A Few Things I Learned From my First Real Job
What did you learn from YOUR first job? Follow The Home Depot Careers on Twitter @homedepotcareer and use the hashtag #FirstRealJob for a chance to win to a $100 Home Depot gift card. Enter to win here. Leave a comment on this post for the chance to win a $50 Home Depot gift card!
As I run errands around the city lately, I’m reminded that it’s August: the month that recent college grads will invade cities everywhere and start their first chapter of life after college. They’re everywhere: in my building, clogging side walks as they look at their iPhone maps, holding up my morning commute as they figure out how to use their CTA card, and trying to play it cool as their parents move them in and park in my parking spot. I’m both envious and grateful as I watch a new group of people dive into this new chapter of their lives: shiny new jobs, crappy little apartments and big dreams.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was in this chapter. The year was 2006 and instead of joining the ranks of my peers who moved straight to a “charming” Lincoln Park brownstone or a seemingly “luxe” high rise in downtown Chicago, I headed straight to my parents house in the suburbs. Nope, no Facebook broadcasting of bottle service and “the good life” for me.
Two weeks later I started my new job selling sub-prime mortgages. For those who don’t know, sub-prime mortgages were a huge trend at that time and they were also a huge factor in the fallout of the economy in 2008. We could lend lots of money to what seemed like anyone. Bad credit? No income documentation? No equity? No problem! We can get you the 14% mortgage of your dreams – even though you can’t afford it – and charge you points in the process.
I truly don’t think I realized what I was signing up for when I accepted this job offer. I was just so excited to HAVE a job. While I was sold on the top-notch training, the opportunity for big bonuses and a fast-track to management, I look back on that job and view my role as that of an unethical telemarketer – no Finance degree required.
I also view my first job as one of my most valuable career experiences to date.
I was only at that job for about 7 months before I moved on to a higher paying (higher ethics!) job in the city, yet I think about that job ALL the time. The lessons I learned in my first (post-college) job are with me every day.
Here are some life lessons I took from my first real job:
- My first manager told us to tape this reminder to our computers: “if you aren’t getting the results you want, look at your attitude first.”
- Understand that your academic experience may not correlate to your job. This is OK. You didn’t waste your time or money, get over that guilt and learn something new.
- Just start somewhere. You’ll be shocked at the people you meet and the opportunities you find when your ego isn’t getting in the way.
- You don’t have to stay in your first job for an entire year if you are miserable. Have another job lined up before you jump ship though.
- Your first job isn’t about the title or paycheck. It’s about time management, playing nice with others and accountability.
- Consider spending the money on a legit resume writing service. Most professors, friends or college career centers are severely lacking when it comes to putting together awesome resumes. As much as you love them, their help will only get you so far.
- It’s tempting to try and plan your entire life out, but don’t over-plan right after college. The magic is in the unknown.
- Getting used to the combination of the mundane and the exhilarating is an important first step in your career.
- Not every day will be a sunny day, and not every day will be a productive day. It’s OK, keep looking forward.
- How you treat others at work will follow you for years to come. Choose your actions carefully: your paths will likely cross again.
- Get used to not receiving constant feedback. You know more than you think.
- Speak up. Your ideas are valid and your responses are expected. Staying too quiet can mean many missed opportunities and less respect from your co-workers.
- Start contributing to your 401k NOW! I know you don’t think you can afford it. But the truth is, your financial life will only grow more and more complicated. Contribute now while things are simple.
- Learn from those you admire and those you dislike. Study them both in detail so you understand them and move forward accordingly.
- Look for the lesson in every experience. There is always a lesson.
- If you feel like you are “too good” for a job, think again.
- Pause before you respond to client emails. I always felt the need to respond immediately, and then things would change and my answers would be wrong.
- Communicate with your manager in a way that works for both of you. This could mean establishing check-ins, cc’ing them on your client emails or updating a status doc. Every manager is different, respect his or her style.
If you’re someone who is in “chapter one” of life after college, I urge you to pay attention to the little things that will eventually become big things. Most of you will not love your first job. This is normal and OK. Get a job. Start your career story. Do the best job you can while you are there and keep moving.
What #FirstRealJob tips and stories do YOU have? Share them in the comments below and I’ll pick one winner who will get a $50 Home Depot gift card (yes, you can still register to win the $100 gift card here too!). Tweet your thoughts to @MsCareerGirl and @homedepotcareer using hashtag #FirstRealJob to continue the conversation.
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