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Top 5 Lessons You’ll Learn in Your First ‘Real World’ Job

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Fresh out of college, you toss off your graduation cap, frame that hard-earned diploma and iron your most professional outfit for your first day at your very first post-college job. Everything you’ve accomplished thus far has prepared you for this moment. Or has it?

The journey from college to career may not be perfectly seamless. Now more than ever, young professionals often experience a serious learning curve coming fresh out of college. But no matter your level of experience, your approach and attitude to that all-important first job can serve as a valuable learning experience and stepping stone for future success.

Here are five of the many lessons I learned from my first post-college job:

1. Arrive early. During my first week at work, I noticed that my boss got to the office very early, about a half hour before our scheduled start time. I followed her cue and started arriving at work around 7:30 a.m.

That gave me plenty of time to grab coffee and a banana and settle in to check emails and make my to-do list for the day before the office really started buzzing with activity. I enjoyed the distraction-free quiet time before the emails started pouring in and my phone started ringing. Also, when you consistently arrive early and do good work, people take notice and it definitely enhances reputation.

2. Make work friends. Let’s face it: We spend 40 hours a week with our colleagues, more time than most of us spend at home with our families. I learned quickly that one of the best ways to make work enjoyable was to make friends. It helped that I worked with a great team of people who I would want to be friends with anyway, but taking lunch breaks together to chat and learn more about each other’s personal lives only strengthened those relationships.

A recent study out of Tel Aviv shows that having social support at work will even help you live longer, yet another reason to make friends at work. But studies and research aside, this is common sense; friendships make us feel good, and when we feel good, we are happier and more satisfied.

3. Mind your manners. I grew up minding my p’s and q’s thanks to my parents, but my first job reinforced the importance of being polite and respectful to absolutely everyone. No matter someone’s job title or rank in the organization, every employee is important and has a role.

A smile and hello in the hallway or small talk in the elevator can go a long way in building relationships. When you have a positive relationship with someone at work, it’s much easier to be efficient and get things done when you need help.

4. Organization is key. I was organized in college, obsessed with my day planner and crossing items off my to-do list. Yet when I joined the real world, I took my organizational skills to a whole new level. Staying organized wasn’t just helpful, it was imperative to success in my job. Keeping organized was the difference between completing tasks well and on-time and being sloppy and late.

I learned to love my Outlook Calendar and its reminder features, and my daily to-do lists were detailed, even down to the simplest task. I also tried to keep my desk and office tidy because working in an uncluttered space made me feel calm and motivated. A clean office gives a good impression to your bosses and co-workers, too.

5. Recognize that building skills takes time. One of my major responsibilities at my job was writing newsletter columns and speeches on behalf of the company’s CEO. It was a huge challenge to learn and adapt to his voice and writing style when as a young professional, I’m still working on developing my own voice.

The first few times I submitted a column for review, I became frustrated when I would get back the document full of edits and changes. Finally, I realized that building skills takes time. If the task was easy, anyone could do it. It was absolutely okay that my writing wasn’t perfect the first go-around.

With time and guidance from my boss, I slowly began to get the hang of it. And when I finally felt like I really conquered the skill? That made all the frustration completely worth it.

What lessons did you learn from your first “real world” job?

Jessica Lawlor is a public relations professional in Philadelphia. In her free time, she manages a book review and writing blog and is currently writing a novel.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Tony Goddard

    Hi Jessica some great tips here for making a successful transition. As an HR Director I saw many graduates fail to follow this advice and damage their career prospects badly before they had really got started. One other I’d add is to make sure that if you are working as a part of a team you make an effort to recognize that people will be different to you – but it’s that which makes teams successful

  • Phoebe

    The number one thing I learned in my first job was “ask for help when you need it”. Nobody wins an award for doign it all himself and there is nothing inherently wrong with asking for help. It takes both courage and humility to ask for assistance or to say “I don’t have the resources I need”. At least if you ask for help and ultimately fail you can say you did everything you could, but if you don’t the failure is completely your fault and you have no one to blame.

  • Jrandom42

    Here’s another tip: Create a solid record of achievments before you think about moving up the corporate ladder. Being young and having potential doesn’t mean a thing until you can show how you’re fulfilling that potential and delivering results that add to accomplishing team goals. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few years before you can successfuly ascend to a new level in your career.

  • http://twitter.com/JayDotThomas Jordan Daniel

    Hi Jessica, These are great tips. I would also add finding a coach. My first year on my real world job worked out really well when I could go ask questions of someone who had been doing the job longer than me. Everything from where is Conference Room X – what do you think about this assignment? I have a post on this called “Two Allies to Have and One Enemy to Avoid at Work”
    http://tiny.cc/4r33m

  • Jrandom42

    I.M Wright and his alter ego, Eric Brechner, a software developement manager has this to say about aspxbeing the new guy/girl.

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/eric_brechner/archive/2010/04/01/the-new-guy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/megan.a.atkinson Megan Atkinson

    My additions would be: a) document the journey, b) communication skills are key – even if you’re not in the communications biz, c) push yourself beyond what you know you can do well.

    • http://www.brazencareerist.com/profile/jessica-lawlor-0 Jessica Lawlor

      Excellent tips!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/R3G6DJCKLDYCIXQLHXD2CBAOKA ornob Soulz

    Great tips to be successful. It’s really hard out there in this competitive world. You have to work hard and follow the tips. I have wedding website (http://www.partyeventsunlimited.co.uk/) and it provides many fruitful tips on wedding arrangements.

  • Juliet

    Really great post! Very useful tips to be followed. As a young professional I’m open to any advice and although I do have certain work experience I always find such posts valuable for my future career progress. There are indeed many resources who offer tips&tricks on career in general, but with what you’ve written and what I heard lately during the webinars organized by http://www.blog.ivyexec.com I’m sure I’ll be great on my future jobs. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/warrenbob Bob Warren

    Very Well written….Great Job

  • Francine

    Great advice. I would agree with the other comments. Documenting your activities, whether daily or monthly, will help you keep track of them, give you a sense of accomplishment, and give you a point of reference if you decide to look for a promotion or switch jobs. I would add always keep learning – after hours, on your own- whether by reading industry/trade magazines / ezines, blogs etc. What you learn can be a point of discussion and keep you ahead.

  • http://balancedworklife.com/blog/how-to-blow-your-interview/ Michelle

    My biggest lesson: not everyone communicates in the same manner I do. And that what feels like annoyance or dislike from a boss or coworker is often not personal, but a function of communication style. So valuable!

  • Zumabeni

    This is really a great post thanks for this it have been of great help
    Replica

  • http://www.jmfdisco.co.uk/ Wedding DJ Kent

    I help nurture DJs in my wedding dj business (http://www.jmfdisco.co.uk/) and my top tip would be get involved and be keen to learn

  • http://www.writemypapers.org/essay-writing/ professional company essay

    Great tips. I tried them at my work and everything goes real nice!)

  • lsh4b

    Hello Jessica, this is good overall because it does answer the question posted at the bottom of the article. However, I have to admit the title is a bit misleading. It is only from one experience (thus, one specific work environment).

  • Guest

    The real world is dry, boring, and awful. Stay in college as long as possible!

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