by Pride Transport | Sep 28, 2020
There is always a big gap when you leave school and when you start working the job you were trained for. The school may be the best in the world but there are things that it cannot teach you. Things that you can only pick up in the field, through experience. Or, if you happen to get hooked up with a good mentor. This holds true for many careers and truck driving is no different.
You’ve got your CDL, you went through a good driver training school and now, you’ve landed your first job in the “real world”. You’re ready to go? Sure you have some great skills you picked up in class but, as we said, experience is the best teacher around. With that in mind, here are some tips for first years drivers that pros have learned the hard way, by living them.
Let’s start simple. Maintain a consistent speed, avoid too much idling and slow down on those long, cross country trips. This is going to save you fuel and save you money.
If you’re in a position to accept a delivery, take it. That’s pure experience. The more loads you haul, the more experience you get. The more experience you have, the more valuable you are to a carrier. Put in the extra time and miles in your first year, it will pay off down the line.
Do a good pre-trip
What happens if a DOT officer asks: “Did you do a pre-trip?” You always want to be able to say yes, sir or ma’am, I certainly did. So, if you’re doing your pre-trip, as you should, don’t half-ass it. Do it right. Look at inspection dates, lights, tires, the pins, the fifth wheel, and even valve stem covers. You should also carry a few extra of those in your pocket just in case. Nitpick your pre-trip and you’ll alleviate a lot of stress on the road.
Driving a truck is more mental than physical
Yup, although there are physical demands to driving a truck, the mental demands far outweigh them, and not handling your mental state could easily crash your career. Understand that you’re going to be spending a good deal of time alone. Also, you will be away from family and friends for long periods as well. Knowing this and being mentally prepared for it will make your first year easier.
Your first job out of school is not going to be your forever job
Veteran drivers counsel that you use your first job as a learning job. Take the time to develop your awareness of safety and compliance. You’ll make your mistakes and, hopefully, you’ll learn from them. But, don’t expect that your first job will be the one you stay at for 20 years. Use that first year to bridge the gap between what you learned in school and what the reality of the job is. Pay attention and ask questions.
“Getting it” takes about a year
In your first year, things are going to feel foreign and chaotic. That’s okay, everyone goes through that. Again there’s a huge difference between sitting in a classroom or sitting next to your teacher than being in a cab by yourself. On the road you’ll really come to understand what an 80,000-pound rig can, cannot and just plain won’t do. On top of that, you’ve got to learn schedules, times, distances and so much more. It will take at least a year for it to feel normal and natural. Don’t worry, don’t rush it. Pay attention and learn all you can.
First-year, think safety
In your first year, a lot of vets say focus on getting through the year without an accident. That’s a huge victory right there. They recommend that first-year drivers use the G.O.A.L. method; Get Out And Look. Especially when you’re backing up. Get out of the rig and check out your surroundings, know what’s around you, and then proceed. A year without an accident is a good year indeed.
Have clear career goals
What do you want out of the job? Do you want maximum money, more home time? Are you in it for the healthcare benefits? Knowing what you want from the job and keeping that in focus is going to make the bad days, the hard days more bearable. With clear goals, you have a clear sense of purpose and that is great motivation to do well and keep going. Vet drivers say specific goals get you specific results.
Don’t switch jobs too often
Your time of service matters. A lot. Don’t bounce around from job to job in your first year looking for that big-money contract. Companies will look at your multiple jobs and think you’re a risk. The fewer number of job changes that you have on your resume will give you a better chance of being hired on by a top carrier.
Don’t be difficult
There is certainly a driver shortage but, don’t take that as a cue to be an absolute pain in the ass and believe a carrier won’t drop you like a hot rock because of the shortage. A reputation is going to follow you everywhere you go. If it’s a good reputation then you’re in luck. However, if in your first year you think you’re irreplaceable and you act like a high-end asshat, that reputation is going to be a heavy chain around your neck. Your best reputation is being safe, conscientious and easy to work with. Be a good driver and you will be rewarded.
There is a good list to start with. What individual drivers learn and retain in their first year varies but, these are pretty universal. Pay attention in your first year, don’t pretend you know it all, that’ll leave in the weeds when you need help. Ask questions, listen, and be polite.
If you’re a veteran driver and you wanna help a newbie out, leave some advice in the comments, I’m sure every first-year driver will be thankful.