Make the most of your first job

Take these steps to start your career on the right foot.

Make the most of your first job

You never know where you career will take you.

Ready to start your first job? First, congratulations! The novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the job market in a wide range of industries, so the fact that you’ve landed a full-time job is a huge accomplishment, and it’s something worth celebrating.

Meaning, take full advantage of this opportunity to kick-start your professional development. Here are a number of steps you should take to make the most of your first job and set yourself up for a successful career.

Identify your career goals

You never know where you career will take you. Your first gig could be a great fit or it could make you second-guess your chosen field. Either way, you’ll want to create a few long-term career goals during your first job.

“A lot of times people think they know what they want to do," says Barbara Hewitt, executive director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, "but then they find out what they don’t like to do at their first job."

Use your first job in the workforce to identify what kind of career path you want to build, and keep an open mind. If you notice you're moving in a new and unexpected direction, allow yourself to explore it rather than resist it.  

Get to know your team

You’ll want to develop strong relationships with your immediate co-workers. Getting to know the people you work with day to day will help you fit in with your team, while also helping you to establish a positive reputation. That kind of news travels fast.

To earn the respect of your boss and your co-workers, make sure to avoid engaging in office gossip, advises Jennifer Anderson, a career coach in Salt Lake City. “If you feel you need to get something off your chest, vent to someone outside of work,” Anderson suggests.

Expand your skill set

Your first job is your first opportunity to challenge yourself by learning skills that may be outside your comfort zone, Hewitt says. “Focus on things that you don’t know how to do that will make you a more valuable employee,” she says. Your company may provide formal training or certification courses, so take advantage of those offerings.

Also, volunteer for interesting projects, join company committees that align with your interests, and flex your networking skills.  

Find the right kind of mentor for you

Having your own personal career coach, someone to bounce ideas off of and learn from on a regular basis, is invaluable. But finding a great career mentor can be challenging.

“The worst way to find a mentor is to ask someone cold turkey, ‘Will you be my mentor?’” Rebecca Rivera, founder of www.SpeedMentoring.com, told Monster.

Your best approach: Zero in on someone at your company who has achieved the kind of career that you want to achieve, and start out with a small ask: “I’m really impressed by how far you’ve gone in your career. Would you be open to going out to lunch one day so I can hear more about your work experiences?”

Study the company’s true hierarchy

Find out who really calls the shots at your company, compared with what the organizational chart says. For example, “the employees in the finance department may have a lot more influence than workers in other sectors of the company,” Hewitt says. Once you’ve identified who the key decision makers are, focus on building relationships with those people.

Start building a catalog of your accomplishments

Keep a log of your work achievements—a “compliments file,” so to speak, that you can present to your boss before performance reviews and to employers at future job interviews. Also, make sure you update your resume on a regular basis so that it reflects your most recent career wins, says Kim Isaacs, Monster’s resume expert.

Keep growing

Once you’ve settled in at your first job, you want to make sure you continue looking for new ways to develop professionally. Not sure where to start? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice and useful tips sent directly to your inbox to help you grow your skill set, get the attention of upper management, angle yourself for a promotion, seek out new job offers, and so much more.