Your Junior: A User Manual
Elyse Kamibayashi, Former Senior Brand Strategist
Everything you need to know about your junior employee.
Welcome to your JUNIOR EMPLOYEE. Before getting started, read this manual carefully to understand your junior’s features and capabilities. Retain for future reference.
For proper usage, you will need:
- One person (could be you) to implement these instructions
- More time than you expect
- More patience than you think you have
- A vague recollection of what it feels like to be dependent on the kindness of strangers
1. Standard juniors come equipped with a 500 horsepower desire to prove themselves.
Juniors want you to like them and like their work. It’s their mission from the moment they walk in the door at 8:00am till the moment they leave at 7:00pm. And, yes, sometimes those long hours are just a grueling stunt to get your attention. Juniors often feel that their work ethic is the only thing they can actually prove — and prove it they will. They live for being told to “go home,” because that means that, omg, you noticed.
In addition to telling them to go home, you can channel your junior’s horsepower effectively by encouraging them to think about their work — not just what you think about their work. Don’t just give advice. Ask questions. What went well? What didn’t go well? What would they do differently next time?
2. Juniors operate best in open, honest conditions.
Juniors live in a near-constant state of uncertainty and second-guessing. “Was that email okay?” “Was that question I asked insightful or just dumb?” “Are open-toed shoes too casual?” And the worst one of all: “Was my work actually good, or are they just saying that so I’ll stop bothering them?” There’s only one way to liberate them from their purgatory of self-doubt: be honest. If you see something that needs improvement, tell them. Become the person they rely on to provide accurate, helpful feedback. Building this type of trust takes time and effort, but it will pay off. Your junior will learn more quickly, be less afraid of risk — and they’ll never forget that you were the person they trusted when they couldn’t trust themselves.
If you’re looking for a way to provide constructive feedback, try using the phrase “I think you can do better.” Followed by “here’s why” and “this is how,” the phrase hits the sweet spot between affirming their potential and pushing them to try again.
3. Juniors are built for grunt work — but that may not be the best way to use them.
Your junior’s thirst to please, combined with their inexperience, will tempt you to give them assignments that require a bit less skill. Somebody has to do it, right? To be clear: juniors can and should be happy to learn from any type of assignment. A little drudgery can be an excellent way to punch up skills and punch down ego. But, at some point, we have to realize that putting juniors on a diet of drudgery will eventually ruin them for any other type of work. They’ll stop learning and lose motivation. In short: they won’t realize their potential, and your investment will depreciate.
So, while juniors are doing less exciting assignments, look for other ways to challenge them. Be open about sharing and discussing your work (the successes and the challenges). Ask for their thoughts. Invite them to meetings, give them small tasks on your projects. Remember, if you want juniors to become seniors and directors, you will have to trust them enough to let them mess up...which brings us to our next item:
4. For best results, place junior in a real-world situation and let fail.
A word of caution: nobody wants to feel set up to fail. This isn’t about giving your junior an impossible task. It’s about giving them something real, like a meeting to lead, a presentation to give, or an assignment to own. Chances are, failure is your junior’s greatest fear. It’s what stops them from speaking up in meetings or taking risks with their work. Only by failing will they stop being afraid of failing.
Post-failure, talk about it with them. Be open, honest, and kind. Listen. Help them understand what went wrong and why. Remind them that failure is part of the job, and that what matters most is what they learn from it. Personal anecdotes and comfort food (e.g. chocolate) are also great in these situations
Frequently asked questions:
All of this sounds kind of hard. Why should I do it?
Because when it comes to juniors, you get what you put in. Simply check the boxes, and you’ll create a future coworker who simply checks the boxes, and nothing more. Go above and beyond and your junior will too.
This doesn’t sound like my junior.
Juniors come in all shapes and sizes, but I guarantee you they respond to the same core things: honesty and attention.
My junior is working too hard.
They probably should be working hard at this stage. Recognizing and commending their work ethic goes a long way. Check in periodically to make sure you can’t help lighten their load, or help them work smarter, but never ever hint that they’re working hard to compensate for lack of skill.
My junior isn’t working hard enough.
Item is defective. Contact our customer service department to return or exchange. In all seriousness, there are lots of reasons why your junior might be demotivated. They might be burned out, there might be something going on in their personal life, they might not have had coffee that morning. The best way to address the situation is to simply talk about it. Don’t lecture — ask questions. If they start making excuses, apply tough love as needed.
My junior is really quiet.
Most quiet juniors don’t want to be quiet. They’re just afraid of messing up out loud. Talk to them even when it’s awkward. Listen to them even when they’re umm-ing. Wade through the uncomfortable pauses — it’ll be worth it.
Would it be easier and faster to simply hire a mid-level? Yes. Would it be as rewarding? Probably not. Juniors give you the opportunity to shape the next member of your team — which will, in turn, shape your team. And remember: you’re not the only one making an investment. Juniors aren’t working just so they can continue to share a small apartment with 4 people. They want to learn. They need to learn. Teach them, invest time and effort in them, and they’ll remember it forever. They’ll work harder and care more about what they produce. They’ll be more invested in their company and their team. They’ll speak glowingly about you for the rest of their career — and maybe, just maybe, they’ll have the chance to share what you gave them with their own junior someday.