Life at Work

Fresh Out of College? First, Accept Help.

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 2, 2006

Welcome to the world of work, new graduates. Sure, you probably had a few internships. Maybe a campus job for a little extra cash. But what do you really know about the workplace?

You'll spend more time in this place than in any other, in an environment you rarely have control over, around people you didn't choose but need.

(Okay, when I start to think about it that way, I shiver a little, too.)

I thought I would give you a leg up this week with some advice from people who have been through those first years of work. And survived, just as you will.

"When people offer to help you, assume they mean it and take them up on it."

That career-advancing advice comes from my fabulous editor and queen of guidance, Martha Hamilton. Martha said that this is the one thing she wishes she had realized when she started working.

When people offered her guidance or help -- contacts, lunch to discuss her future -- she rarely took them up on it. Why? She guesses she wanted to feel as if she could do it on her own. Or maybe she felt she wasn't worthy. "Who? Me? You want to help me ?"

Well, yeah. They do.

Martha told me this last week as we sat to discuss this career I love, one that, like any career, sometimes -- okay, often -- leaves me seeking guidance. Learning from her past, she has long been on the giving end, doling out guidance and advice to many less experienced journalists.

Sadly for me, she is retiring (but lucky for us will write a column in these pages). Thank the workplace gods, we do, for Martha, our much hipper and prettier Yoda.

I also used to think I could figure it out alone. But after letting go of offers to chat about my future with someone I admired, for example, I started to understand the importance of accepting help. And I began to really get that people truly mean it when they offer help. So take it.

Lucia Cruz is just two years out of college and wishes she understood that same thing when she graduated from the University of Virginia. "I wish I had known how important it was to take offers of help from people -- how to send them my resume and realize that it was not a hit on one's pride to ask for help in spreading the word you were looking for a job," she said. "I had just graduated from U-Va. They pounded into your head that you're coming from a prestigious place, it wouldn't be a problem finding a job," she said.

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