Three brief months after college commencement, I had serendipitously locked down a solid, parent-approved job working at a fast paced digital agency. It felt like the parts of adulthood promised for the last two decades—biweekly paychecks, health benefits, retirement funds, car bills—were finally being unraveled with climactic anticipation. As my always astute parents assured, it seemed the years of summers spent interning were paying their dividends at last.
So with the naiveté often bestowed on recent graduates, I thought my professional trajectory could only skyrocket from there.
And in many senses, it did. Concepts I thought I would never understand, industry jargon that had me scratching my head in confusion—I picked it up quicker than I imagined possible. But as with everything else, there is always a flip side. In six even more brief months, I learned things about the working world that proved quite the education for any dewy-eyed college graduate.
1. Don’t Get Hung Up on Your Successes
One monumental mistake I made off the bat was placing myself on a pedestal. Of course, the successes achieved are causes for celebration. But beyond that, it’s important to understand one success doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay in the graces of your boss forever. Each and every day is a fresh start, a clean slate of different tasks meant to test whether or not you’re ready for the challenge.
The good thing, though, is that even if you do slip up one day, you will still have that slate to build yourself again. (Just don’t make mistakes a habit.)
2. Learn New Things, Even Just for Fun
A month in, I was tasked with creating a business card for myself. Things like my name, contact information—that was the easy part. But when it came to my actual job title, it got a little trickier. Why? Because I was responsible for many different things.
In most places, it’s commonplace to find people who have hands in multiple cookie jars, rather than people who specialize in one thing. Good or bad? It’s simply the nature of the working world. However you see it though, being multifaceted will make you a more valuable team member, and also set you up for future success when you are ready for your next move.
3. Problem Solvers are Valued More Than Naysayers
An old supervisor once told me all professionals are defined by sink-or-swim moments in their career—whether they rise to the occasion and solve challenges, or submerge under pressure. Say you’re tasked an assignment but haven’t the slightest clue on how to tackle it. Are you familiar with the fake it until you make it phrase?
A few weeks in, I was asked to write a proposal for a potential client, something I’d never done before. Instead of buckling under the thought of doing something unfamiliar, I researched everything I could find on proposal writing and wrote down pages of notes to guide me. Although my first draft was nothing to boast about, I did demonstrate to my supervisor I knew how to think quickly and brainstorm solutions. In the grand scheme of your career, people will always appreciate those who try and fail over those who don’t try and never learn.
4. Forget the Newbie Status—Speak Up for Yourself
Without a doubt, being the new person in an organization can be intimidating. You’re not sure what boundaries you can cross, what ideas to express, and when you should just do what you’re told. I struggled, and continue to struggle, with this a lot.
It took me a while to realize I was hired because someone in the company thought I was capable enough to get the job done in an effective, high-quality manner. So why shouldn’t I express myself, albeit, in a professional way? The worst thing anyone can say is “no.” And even those moments are valuable learning lessons to understand how things are done and why.
5. You are Undeniably Expendable
There’s this fantastic scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where Nigel tells Andy that thousands of women walking the streets of Manhattan would kill for her job. Why do I bring that up? Because, killer resumes aside, you are entirely expendable. You can be replaced—and your supervisor won’t think twice about it. Everything you learn and do at work is just an effort to make replacing you more difficult. So whenever possible, do all you can to be a valuable teammate.
What did you learn at your first job?
About the Author
Kaitlyn Borysiewicz is the Communications Specialist at The Web Development Group, a full-service creative agency focusing on Drupal and WordPress development.