As of this May, I’ve been out of school for one year. And while I’m by no means an expert on all things post grad, here are a few lessons I’ve learned during my first year at my first "real" job. Lessons that college, while preparing me for many things, could not have taught me.
Grades don’t matter. You are about to leave behind a benchmarking system that has measured and defined your success since the age of five. This is not bad news. In your first job, your performance will be tracked, but by an entirely new set of measures. Look for a job with clear role requirements and goals, so that you always know how your company and manager define your position’s success.
Once you land in a job, maintain an open line of communication with your manager—keeping in mind the “right” amount of checking in—so you know how your attitude and day-to-day contributions are being perceived. Your performance absolutely matters. It’s just being measured in a new way.
You don’t know everything. I don’t mean to imply that every graduate thinks they know everything, but I do think that many of us graduate thinking we’re expected to know more than we do. If you find a job in an environment that encourages questions and invests in training (an environment I highly recommend), the team around you won’t want you to know everything. They want you to learn through osmosis, observation and engagement. They want you to dive in, ask questions and learn from mistakes.
Building relationships is critical. More critical than I ever realized. Even with the permeation of technology, nothing supplants face-to-face interaction and phone calls. These are the cost-of-entry modes of communication in the workplace. It’s not always about how fast you can get a task done or checking off a “to do.” Particularly in my industry, (creative and marketing staffing), listening to and reading people will make or break a job placement. The most successful people I’ve observed in the last year find a way to get their job done, while still establishing a great rapport with everyone around them—managers, coworkers, clients, etc.
You are your own best advocate. I feel the need to quickly clarify that I don’t mean march into your boss’s office every other week and “advocate” for a raise. Advocate for yourself by speaking up if you have a question. Or, when given an opportunity to weigh in, be honest. There are lot of jobs you can do, but if you’d like to land in the job you love to do, be sure you are vocal and put yourself on a track that aligns with your strengths and passions. And as you move forward in your career, empowering yourself to speak up will be incredibly helpful in salary negotiations.
You have a job to do. It may sound trite, but it dawned on me this year that I’m getting paid to do a job. I’m getting paid to learn new skills. It’s my responsibility to maximize my role and contribute. Clearly, there are opportunities to receive positive reinforcement, praise, and maybe even rewards, but day in and day out, I’m being paid to show up and do my best. If school is about personal success, your job is about how personal success impacts other people—your organization, your peers, your managers, your clients.
How I perform my job directly impacts my candidates’ ability to find work. So, it’s real. A person’s livelihood. So, whatever you do, be sure you’re committed to contributing. And recognize the difference between a job you’re good at (and willing to learn) and a job that is never going to be a good fit. No need to bang your head against a wall if the first place you land is not the path for you. You have a job to do. Be sure it’s the one you want.