Work is Hard: Tips for your First Job

Recent grads are eagerly anticipating the first day on the job. And my students are no exception.

I want to offer a few first-days-on-the-job tips. I’ll preface this by saying that your first job will not make or break you. You can take a risk, follow your heart (or your wallet) and you’ll be just fine.

So, say you’ve landed that first great job. You’re eager to make a good impression, to make your mark on the industry and to move up the agency or corporate ladder. But what can you expect?

Your education is only the beginning.
I see three parts to this piece of advice – the logistics of work, the tasks and the personalities.

Education doesn’t prepare you for a 8 – 5 schedule. And believe it or not, it’s hard. It’s hard to be at work by 8 am and stay active and engaged for 8 hours. It’s hard and it will take some time to adjust. And don’t let work consume you. Easier said that done that first six months or that first year – but remember to exercise, to spend time with family and friends and to have some fun. It’s called work-life balance.

ZenHabits has lots of great tips for all these things. Here’s a nice post about being more productive.

My piece of advice for learning office personalities and politics is – stay out. Stay out for a year if you can. You don’t want to “side” with the wrong person or issue because you don’t know any better. Just stay out. And don’t gossip. You probably won’t get fired. But you might damage your relationship with your employer. Better to stay out.

Find a mentor.
Look around. Who in your office is doing good work and is well-liked and well-respected? Tell them. And ask if you can go out to coffee. A mentor relationship doesn’t have to be a formal one. But having a senior person to go to with questions or of whom you can ask advice is invaluable.

I met my mentor through a volunteer project with a nonprofit organization and, while we don’t work together often, or even see each other more than once every couple of months, I know I can always ask her advice. Not only do I know I can ask. I know she’ll be honest with me and give me good feedback.

Seek challenges.
You come to the table with outstanding professional skills and a background to be able handle much of what’s thrown your way. Seek out challenging assignments. Look at the basic assignments you’re given and figure out how to do it better or faster. Make recommendations or suggestions for programs that will add value for your organization or your client.

By seeking challenges, accepting more responsibility and making yourself more visible in your organization, you’re likely to zip up the proverbial “ladder” in no time.

For my readers who are new professionals – what would you add?

Keep networking.

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  • Sam

    This post is really helpful for grads to prepare participate in their job. I have read a new in Taiwan that was about a letter from an anonymous manager of a company to the president of Taiwan University. The letter complained that grads were incompetent to survive in the real company because they did not know how to follow the rule of the company. One of the most important points the letter complained about was the grads do not know how to lower their status, especially who graduate from better universities, to ask senior people questions. As Kelli mentions that the education is only the beginning. I would say that a degree is just a basic requirement for getting a job, and the most important thing is the attitude of being work. I have a friend who graduated from UO one year ago, but she is still struggling on seeking jobs. I think the problem on her is that she cannot lower her status as a former studying abroad student to some positions are for lower education required. I am sure that this will not happens to me because I am so flexible on anything.

  • Cleung

    Great advice, Kelli! I am approaching my 8th month as a new professional, and I agree with the advice you gave in this blog entry.

    Finding a mentor is so invaluable. My mentor happens to be my direct manager who is two levels above me (and also a Duck!). I see her as someone who’s very successful at her job, but has always managed to have that great work-life balance. I have asked to schedule weekly one-on-ones with her just so we could talk about my progress and problems/challenges I face at work. We spend so many hours in the week just talking about client work, so it’s nice to have that one hour a week to just talk about how I am doing in the agency, and how I could do better and take on more responsbilities.

    Also, I cannot stress how important it is to seek out challenges in your first job. For me, working in PR is not *just* a job. It’s not something I do *just* to pay the bills. For me, working in PR is about challenging myself. When I started working at my current job, I knew I was a pretty strong writer, and I knew that I was capable of developing a media list, researching, and doing a lot of other common entry-level PR tasks. One thing I felt inadequate about was networking and speaking to the public. What did I do? I asked the Director of PR if I could join PRSA so I could join a committee and start networking with other professionals. I also asked to speak at UO’s PRSSA and AHPR groups so I could get over my fear of speaking to the public. I’ve also requested to get more involved with new business initiatives because I wanted to learn the process of pitching and putting together a RFP… and just the other day, I was asked to help put together a proposal for a potential new client.

    So if you want to challenge yourself, I say: simply ask! Don’t just do what the basic job description says you can do. Is there something new you want to learn? Just ask! Most employers would be ecstatic to learn that you are taking the initiative to do something beyond your job description. And that’s what helps get you noticed in the workplace.

    But back to the point that you mentioned, Kelli. Work-life balance is very important. I happen to regularly work 50, and sometimes 60 hours a week, but I always manage to put in a good work-out session in the gym, and make time for friends at happy hour. As long as I don’t feel overworked, and as long as I am not COMPLETELY sacrificing my social life, I will work crazy long hours because I understand that’s how PR is 🙂

    To everyone approaching graduation and getting their first job, good luck!

  • JacQueLine Lo

    Kelli, thanks for posting these tips, they are really helpful for me. My mom always asks me to cherish the life in college. She told me that when we come out to work, the atmosphere and people around us are so different from whom we met in college. People begin to fight for success in all different ways. Even when the ways that they are doing is harmful to others, they just don’t care.
    I agree that education is only our first steps. There are more to learn in our future career. I realized that communication between people and boss is the most important in career. No matter how great your work are, if you do not have a good relationship with the boss, your hard working will not be recognized and appreciated. I totally go for finding a mentor. The mentor can definitely teach us a lot of things which can help us to survive in our first job. But, finding a mentor is challenging. We need to find one who has a good personality too.