What I Wish I Knew Before Starting My First Career

first career

When I left college for my first job, I felt invincible. “Look out world,” I thought, “because I’m about to shake things up.” Time altered that perspective. I made mistakes and wasted some time in dead-end jobs with few prospects. If I had known then what I know now, it would have saved me some hardship figuring things out on my own.

While mistakes are inevitable, learning from others can ease your transition into the workplace. To help you in your new career, here are a list of things I wish I’d known before starting my first career.

Experience Really Does Matter

Young people have a tendency to discount the wisdom of their elders. I did. It’s only natural. In our digital age, we’re often teaching our parents just as much as they’re teaching us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the job, however, it’s that work experience is much more important than I thought. With time on the job, you gain knowledge and get faster at your job with less errors. Reports that took you hours to fill out your first week can be done in minutes your fourth year.

Don’t let this experience gap intimidate you, though. Many people are surprisingly willing to share their knowledge with others, especially young people who are just starting out. In your first days on the job, identify someone whose work you admire and see if they’ll help you get the lay of the land. You both have something to gain from this – you’ll learn faster and they’ll get a fresh perspective on work that became routine.

The Best Employees Make Themselves Vital

If there’s one thing you can do to avoid layoffs, get the raise you want, and grow in your career, it’s making yourself indispensable from day one. Look for gaps that aren’t being filled and fill them. Speak up in meetings and offer helpful suggestions. Most importantly, throw out your job description and think like an entrepreneur. Your job as an employee is to make your business live up to its potential. Become the person who lives that philosophy every day and you’ll move up faster that you can imagine.

Ask and You’ll (Sometimes) Receive

Think of the lifestyle change that would improve your life the most. Is it working from home two days a week? How about making just a few hundred dollars more per month? Whatever it is, it will not hurt you to ask for it. Come up with a list of compelling reasons why your employer should give you what you want. When you’re presenting your findings, try to focus on how your request would benefit them. Employers are getting more flexible on alternative work arrangements. If you ask confidently, you might just get everything you desire.

There’s No Shame in Jumping Ship

Too many people stay in dead-end jobs today with the thought that leaving too soon will make them look flighty. Believe me, it’s much better for your career and sanity to leave a job that you hate. With time, careers tend to follow a set path. Bad jobs lead to more bad jobs, while work you enjoy leads to similar opportunities later. For young people without mortgages to pay or little mouths to feed, it’s best to take a chance and get on the right path early.

Be Confident, but Stay Humble

Think of your favorite female leads on TV. What do they all have in common? Chances are, they’re confident enough to get what they want, but humble enough to do so without creating a stable of enemies. You don’t want to be a pushover, but you don’t want your coworkers to shudder when you walk by either.

Try this attitude change: Think like a scientist. Scientists are confident in what they know, but inquisitive and willing to accept new ideas. If somebody has a better idea than you, embrace it with open arms, then offer suggestions to make it even better. This attitude – let’s call it confident humility – will take you far.

Head out there with confidence, stay focused, and you’ll get the success you deserve.

Sarah Pike

Sarah Pike has her BA in Communication and her MA in Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Communication. She has experience in teaching, PR, marketing, and politics. When she's not teaching or writing, she's probably binge-watching RomComs, volunteering, or planning her next vacation. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram.

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