Make the Most of Your First Job
As you step into your first postgrad work experience, there are a lot of things you need to know that your textbooks didn't teach you over the past four years. Here is what you should be gleaning from your first adventure in the world of work.
Your First Job Is Not Your Destiny
Your first job in no way predicts where you will ultimately end up. Talk to any mid-career worker, and you will be shocked where his career began. Your main task on your first job is to test your wings, learning how organizations work, how business gets done, and what makes people and organizations successful. Remember: Career (not job) changes are in your future as you learn, grow and change.
Watch Your Attitude
One of the biggest complaints about new college grads is that they often expect too much too soon and come across as thinking they know more than seasoned employees. Know that you will need to earn your stripes, as well as the trust of colleagues and supervisors, before being given more responsibility. Especially watch your attitude with support staff so as not to come across as arrogant or condescending.
Learn About the Various Kinds of Power and Influence
Observe how the staff members interact with each other and how things get done. Who really calls the shots, compared with what the organizational chart says? Who seems to have more power than might be indicated by his job title? Who is looked up to, admired and why? How are decisions made: top down, bottom up or a combination of the two?
Figure Out the Organizational Culture
Pay attention to the behaviors and results valued in your organization. Also, find out what the company stands for. Ask what the organization's mission statement is and how it is different from the competition's. Do you get a feeling of teamwork? What are the written and unwritten rules? What kinds of people seem successful, and why?
Your first job is a chance for you to learn more about yourself, what you're good at, what you're not and what work you prefer and enjoy. Pay attention to others' body language as they come in contact with you; this will help you understand how others respond to you. Observe the kinds of people who energize you and, alternatively, the types who drain you. Pay attention to the types of management styles that bring out the best in you.
Understand the new work paradigm is that you, not the organization, are in charge of your career. Gone are the days when the organization takes responsibility for moving you along from first job to retirement. Your task is to make a contribution to the company and develop skills you can take with you when it's time to leave.
What are some good ways to build skills? Volunteer for interesting projects, and keep your eyes open for any professional-development opportunities both within and outside the organization. Keep a skills portfolio folder, and as you learn, develop or demonstrate a skill, write it down and stick it in that file.
Ask for Regular Feedback, and Keep a Compliments File
Even if it's not part of the protocol, ask for a three-month and/or a six-month performance review. Stay on top of how well you are meeting expectations, and nip any problem areas in the bud. Always ask how you can improve your performance.
Put any compliments you receive, written or verbal, in a file, including any good work evaluations. You can use these comments for impact in both future cover letters and job interviews.
Read Internal Job Postings
Internal job postings can be used as a way of understanding the breadth of work done in the organization and other positions that might interest you down the road, either there or somewhere else. Pay particular attention to understanding the job requirements.
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