12 Things I Learned From My First Job Out Of College
One year ago today, I embarked on the adventure into the “real world”. One year ago, I began my first job out of college. Today officially marks my one year work anniversary at NYU Stern School of Business. From graduating college to enjoying a bit of my summer to applying to jobs, actively researching, reaching out, having phone interviews and in-person interviews, I am now employed at NYU Stern in the Office of Career Development for 12 months. Time has never flown by so fast.
Whether you are just out of college or starting a new career path, the first job can be nerve-wracking and scary. You might go into your first job thinking you know the ropes, but it’s really more than just getting your work done. Of course, every workplace is going to be different, but when it all boils down, we all face a similar set of challenges and as a result, gain similar lessons learned. I feel grateful to have been given this great opportunity to develop both professional talents and personal life skills. Below is a list of 12 things I have learned (and am in the process of improving upon) in this long, yet short year:
- Keep learning.
Don’t stop learning after a year at work. There will always be something new to learn. If I’m unsure of something, I research and clarify with a colleague or two. I make it my mission to find out. I still ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There will always be people who want to sincerely help and share. Life is a learning experience. Never stop learning, because when you stop learning, you stop growing. You are enriching yourself and winning when you are learning something new. Learn outside of work as well. Don’t be complacent. Have non-work related hobbies–read, explore and travel when you’re not working. When I attended an advanced Excel course two weeks ago, I met a really bright and self-motivated lady. She also worked for NYU and we were discussing our goals for the near future over our lunch break. She told me she has only worked at NYU for a year but everyone thought she has been there for much longer. She has a blog on the side because she wants to potentially have her own start-up and business, while also taking advantage of NYU’s resources and free courses to personally and professionally develop. Our conversation was brief, but she has pushed me to become more of a go-getter myself.
- Wear many hats and create, create, create.
Many people groan at this very idea. That’s not my job! Why do I have to do this? I don’t know how to do this! Instead of shifting accountability to others, take responsibility. Ask how you can take part in increasing your organization’s overall effectiveness. If you don’t know how to do something or wasn’t taught, find out. Be willing to learn it. Don’t go off on a tangent of WHY you weren’t shown how to do it and use the time to instead, find out HOW and own it. View your job opportunity to create something new. Leave a mark. Leave your signature. Build something that you can be proud of. Be involved.
- Making mistakes is only natural.
Mistakes are bound to happen. No one is perfect. Getting something right on the first try isn’t always the case. Perfection is only perception. As long as you learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them, you are fine. You’re only human.
- There will be problems. Don’t get discouraged.
Piggybacking off of #3, you have a job because you were hired for a reason. If things aren’t going as well as you want them to, come up with solutions. You wouldn’t be hired if there aren’t problem-solving components tied to the job. Stay focused, be positive, and brainstorm solutions.
- Attention to detail comes in handy.
Paying attention to the small things helps avoid errors, maintain efficiency, and increase active listening, analytical, and time-management skills. Some good ways to practice and improve: re-read your emails before sending them out, create a realistic schedule and plan in advance, make checklists, and avoid overloading and overwhelming yourself. Check everything twice or thrice and really stay on top of your game.
- Voice your ideas and opinions.
It’s safe to say I am the youngest in the office at work right now. For a while, it was tough to really gain that confidence to voice my thoughts based on my opinions and/or research during team meetings. I’m young, I don’t have as much experience, I probably should keep my mouth shut since they probably would cast my ideas to the side. Holding in opinions is actually more damaging than speaking them. Your opinion might just be the majority’s unspoken opinion. If you don’t speak up, you don’t get to find out if things could change. You matter and so do your opinions. There is no guarantee that your opinion will be ignored or thrown in the back burner. Your voice could make a positive difference. And if you’re wrong, what’s the worst that could happen? The situation becomes a genuine learning experience and you can walk away being wiser. Regretting something you didn’t do is worse than regretting something you did. Don’t be afraid to take a chance because you’ll feel great afterwards, even if it doesn’t turn out how you intended. Working with a team involves a lot of brainstorming, re-upping projects and continuing to develop best practices. It’s not going to be perfect right away, but that’s the beauty of it; other colleagues are there to help discuss and develop and nurture ideas to fruition–into exactly what we want and need.
- Be assertive, not passive nor aggressive.
Passiveness is when you talk very little, are compliant, submissive, often praising others and putting yourself down (“I don’t mind…hm that’s fine…yes alright”). Aggressiveness, on the other hand, means you do what is in your own best interest without much regard for the feelings, needs, and rights of others. I view assertiveness as being the best out of the three; you are outspoken about your wants and needs while considering the rights, needs, and wants of others and are open to compromising.
