If you are like the average person, work takes up a huge portion of your day. In fact, you spend more time at work than with your friends or family. (Now, if you work with friends or family, that’s a separate story altogether.) For something that consumes so much of our time and energy, you should be strategic about what you demand from your career in return. At your first job, you might not think you have much leverage to demand value from your work, but the key is in your approach. You will not have the experience or political clout to make your inner diva demands a reality, but there are a few key elements that you should pull from your first job, regardless of how junior you are.
Learning/Skills development Even if your first job is completely mundane, there are always opportunities to develop skills you didn’t have previously. Be aware: your first job will rarely serve up neatly packaged learning opportunities. Approach each day as an opportunity to learn something new, and wrestle value out of each task. Learn the most that you can from your own responsibilities, and be curious about how you fit into the greater picture of your company and industry. Observe people who are more senior, and identify the skills that you need to develop in order to move forward. Read about the trends that impact your area of work, and start to develop knowledge outside your immediate responsibilities. Gathering knowledge in this way enables you to see how you fit into the grand scheme of things, and gives some clarity as to the possible directions and career paths that are open to you. Make sure you are using all the resources at your disposal: learn from your coworkers, your managers, others in the field, and take advantage of any benefits that your company might have. Many companies offer continuing education programs, or subsidize outside learning resources for employees. Essentially, learn how to learn. Learning on the job is completely different than most of the classroom learning that you’ve been exposed to. In the classroom, the learning experience is guided by the professor, and material is curated for your consumption. The real world is rarely so organized, and it’s up to you to build yourself a learning structure in which you can thrive.
Action steps: Ask people for reading recommendations specific to your area Keep a career journal to record what you’ve learned each day, and what unknowns you want to investigate
Measurable Progress Working your first job is a big step - don’t squander the momentum you have! Your first job is a doorway to lots of amazing opportunities, even if it’s overwhelming and intimidating at first. It’s up to you to figure out how to continuously improve in order to achieve maximum awesomeness. Enlist your manager to help you identify reasonable and relevant milestones to aim for, and be diligent in tracking your progress. There are no longer grades and midterms to worry about, which makes things much more interesting. Learn to guide your own experience and identify the path that you’re most interested in pursuing. Keep the long game in mind. Your first job should give you an idea of what you want (or don’t want) in your career and in the next few years.
Action steps: Talk to more senior folks in your organization (and outside your organization!) to get an idea of the goals you should be setting for yourself. Set your goals! Be data-driven, and include ways to measure your progress. Remember that career journal you started? That’s a great place to mark down milestones and achievements.
Insider Access Your first job gives you access to an industry from the inside. You have a unique perspective to how your company works, and what the different levers are that impact the business. Regardless of how niche your area may be, there is applicable value from any knowledge you collect. While learning the ins and outs of the real estate market in south Florida might not be immediately relevant to any other job, the drivers of a fluctuating market can be similar to other areas, and learning to spot those patterns is valuable, regardless of industry. See if your company will subsidize or compensate you to attend speaker series events or industry conferences. If they don’t, make a case to your manager and pitch the idea of sending you on an information-gathering mission. Before attending these events, prepare a list of questions and fellow attendees that you’d like to talk to.
Action steps: Investigate conferences and speakers that you’d like to attend - then make it happen! Prepare properly for events in order to make the most of your attendance
Your first job is a big deal. It can be challenging and stressful and interesting and overwhelming all at the same time, and it’s up to you to navigate the craziness and derive the most from each day. Keep these things in mind as you approach each work day, and best of luck with your career!