A view from Sue Unerman

Advice for new recruits from industry veterans

From putting your hand up to how to cope with a stumble, Sue Unerman shares the things she wished she knew at 21.

We have been welcoming a whole new intake of talent into MediaCom. First-jobbers. Up for anything.

All of them have survived at the time of writing. I worked somewhere once where a new graduate didn’t make it through the first day – she went out for lunch and didn’t come back.

Recently, we had an evening in the bar, where some of us who have been around the block a few times (including me, Claudine Collins, Josh Krichefski, Matt Mee and Karen Blackett) gave some of the advice that we would give our 21-year-old selves.

What a range of advice. Plenty to choose from and all from very different personalities. It included "Put your hand up for everything", "Don’t be worried about asking questions" and "Surround yourself with talented people – don’t worry if you think they look cleverer than you; actually, it will rub off on you". 

"Work hard, play hard" goes without saying, though getting the balance right can be a bit of a challenge, particularly in the run-up to Christmas when there is much seasonal work and much more seasonal entertainment. 

In my first job, you were expected to get in before your boss and not leave until he does, and then go to the pub with him. I remember wondering when he saw his wife and children as he seemed to spend 8am until 11.30pm at work (and played golf during the weekends).

Culture is important to your enjoyment of the first year or so of work. You need a match for your personality – there will be a great environment out there for you, but you’re lucky if you’ve landed in it first time. 

If you like routine and boundaries, somewhere too dynamic can be a daunting – even stressful – experience. On the other hand, if you can’t help but challenge the status quo, a hierarchical culture might crush your spirit. 

Wherever you work, whatever your role, there is only one person who is responsible for whether or not you have a good or bad day at work: you. The power of this is enormous. You can’t control how anyone else behaves around you; you can control your own reaction to everyone and everything. 

In the opening of The Continuum Concept (actually a book about parenting), Jean Liedloff talks about a trek in the rainforest she undertook with some businessmen. The journey was a tricky one. Although there were some experienced indigenous guides, everyone stumbled. The heat was overwhelming, the terrain difficult. 

Liedloff noticed that the businessmen were mainly miserable. They swore every time they fell. They cursed the heat, the flies. The guides, despite their experience, were going no faster than anyone else. The difference was that when they fell, they laughed. They were in the moment and were pleased to be working. The businessmen were desperately frustrated about not being in control of things that were impossible to control. The guides accepted the limits of what they could control.

There is a profound lesson here for everyone at work. We all fall, we all stumble. Some of us get diminished by it. Some of us enjoy the trek, pick ourselves up and keep on going. The choice is yours. I wish I had known that at 21.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom