Five things you’ll learn during your first year in The Real World, and how they’ll carry you through your professional life.

Your first year out of college is filled with uncertainties.

You straddle a line between youth and adulthood, and you’re learning a lot about navigating The Real World. When once your life consisted of parties, test cramming, sleeping, attending lectures and hanging out with friends, as a graduate you face the stark contrast of a 9-to-5 obligation and a 10 p.m. bedtime.

On top of it all, there’s reason to believe your first job out of college is the most important you’ll ever have. Here why:

1. You’ll learn professionalism.

Truth: I was humbly told by my first manager to reconsider my work wardrobe. After that intense five-minute chat, I learned in a hurry what to and not to wear in an office setting. (Who knew that ladies’ night and a corporate environment didn’t have the same attire protocol?)

When thrown into a totally new setting, you’re faced with conforming to the professional etiquette of those around you. You’ll learn things as simple as office attire and how to use a fax machine while honing more complex skills like email formalities, presentations and communicating in a professional work environment.

2. You’ll learn from falling.

In my first job, I got a lot of criticism about my writing, time management and how I worked with coworkers—but I learned quickly how to fix these issues. You’ll inevitably face hurdles between college life and the working world, but it’s all about how open you are to learning from your mistakes and how hard you work to form new, positive habits and skills.

During that first year out of college, you’ll be thrown into new situations and tasked with bottom-line impacting decisions, whereas in college you were likely in an artificial environment that had no impact on a business or others. As you navigate through the real world, you’ll learn the ropes hard and fast. And, as you progress through life as a professional, you’ll be able to steer through situations with strength and grace after “falling” in your first year in the working world.

3. You’ll form your future.

Your first job serves as a springboard for your professional future. This can either help or hurt the newly employed. For example, if you land a job as a business analyst for a Fortune 100 company, you’ll likely have a better career trajectory than if you were working as a house painter or door-to-door knife salesman.

So if you do have the luxury of multiple job offers, think long and hard about where you see your professional future, and select the position that will get you there the quickest. If you don’t have your dream entry-level job, consider obtaining a specialized postsecondary degree in health, IT or other highly demanded areas.

4. You’ll learn exactly what you want to do in life.

When you’re forced to work an eight-hour-a-day shift, you really get a flavor for the industry and role you are in—and you can pretty quickly see where you want your future to go. Luckily, as an entry-level professional, you have the mobility to change your professional path.

That means if you cringe at the thought of going to work day in and day out, consider what you really want to do in life and make actionable goals to get there.

Do you agree that your first job out of college is your most important? Let us know in the comments!

Oh, and Editor Alexis Grant is looking for someone to write a counter-post on why that first job is NOT your most important. Wanna write it? Pitch her at alexis [at]

Allie Gray Freeland is the Editor-in-Chief of, where she oversees a network of degrees online and an online college blog. She has been in marketing for nearly a decade and received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Minnesota.


  1. Leslie Forman

    I disagree, perhaps because my first job out of college was an unusual one.

    I majored in Latin American Studies and shortly after graduation I moved to China to teach English at a university. This choice was a very important one for me, since I proved to myself that I could make such a dramatic life change, in three months with no specialized training.

    However, the university was not a pinnacle of professionalism, nor did it demand it from its foreign teachers (showing up for class on time was considered enough).

    Falling, yes. Sometimes my lessons fell flat and I had to quickly figure out how to shift gears and engage my students.

    Yes, it did shape my future, because I ended up staying in China for four years and now I am teaching at a university and developing projects to connect China and Latin America. But I don’t see those as natural outgrowths of that first English teaching job.

    And no, I definitely did not learn exactly what I wanted to do in life. I first moved to China almost six years ago and I still ask myself that question a lot. I’ve been lucky to be able to experiment with many different jobs in many different fields, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world of work in the process. But I’m still very much learning.

    • Skinner Layne

      People say these sorts of things about every facet of life. Where you go to school, your first job, your job at 30, the institution of your highest degree, etc. It’s all nonsense. Life is what you make of it at every stage, and we are forever able to remake ourselves and our identities as we choose.

    • Nicholas LaRacuente

      This article totally loses me in 2 places. The 1st is the suggestion to get a specialized degree in some “highly demanded area” like IT. Chasing career fads is a risky bet – IT is a moving industry, so you’d better have the drive to keep pace.

      2nd is the idea that your 1st job will immediately give you the answer to your purpose in life. I’ve never met anyone who said they had 1 job and then knew exactly what they would do in life, unless they were a child prodigy who knew from an early age.

    • Beth Bellion

      could not agree with you more, leslie!

  2. Charlena Ortiz

    Overall I like this article however I would have to raise my hand on number #4 “You’ll learn exactly what you want to do in life”. In some cases that may be true but as a career and personal coach for young adults I discovered that what you really want to do in life usually is a process. Discovering your purpose and living it out requires intentional actions. I agree with #1 “You’ll learn professionalism” & #2 “You’ll learn from failing”; which I also believe you will continue to learn throughout your career journey.
    I think your first job will more likely help you uncover what you don’t want to do. Studies show that the average person will have several jobs by the age of 30 before they find their dream job.

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