My first job as a college graduate was as a program specialist with the Girl Scout organization, developing service and educational opportunities for middle and high school students. It was a stressful position, full of phone calls and conflict resolution, but it also presented a series of rewarding lessons about how to navigate the working world.
As an adult learner enrolled as an online student, chances are your first job after graduation isn’t your first job ever, but if you are in school to facilitate a career change, that first opportunity in your new field can be a fresh start. What it means in terms of long-term goals depends a lot on your individual approach to career exploration and development. Your first job will be important to those that follow as a part of the many variables that shape a career.
Your experiences in your first job help you make decisions about your career from that point forward. What can you do to make the most of the situation? Focus on the following:
- Forming a list of priorities. Determining, and testing out, your work values means identifying what you want to do, as well as what you don’t. While you have preferences, and perhaps a dream job in mind, there are also practical aspects of day-to-day employment that should factor into your decisions about applying for and accepting new positions. How do you want to live? Do you prefer to work independently? Are you repaying student loans? Is it important to be involved in a variety of tasks or working a strict schedule?
- Networking that begins in earnest (if is hasn’t already). You’ve no doubt read or been given advice about professional networking. It is critical to career development, but you may have been hesitant to make these kinds of connections in the past. In a new workplace environment, as you are assigned to projects, attend meetings, and make contacts for myriad reasons within your company and industry, you’ll find yourself actively networking. A recent article from Forbes advises you to take the initiative to “engage with your new co-workers” and Harvard Business Review recommends tips for your first job, such as to “never eat lunch alone.” Beyond the literal interpretation, what could you be doing on a lunch hour to immerse yourself in your new industry? Check out internal social networks, chats, discussion boards, and other uses of social media to connect with your peers.
- Getting a reality check. In moving from coursework to full-time employment in your new field, it won’t be long before you realize that school was just the beginning. Your academic program may have provided the foundation that allowed you to enter the industry, but developing relevant skills and knowledge is an ongoing process. Figure out where you need to focus your attention, to enhance strengths and address weaknesses, and embrace early feedback from supervisors and colleagues.
- Developing good habits. Every industry, and individual office, has its own culture. You’ll be learning how to become part of the organization and adapting to everything from dress code to communication styles. Focus on presenting yourself professionally in meetings and via correspondence, as well as maintaining a positive approach to new tasks, dealing with problems, and learning about available resources.
- Building momentum in a new direction. Andy Netzel’s lessons from changing careers reveals that “…making that career switch will be refreshing. Scary, but refreshing….” Once you’ve made the decision to take a new path through online learning, follow through with the hard work and persistence that will move you a little closer to your goal.
In the many years that have passed since I left my first job, I’ve changed industries, as well as gone back to school and re-entered the workforce – multiple times. My experience with the Girl Scouts had an impact on my career decisions that followed as I sought out learning exploration in a variety of environments, teams of enthusiastic contributors, and opportunities to stretch my own skills through project assignments.
Sometimes you can see your route more clearly in hindsight, putting together the threads that lead you from one position to another, but each position provides invaluable experience and lessons that prepare you in some way for the challenges ahead.
So, your first job is important, but the pressure of finding the perfect job can be debilitating, and an unrealistic expectation in many cases. While you may not move into that dream job immediately after completing your program, you can find benefits in every opportunity you are presented with.
What are your goals for your first job after graduation? Tell us how you hope to shape your future career.
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