In 2018, a young man about to start his National Service (a mandatory work or service to the nation by graduates of tertiary institutions) sent me a text asking for advice as he started his Service. This was his first official job after school and the beginning of his career. I had known and mentored him for a while and I was impressed with his willingness to learn and make the best of his National Service.
In 2020, there have been changes in the way we work due to COVID-19 pandemic and I’m wondering how this year’s National Service will be. Though there have been changes in the way we work, some values, lessons, and work ethics remain the same despite circumstances. I shared with the young man 20 things he needed to know as he started his National Service and anyone starting a job for the first time must know these.
1. Learn; become better on the job by asking the right questions. Look for opportunities to learn.
2. Associate with the right people. You are on a growth journey, find the people who have what you need, people who are on the path to where you want to be, or those who are already where you want to be and build a relationship with them. Learn from the best.
3. Make great achievements out of every job or chance, even the smallest work. Put in the effort to excel.
4. Always work with the big picture in mind; National Service or your first job is only a means to an end so work with the end in mind.
5. Pursue excellence. Never get comfortable with the excuse “it belongs to the government” or “The work is not for my father” to work anyhow. You are not just working for the government or an employer, you are building a future, be intentional.
6. If there’s any enemy to make in the office, let it be EXCUSES. Be a problem solver.
7. Set personal goals and discipline yourself to achieve them. Not everyone in your office have an idea where they are headed, avoid distractions and stay focused.
8. Gain skills; this is what’s needed for your next level. Learn new ones and develop existing ones to be excellent.
9. Take responsibility for your actions. Quickly accept your mistakes, own them, and be willing to improve. Do not waste your time blaming others for things you should learn from.
10. Set aside part of your allowance to buy good books, at least once a month. Budget for books, Read consistently!
11. Plan your finances and spend wisely. Never make the excuse that the allowance is small and cannot do anything grand, so you will manage your finances when you get a bigger income. It might not be enough but it’s a seed for more, invest and plan wisely. Become richer than when you started the job.
12. Be humble and respectful. If the thought that will want to proceed out of your mouth is unwholesome, let it remain a thought.
13. Become a person of value. It is your value that pays on the job market. Invest in yourself, improve continuously and make it intentional.
14. Remain a good Christian. Do not let your colleagues dishonor the God you serve because of how you work. Remain His Ambassador.
15. Not everyone can be your friend. Smile with many but entertain a few. Choose your friends wisely.
16. Build networks, even outside your office; get to know people. Be at places where you will find the people you need. They can be your ladder to your next level.
17. Offer to do more work. You will never become better if you only do what is assigned to you. Go the extra mile to learn. You can’t learn everything within a year of national service, but you can challenge yourself to be valuable.
18. Have fun. All work and no play they say makes a dull person. Take your time to unwind and relax. Travel and go on vacations even if it’s within the country. It doesn’t cost much to enjoy alone time or with friends outside your home.
19. Have personal values and standards. You will be working with people from different backgrounds and cultures and can be influenced by what they do and believe. Though you will learn from them, have values and standards you cannot violate or compromise on. Do not be in a position where you are coerced to do something you wouldn’t be proud of.
20. If possible and as much as it depends on you, think, plan, and start a legal side hustle. Look for opportunities and problems you can solve to create streams of income. Not every idea is capital intensive and there’s always a solution you have for a problem within your reach, find it. Don’t use company time for personal business but make sure you are building a profitable side business.
There are more to learn on the job and while these are not all there is to know, they are good foundation for a great start. Selasi, the gentleman who asked me for the advice finished his national service in 2019 on an excellent note, and while doing his service, he was selected to be part of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) program, an initiative by the US government to raise leaders for Africa. He currently works as a civil servant in one of the government ministries.