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Fresh out of college, you toss off your graduation cap, frame that hard-earned diploma and iron your most professional outfit for your first day at your very first post-college job. Everything you’ve accomplished thus far has prepared you for this moment. Or has it?
The journey from college to career may not be perfectly seamless. Now more than ever, young professionals often experience a serious learning curve coming fresh out of college. But no matter your level of experience, your approach and attitude to that all-important first job can serve as a valuable learning experience and stepping stone for future success.
Here are five of the many lessons I learned from my first post-college job:
1. Arrive early. During my first week at work, I noticed that my boss got to the office very early, about a half hour before our scheduled start time. I followed her cue and started arriving at work around 7:30 a.m.
That gave me plenty of time to grab coffee and a banana and settle in to check emails and make my to-do list for the day before the office really started buzzing with activity. I enjoyed the distraction-free quiet time before the emails started pouring in and my phone started ringing. Also, when you consistently arrive early and do good work, people take notice and it definitely enhances reputation.
2. Make work friends. Let’s face it: We spend 40 hours a week with our colleagues, more time than most of us spend at home with our families. I learned quickly that one of the best ways to make work enjoyable was to make friends. It helped that I worked with a great team of people who I would want to be friends with anyway, but taking lunch breaks together to chat and learn more about each other’s personal lives only strengthened those relationships.
A recent study out of Tel Aviv shows that having social support at work will even help you live longer, yet another reason to make friends at work. But studies and research aside, this is common sense; friendships make us feel good, and when we feel good, we are happier and more satisfied.
3. Mind your manners. I grew up minding my p’s and q’s thanks to my parents, but my first job reinforced the importance of being polite and respectful to absolutely everyone. No matter someone’s job title or rank in the organization, every employee is important and has a role.
A smile and hello in the hallway or small talk in the elevator can go a long way in building relationships. When you have a positive relationship with someone at work, it’s much easier to be efficient and get things done when you need help.
4. Organization is key. I was organized in college, obsessed with my day planner and crossing items off my to-do list. Yet when I joined the real world, I took my organizational skills to a whole new level. Staying organized wasn’t just helpful, it was imperative to success in my job. Keeping organized was the difference between completing tasks well and on-time and being sloppy and late.
I learned to love my Outlook Calendar and its reminder features, and my daily to-do lists were detailed, even down to the simplest task. I also tried to keep my desk and office tidy because working in an uncluttered space made me feel calm and motivated. A clean office gives a good impression to your bosses and co-workers, too.
5. Recognize that building skills takes time. One of my major responsibilities at my job was writing newsletter columns and speeches on behalf of the company’s CEO. It was a huge challenge to learn and adapt to his voice and writing style when as a young professional, I’m still working on developing my own voice.
The first few times I submitted a column for review, I became frustrated when I would get back the document full of edits and changes. Finally, I realized that building skills takes time. If the task was easy, anyone could do it. It was absolutely okay that my writing wasn’t perfect the first go-around.
With time and guidance from my boss, I slowly began to get the hang of it. And when I finally felt like I really conquered the skill? That made all the frustration completely worth it.
What lessons did you learn from your first “real world” job?