these introductions, look beyond the confines of your own cubicle and be sure to get some context on the wider marketplace, the firm’s key competitors and the prevailing industry trends. The best engineers have good business knowledge, and the best sales people know a little engineering.
4. Get In Front Of Clients
Take every opportunity to get in front of clients, and be useful to them. This is key as you start out your career, as you need to build confidence in dealing with the different personalities you will be encountering on a daily basis. It can also be a great way to accelerate your career, expand your network and gain allies who can help you down the line. Knowing their business and knowing where Options fits within their business is also key. We are typically the key external partner for the majority of our clients and provide numerous business critical functions. Knowing exactly what these are and the role you play will take you far.
5. Enjoy The Social Side
We are a company with a young age profile, and bases in the best cities in the world (especially Belfast!). Socialising with colleagues is a great way to break down barriers and get to know the people you will be spending most of your waking hours with. It is also a great way to get exposed to opportunities that you didn’t know existed.
More importantly, how else would you find out that our CTO is a secret pool shark?
6. Go The Extra Mile
This should be the most obvious one on this list but it doesn’t always go without saying. By simply staying behind in the office that extra hour a couple of times a week, you are likely to get more exposure to the key people who can help build-out your knowledge and skill base.
As the herd thins, you’ll find that the engineers who are staying late busting their hump are also the ones that will give you the most useful guidance and are most open to sharing their knowledge. You might also end up being assigned some additional responsibility just by being in the right place at the right time.
7. You Will Mess Up
One last point on responsibility. You will, at some point in your first year, mess up and break something. Stories in the comments please! Seriously though, my advice is to own up quickly and take responsibility. Breaking something is fine, breaking something and sitting on it for two months is not. It’s never as bad as you think and you probably don’t yet have the level of access to do serious damage. You can probably tell I’m speaking from experience.
So there it is, my top tips for new and future graduates, do let us know if there’s anything you would add and for more on Options gradate or placement scheme (which is currently accepting applications) visit here.
Peter Graham - Project Manager, Options