How to Make the Most of Your First Real Job

a young man in business suit at work

young businessman at first real job | Source: iStock

Everyone has a first job at some point, and it’s important to make your first job count. It’s tempting to view a starter job as simply a stepping stone toward something better, but doing so negates the potential worth of your first job. You can learn a lot when you take on your real first job, and it’s important to maximize your time there even if you believe that you deserve better. Many people start off with a job in retail or a restaurant, and you can learn a lot from these jobs too.

Once you take on your first real job (by real, we mean professional, or a job that is related to your field of study or desired career path), the stakes become high quickly. Even if your first job isn’t ideal, it’s important to learn from it and take it seriously. Here’s how you can make the most of your first real job.

1. Learn as much as you can

Whether you stay in your first job for a year, or you’re still in the same position in 10 years, you will want to learn as much as you can while you can. Because you are new, you will often find that people will be more patient with you (of course, not everyone will be). Now is a great time to ask questions and to really learn as much as you can about your company, and your field. This is also a great time and opportunity to learn from people who are your superiors; they can teach you about more than just your particular job, and they might even share mistakes they have made which you can then avoid. After you have been at your job for a while, you can ask to job shadow; you can also learn from your superior’s mistakes, and learn their strategies.

Also, if possible, take extra classes and certifications now; as you get further in your career you will probably become busier and have less time to devote to learning new things.

2. Be open to criticism

No one likes to be criticized, but the more constructive criticism you receive, the better employee you can become. There’s no better time to learn your flaws than your first real job; if you can focus on improving what you need to, then you will be in a great place when it’s time to look for a different job or move up in the company. When your boss suggests that you could have done something better, be sure to ask how. While you don’t want to harrass your boss or seem like you are sucking up, showing genuine interest in where you need to improve will encourage your boss to show you how you can become better at your job; your boss also might remember how willing you are to improve once a new position comes around.

In order to appear receptive to criticism, according to Chron it’s important to listen objectively, ask for specific details if necessary, respond calmly, ask for help or advise to correct the issue, and even come up with a list of what you can do to address the problem.

3. Take inventory

If you find a job in your field, then you are in a great position to determine whether you really want to stay in that field. Regardless of how much time you spent on your education or training, if you find that you hate your job, you will probably want to try a different career. It’s important to be able to recognize the difference between hating your particular job, and lacking fulfillment from the career or field you thought you wanted to be in.

If you dislike your boss or co-workers, then you shouldn’t simply change fields. However, if you thought you wanted to be a teacher, and then you go into a school and you just find that you don’t enjoy teaching, it’s important to take inventory of your future to determine if you need to take a different path.

4. Network

You should ideally network in every job you have, and at every opportunity. It’s vital for you to network if you want to improve your chances of having a successful career. The more contacts you make, the more people you will potentially have in your corner rooting for you to get a particular job, or even telling you about an opportunity that you might not know about. Don’t discount anyone simply based on their position level; the newbie who just graduated college may know a lot of important people.

You can also network at conferences. If your company sends you to a conference, use your extra time to introduce yourself to others and to discuss important news in your field. Other ways to network include volunteering, being a powerful resource for others, and keeping in contact.

5. Avoid common mistakes

If you can make it through your first job without making some of the common mistakes that so many people make, you will be in a great position to find a better job or move up at your company.  According to Monster, when you take on your first real job it’s important to avoid being too impatient (but you also shouldn’t be overly patient either). It’s also important to avoid using technology inappropriately, avoid the mistake of making a poor first impression, make it a priority to discuss your goals with your boss, try to understand your boss, learn from others, and appreciate your job.

If you can make the right choices and avoid the mistakes, you can make the most of your first real job.

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