● Learn to say no – It’s easy to say yes, yes, yes to everything because you want to come off as helpful and a team player, but you have to understand that your desires, thoughts, and needs are just as important as everyone else’s. Recognize your rights and exercise and protect them. Know your limits–know when to accept responsibilities and when to delegate. Feel okay with turning down requests. You can’t do everything or please everyone. Suggest an alternative for a win-win solution.
● Welcome and accept criticism and compliments positively – Allow yourself to ask for help and make mistakes. Accept compliments graciously. Stay humble.
● Stand up for yourself – You can be angry and annoyed, but always be respectful of others. Say what’s on your mind by all means, but keep your emotions in check and express negative thoughts and feelings in a healthy + positive manner.
- Get plenty of rest!
Sleep. Please get enough of it. Not getting enough of sleep before a work day gets really draining. Not getting enough rest really affects how you perform at work. First-hand experience here. Only recently have I been trying to prioritize and get myself to stick to a more consistent sleep schedule because I’m not myself when I don’t get enough sleep. I’m deeply irritable, unproductive, frustrated, and less focused. You know yourself best when it comes down to how many hours of quality sleep you need in order to function, so please plan accordingly. Everything works better when you’re well-rested. You will thank yourself, trust me.
- Not everyone will like you.
In life, you’ll just come across some people and have a natural affinity for them. Talking and connecting comes easy, or you discover that you have a similar outlook on life, or the same sense of humor, values, or interests. You’ll also meet people who you don’t seem to get along with. This can be a friend of a friend, a relative, a colleague, etc. We won’t like people all the time nor can we please everyone and it’s silly to try. Accept it and be okay with it. Don’t try too hard. We all have different personalities, attitudes, and modes of communication and work styles. Just be a pleasant person, be yourself, be genuinely interested in others, and friendships will come in time. Generally speaking, your job at work isn’t to become best friends with your coworkers. I mean, it’s not difficult to offer compassion to someone who treats you with respect and kindness. What’s more valuable for our personal development, I think, is the ability to do what’s right because it’s right and not because you get something in return. Don’t try to be liked by everyone and spread yourself too thin – you will end up disappointed and frustrated. Use your time wisely and do something more worthwhile instead of worrying about everyone’s perception of you.
- Be kind whenever possible, and it’s always possible.
Going off of #9, it’s normal and appropriate to not be friends with everyone. Some people will be toxic to you, some will irritate you, some take away your energy, but that doesn’t mean you cannot treat them with kindness. Kindness isn’t really about how you feel, but more so about what you do (example: helping out someone in need may bring out someone’s good side, even if it means there’s a slim chance of you two being friends) and/or do not do (example: refraining from gossiping behind someone’s back – avoid workplace bullying or hurting others’ feelings). Often times, people view kindness as something that’s purely altruistic, solely benefitting others, but it benefits us, too. You’ll feel good about yourself when you’re kind to others. It’ll probably motivate you to continue engaging in acts of kindness. There will always be people who you aren’t too naturally fond of, for any number of reasons. You can’t be expected to like everyone, but you can always make an effort to be kind to everyone, as we all have our own battles.
- Strike a work-life balance.
Work, work, work. The first year of your first job out of college might take some adjusting. You have to figure out why it is that you work. Are you just here for a paycheck? Do you like your job? Does this job align with your future goals? Don’t let work consume you and forget about everything else. Don’t get annoyed if you are taking a while longer to get into the groove of things. Go at your own pace. Time takes time. You may not be used to waking up really early. You might not be used to not having gaps in your schedule like you did with your college classes. Allow yourself time and space to adjust. I’m one year in and I think I’m finally adjusting.
- Use your vacation days.
Stemming off of #11, vacation days are meant to be used. Yes, it’s really important to know what you need to get done, how to do it and how much time to allow yourself to complete projects and assignments, but your overall well-being and happiness is important, too. How satisfied with yourself and your life impacts your capacity and motivation to do that work. My coworkers are constantly telling me to use up all of my vacation days. Well, I don’t want to take all of them in case I want to use them for Thanksgiving break or Winter break. I don’t want to do just nothing and waste a vacation day. What if they come in handy later? I have four vacation days left and am planning to use them for a longer Thanksgiving break, possibly. With that said, use your vacation days wisely or whatever works best for you and don’t check your email while you’re using your vacation days (something I’m trying to get better at because I checked my email on my off day today only about four times). Use them for fun, short trips, for lounging at home, or for spending some quality time out with friends or family. We all deserve some rest + relaxation every once in a while to feel refreshed and anew.
Your turn – What are your top lessons learned from your first job out of college or first job ever? Pieces of advice? Share down below!