“Oh God, yes”, Colman Collins replies when asked if he has made many of the mistakes he outlines in his book, How To Succeed In Your First Job, “that is part of the reason I wrote the book, I made most of them”. It is a refreshingly honest start to our interview as The Galway Advertiser sat down with Colman to discuss his recently published book, which will prove an invaluable guide, not just for those on the first rung on the ladder of their career, but for those on every rung.
Colman outlines the motivation behind his book was to create a template for people beginning their careers. The reason he made some of these mistakes is that there was no such guide available to him in 1977 when he went for his first interview.
In what Padraic White, former Managing Director IDA Ireland, in his introduction describes as a ‘treasure trove of advice’, the author delivers the wisdom gained in a career spanning over 40 years in the HR and recruitment business, in an easy-to-read book of just under 200 pages. Dedicated to the author’s wife Marie, and children, Ronan and Sarah, the book is presented in two parts: in part one, we read 50 pointers for success at work, and in part two we are advised on the best way to navigate 20 potentially difficult challenges we may come across in our career. Colman has distilled what he has learned from his working life into a publication that allows the reader easy access to advice that, if followed, will greatly enhance their own working lives. The book is best enjoyed slowly, reading a few chapters at a time, allowing us to absorb the many insights and lessons along the way.
From the initial pages detailing the importance of selecting the right company to work for, through a series of chapters advising on topics such as company culture, work ethics, motivation, being able to read your boss, positivity, resilience, flexibility, persistence, assertiveness and compassion, all aspects of the workplace and working life are comprehensively covered.
‘I didn’t want to come across as too moralistic or lecturing’ Colman says, and that is no easy task in what is essentially a book of advice. Nevertheless, he does achieve his aim, in what he describes as a ‘direct book, written in simple language, not weighed down by business jargon; I wanted it to be readable’.
Though a book for all ages, it will appeal to young people ‘as this generation’s attention span has been compromised by social media, and that is why it is written in short sections’, according to Colman.
A gem of a book
The title undersells the book. This book is a gem, and the advice contained within its pages applies not only to those starting their first job, but to those at all levels in organisations. It offers the reader the benefits of the author’s wisdom as a result of real-life experiences, which are easily adaptable to many aspects of our lives, and not just the working environment.
Colman shoots straight from the hip in this very practical book, outlining various scenarios and advising on how best to deal with them. It is not a theoretical book in any sense, and is essentially a guide based on looking for the most positive and beneficial outcome for the employee as they navigate their working environment. It is most appealing for that very reason; it is straightforward, and we can all identify with most of the situations outlined. Like the author, many readers will also have faced some of the dilemmas listed, and can recognise how often the wrong course of action was followed.
Do your homework before the interview
The entire workplace journey is undertaken, from selecting a suitable company with which to start your career, to leaving on good terms when the time comes for a parting of the ways. What about the most common mistakes people make? Colman has a number of rules, and all employees, and employers, should take note. ‘You should not be at the interview unless you have done your homework, not just on the job but on the company. The culture of a company is very important, and you should familiarise yourself with this. Ask someone who works there, or has recently worked there, and ask them why they left’. The answers to these questions will prove very revealing.
If you have decided to go to the interview, be prepared that more than one person may interview. If there is a panel, ‘a mistake interviewees make is they only look at one of the panel, if there are three or four on the panel, engage with them all, no matter who asks the question, it has been asked on behalf of the panel’.
‘Another mistake people make is they don’t realise the interview starts when you enter the building and engage with the man or woman at reception’ as Colman says the receptionist will often be asked afterward what they thought of the people who attended for interview.
When you take up a new position, it is important to use your induction time well. ‘In my experience, employees who stand out in the induction programme often become some of the top performers in the company’.
Colman advises new staff to ‘broaden their circle, broaden their range of contacts, and talk to everyone, talk to the senior people and the people who come in to clean, and talk to them the same way’.
Colman also recommends to ‘resolve to develop a strong work ethic from day one. Display energy and enthusiasm from your first day at work. Work hard, but let yourself have the time for a full family and social life. In this way, you should succeed in striking a balance that should sustain you for your entire working life. Avoid making the common mistake of failing to bring the necessary energy levels to routine but important tasks.’
Working from home
On the current working from home debate, Colman believes staff ‘work the same at home as they do in the office’.
‘Companies who have a trusting relationship with their staff are not experiencing problems, and are less likely to experience them if the pandemic was dealt with well. It is also important that companies consult with staff’, Colman adds.
‘A lot of employers think they will be going back to a five-day week, but that ship has sailed, though there are specific areas where staff will need to be present, such as hospitality, manufacturing, and others’, Colman adds.
He highlights how people, especially men, have traditionally tended to derive their self-esteem from their work. Building an identity outside of one’s work can be a big issue for people, especially those in the over 50’s age bracket. Indeed, many people believe that their self-worth is dependent on their professional life. Colman admits that he himself has been guilty of this. He now recognises that he worked for “too long and too hard”, neglecting some areas of his life in the process.
With many now working from home, the lines between work and personal life have become increasingly blurred. Colman emphasizes that both the employer and the employee need to take measures to manage the situation.
Employers can help their employees create a suitable work-life balance. Colman maintains that every employee needs time to replenish themselves at the end of the day. If an employer has an idea for an email they would like to send after hours, they should save it as a draft, and send it the next morning. Colman emphasizes how a “24/ 7 online culture” is neither sustainable nor healthy, and certainly not a good long-term solution for increasing productivity.
‘Managers have two types of power: positional power and that gets you so much, but managers also have personal power, and that is what people respond to’. ‘Managers should go the extra mile, and make sure to use this personal power well’.
Interested to know his views on social media, and its professional utility, we discovered that Colman has some strident opinions on this subject. He asserts that unless social media is an essential part of a job, it simply has no place in the workplace. The frequent use of social media during working hours has become a major problem for companies, and is fundamentally a “failure of management”. He thinks that social media is a huge distraction. It is a means for employees to procrastinate and waste valuable working time.
Colman is critical of some companies, saying they tend to take the line of least resistance regarding the use of social media in the workplace. He states that “skiving off in the office”, when you should be working, does not reflect well on the employee, or the company for allowing this.
Indeed, there have been scandalous examples of instances where employees have used social media in the workplace to bully people online. Colman emphasizes the serious nature of the two crimes being committed here: effectively stealing from one’s employer by using social media during working hours, and compounding this by using it as a vehicle to harm others. To prevent this type of situation from arising, employers should set out clear policies in this area, and be prepared to take disciplinary action where these policies are breached. While Colman acknowledges the major benefits of social media for companies in terms of market research and networking, it is imperative that employees use online platforms responsibly.
Colman concludes that, although adjusting to the world of work may seem overwhelming at times, it is important that you remember all of the challenges you have faced in your life to date, and see this as just another challenge for you to overcome. As outlined in the introduction, if this book can help you in any way, Colman will be delighted.
How to Succeed in your First Job provides you with all the tools you need for a successful start to your career. Now all you have to do is use them.