When you’re searching for your first job, you don’t usually concentrate on much beyond the starting salary and general aspects of the work you’ll do everyday. Once you land that first gig, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and start managing any jitters about the first day. For most people, it takes hindsight to understand what they got from their very first job. You can think ahead by going into year one with a plan for gathering these tangibles as you start your career:
- Opportunities to do a wide variety of tasks. Think broadly about your new job and embrace changes to learn, to experiment, and even do things you weren’t hired to do. You might find out you’re good at something that leads to a promotion or a new position. Development of your work style. The first job helps define how you operate in the workplace. Are you a collaborator? Someone who works best solo? Do you participate in office gossip? Do you pitch in when a co-worker looks stressed? Do you make comments that imply you aren’t loyal to the boss? Develop your work habits based on the kind of person you want to be on the job.
- Confirmation about types of work you don’t enjoy. We all have to do tasks that aren’t on our list of favorites. But you don’t need to fill your future jobs with work you don’t enjoy. Maybe you’ll figure out you have strong project management skills, but don’t like the intensity of event planning work. Maybe you’ll be successful at giving presentations to customer groups, but don’t want the pressure of traveling ever month. Use your first job to help you figure out what you want next.
- A strong reference. Your first job is temporary; you will leave it. One key element for a promotion, or a better job with a new organization, is a strong reference. Sustaining a good relationship with your boss is not easy. Sometimes it takes curbing your own behavior in favor of a positive reference. Consider it an investment in your own future.
- Observations about leadership. When looking for a first job, the leadership ability of your new supervisor isn’t usually a deciding factor. If you’re lucky enough to work under positive leadership, it will smooth your road immediately and in the future. Frankly, the reverse situation is more likely; there are a few bad bosses out there, and a lot of mediocre ones. When your first job is working for a subpar or negative leader, it is not fun. However, at the risk of sounding like a parent, it is a learning opportunity. I once wrote about what I learned from bad bosses. Use your first job to observe good and bad leadership qualities.
Want my tip for how to stand out in the workplace? Do what you say you will do, and do it when you say you will. I’m 54 and this tip still works.