Five Things I Wish I Knew When Starting my First Job
Starting a your first post-grad job? Feeling nervous/excited/ready/unsure? I’ve been there, and I’ve learned a lot along the way!
Here are five things I wish I knew when starting my first job:
1. You’re here to learn how to work
In my opinion, our first post-grad jobs have one purpose: learn how to work. Much like Kindergarten taught us how to share our colored pencils and middle school taught us how to navigate classroom changes and high school taught us to, well, survive teenage angst, I guess? – our first jobs are a training ground. Spoiler alert: you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to drop the ball, and you’re going to embarrass yourself. Don’t worry – everyone will get over it much more quickly than you.
Our first jobs are where we learn how to manage our time, how (and when) to speak up (or not) in meetings, how to ask questions, and how to advocate for ourselves. No one expects you to be perfect. I wish I had known that in my first job – it would have saved me a lot of stress and worry and overwhelm.
2. Every person can teach you something
Going to an all-hands and listening to your CEO reminisce about the good old days is fun, and you can definitely glean something from what he or she says, but don’t discount what people in less prominent roles can teach you. There’s a temptation to try to get close to people in leadership, but the reality is that people around you or on adjacent teams can be the real value add. Getting coffee with a manager of another team, volunteering for a project that’s outside of your regular scope or joining an interest group can expand your horizons and expose you to roles you never knew existed. Don’t underestimate the value of a cross-functional friendship.
3. The most important network is your peers
In the same vein, this is a critical realization for anyone in our early careers: network with your peers! Sure, we might all be coordinators or associates now, but in 10 years (or much less) these people will be the ones in charge. Don’t blow off happy hours or picnics or hikes with people at your level – invest in relationships with your peers, and they will pay dividends in the future.
4. Advocate, advocate, advocate
No one can read your mind – ask for what you want.
To be clear: that one time you were in the break room and you slyly suggested that you like to write while waiting for coffee is not advocacy. Setting a meeting, asking for extra work, and stating your goals is. Good managers and good bosses want to encourage growth and personal development. Share your goals and ask for specific opportunities. This is the most important part – do not go to your boss and ask for “more.” That creates more work for them to try and create something for you. Instead, present your own plan. Maybe you’re going to take on extra projects for another team. Maybe you want to shadow in one meeting a week. Whatever it is, ask for it clearly and confidently.
5. Life is (much) more than work
A new job is exciting. It’s fun to be challenged, to have responsibilities, and to be needed. But don’t forget that life is so much more than your job. Invest in your community. Explore your city or town. Take your time off. Pursue classes or hobbies or activities outside of work. During my two years in San Francisco, I took improv classes, competed in pageants, volunteered with Girls on the Run, and ran a bible study. These activities made me a better employee and teammate, because they challenged me, expanded my horizons, and gave me interesting stories to share at work. They also gave me leadership opportunities that I didn’t have at work. Your career will progress much more quickly if you’re embracing opportunities to grow as a person outside of work.
What would you add to this list? If you’re jumping into a new job, I wish you all the best! Remember: you are not your work. Your identity is a beloved daughter of the king. Go out there and set the world on fire!
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Jane Kennedy lives in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and works in criminal justice reform. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably catching up with friends on FaceTime, getting lost in Rock Creek Park, quoting C.S. Lewis, or trying to recreate Salt and Straw ice cream at home.