How to Build Trust Fast as a Millennial at Work

I was fresh out of college. The complexity of the corporate world was daunting, but I was ready to make a difference! Not so fast.
It was back to square one — I was a newbie again. I had a strong reputation on campus, but that became irrelevant the moment I was handed a diploma. No one in my new job knew who I was. If I was going to make something of myself in this new career, I needed to build trust fast from the ground up.
Sound familiar?

Don’t Be a Victim of Bureaucracy

In the middle of all this, there’s you: an analyst, developer, or some other entry-level role. You want to make a difference and have a lot of great ideas, but your manager isn’t open to your input. Your colleagues shrug and say, “there’s not much we can do about it; that’s above our pay grade.” This attitude frustrated me.
They’re looking at it the wrong way. Influence is not about your pay grade; it’s about trust. Trust takes time. People build a network of trusted peers slowly as they rotate through roles. This trust-building process is, for most people, a by-product of other professional goals.
It’s not about tenure, its about trust.
So I asked myself: what if trust-building was the center stage? Author Stephen Covey dedicated a book called “The Speed of Trust” to this very concept. I could build influence much faster, and you can do it too.
So, where do we start?

First, Understand Your Own Team Inside and Out

I started by building trust with my immediate team. I couldn’t assume I already had it. No one cared that I was a club president in college and Valedictorian for my major. That reputation did not transfer here.
Always assume you’re starting from a blank slate.
I put in the time to learn about my department’s people, processes, and tools. I wanted to know them like the back of my hand. By doing so, I gave off an aurora of experience that I didn’t have yet. This led to others taking a chance on me, which allowed me to deliver and build trust. Here are some ways to get started with your immediate team:
  • Meet peers on your team individually for lunch, happy hour, or on Zoom
  • Learn what makes each of your team members tick. Understand how they would react to different situations and anticipate their needs
  • Always be on time and deliver above expectations before the deadline
  • Be extremely consistent; do what you say and say what you do
  • Show an eagerness to learn and grow without fear of failure
For more ideas, check out the workplace section of StackExchange.
Outside of work opportunities, build trust by demonstrating empathy. Corporations tend to strip people of their compassion. Don’t let this happen to you. Be empathetic when others are detached.
Build trust by understanding your peers’ aspirations and pains.
Do something to help them overcome their pains. You‘ll be closer to earning their support. You don’t have to solve their problems entirely. Instead, a small gesture shows you care and are willing to help. Be careful — quid pro quo is not the goal. I avoided giving off that vibe at all costs. You don’t want a reputation for self-serving behavior.

Then, Be Helpful to as Many People as Possible

Once I was comfortable in my immediate department, I extended to other parts of the company. Because you represent both yourself and your team, it’s a good idea to brush up on networking best practices.
I set up short, informational interviews with other teams within my reach. If your company has special interest groups (similar to college clubs), sign up for them and mingle. This is a great way to broadly extend your reach. I took notes on opportunities for me to make people’s lives easier. Sometimes it was as simple as connecting one peer to another to address an information gap.
If you can’t be a problem solver, be a matchmaker — both build trust.
I’m had to be careful about this. I needed to actively maintain a reputation for reliability in my team for this to be OK. While you’re building relationships, your manager might get concerned about your assignments.
One time I had a manager who was sensitive to my extended networking. She was nervous about me talking to other teams and wanted me to focus on my assignments instead. The kicker was I didn’t have enough work to fill my day.
But there was a loophole — our direct assignments require working with peer teams. I focused on building trust with those peer teams. Relationship building there directly benefited my department. I was able to complete my assignments more efficiently as a result. The problem went away.

Warning: Don’t Exploit Trust for Short Term Gains

Build trust with enough key people, and you will be recognized for your relationships. If your relationships are politically valuable, your leadership might want to leverage it.
It’s up to you to balance your relationships inside and outside of the department. Sometimes you’ll end up in a sticky situation. It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. Welcome to corporate politics.
The more influence you have, the more your ethics will be tested.
I had a serious fork in the road: am I going to be truly collaborative or turn to deceptive behavior? Many people out there will take this process down a selfish road. They will abuse that trust for short term gains. The trust bridge burns down in the process. Those who succeed at this know they are charming enough to always find the next sucker.
In cybersecurity, there is a term for this behavior — social engineering. It’s a malicious way of exploiting trust to access confidential information.
This practice is unethical and unsustainable. Eventually, these people earn a bad reputation and flame out. If they don’t, you’re probably working at a company with misaligned priorities. Reconsider if a company that incentivizes this behavior is a place you want to invest your time.
Trust is a long play. It builds gradually but can be destroyed in one bad decision. The value that trust above any enticing short term gains.

Respect the value of your peers’ trust. Handle it with care. You will benefit in the long run without the consequences of self-serving behavior. Those who get the most in life are the ones who give the most too.
You can accelerate your influence by giving the trust-building process dedicated attention. Don’t let trust be a bi-product of your work; make it a priority, and you’ll build trust fast despite your age or title.