Your first full time job is the biggest learning opportunity you will have in your career. You’ll be entering the workforce fresh, eager, and enthusiastic. Your peers will be more willing to teach you and give you opportunity to grow. Your boss, co-workers, and other executives will never be more likely to take an active role in your professional development.
As you move through the paces at your first job, you’ll learn a lot of great lessons that will help you progress your career. Here are a few of those lessons to get primed on.
Your input can matter despite your youth
You’re young and inexperienced. Why would anyone want to listen to your ideas?
Well, as it turns out, your input actually does matter. Both in the mind of your manager and in the minds of your co-workers, your ideas and contributions can greatly influence the direction of a project or how things are done for the better. And simply the act of giving input can change the tone of a conversation.
Fresh, young employees are crucial to any company. They infuse the team with a brand new perspective and skillset. As people and teams grow older, they get too comfortable with processes that have served them well for years. This happens out of a sense of comfort and familiarity.
While many around you might not appreciate what you bring to the table, smart coworkers and managers will look to you for your opinion as a signal to what the future might hold. Many of them know they are set in their ways or don’t have the insight you do -- find these people and provide them with the value that comes with your unedited perspective.
Culture plays a huge role in job satisfaction
When you’re looking for your first job, the concept of culture might only be a peripheral concern. Your primary concern is finding a company that is willing to take the risk of hiring an untested and inexperienced young professional. Your focus is on starting your career and obtaining your first salary.
But you’ll quickly discover that culture is crucial to your job satisfaction. The ability to make friends with your coworkers, feel like you belong, and enjoy the product or cause you are working on is a great indicator of how happy you’ll be at work. And that happiness is what will either keep you around for the long term or drive you to make a change.
If you end up working at a company that is a poor fit for you, the lesson learned is that you need to figure out what type of culture best fits you. If you end up at a company you love, then you have a strong sense of what your next company’s culture should be like.
And making the decision to join the right company based on your understanding of their culture is what will keep you motivated at work and keep your career moving forward.
Leadership doesn’t have to be formal
Leadership opportunities come to those who strive for them, regardless of their experience or job title. You will be presented with plenty of opportunities to lead in your first job. The onus is on you as a professional to know your own capabilities and speak up when you want to lead.
So if you want to move up on the career ladder and gain leadership experience, take advantage of the many informal opportunities that your manager and team will present to you.
Take point on a project or initiative. Coordinate your team to get a big task done. Help your manager with a task they don’t have the bandwidth to address. And look out for any opportunity to show your abilities as a problem solver and decision maker. It will be remembered and you will be rewarded with the assistance of others and, hopefully, future promotion.
Job description doesn’t matter
Your job description is a guideline for what you’ll be expected to do in general, but if you focus too heavily on what it says, you’ll miss out on a ton of professional growth opportunities. Your job description is rigid and set in stone. It’s a template used by companies to guide their employees.
What you do to go beyond your written responsibilities is what will make you truly stand out. Don’t hesitate to work outside of your function. Don’t shy away from jobs just because they’re not in your job description. Tackle every task given to you with the same amount of enthusiasm and attention to detail.
Because the nature of work and business is that employees are expected to be both generalists and specialists. The ones that can best combine being highly specialized in a field while strong in many others are the ones that will quickly advance up the ranks.
Adaptable professionals excel
In your first job, you will learn that the employees that take advantage of the various learning and professional education available to them excel. Opportunity comes in the form of formal training through your employer, out-of-work training through online courses or certification programs, or simply learning from others in your field, whether by reading blog posts and books or working alongside your managers and coworkers.
Adaptable and quick-learning professionals are greatly appreciated by managers and executives because they can grow into and beyond their role with little effort. When you show your eagerness to learn, you will find more responsibility fall on your shoulders and more interesting positions open up for you to take.
You’ll reap the rewards of that effort in the future, whether at your current employer or the next.
Knowing when it’s time to move on
Your first job also helps you realize when it’s time to move on. When you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall and stopped learning at work, it’s time to move on. When your opportunities for advancement are few and far between despite your best efforts, it’s time to move on. When you are no longer happy doing the job you do every day, it’s time to move on.
And you’ll learn all of these lessons with your first employer because, when you eventually leave, you’ll know whether you did it too early or too soon. It will give you an internal sensor of when to start looking for new opportunities or when to tough it through challenge. It’ll help you waste less time in what has become a dead-end job or identify your own impatience. And it’s easiest to develop that sensor at this point in your career.
Your first job is a time for learning and progress, so take advantage of the flexibility afforded to you in taking chances, showing initiative, and making mistakes.