Career Talk 06.05.24 (Updated)

11 things I wish I knew when I started my first job

First jobs will not define your entire career, trust us. How you should tackle them, when is the right time to leave, and the great things you'll learn in your first position.

Business consultant

first job

I was offered my first job after a two-week internship, and I was floored. Most of my friends were in the midst of their graduate job hunt, so getting a job without having to interview for it was a dream come true.

I envisioned staying at that company for years and years. I was totally and completely taken in by the fantasy of the ‘perfect’ first job. Although it was a great two years, I’m here to tell you there’s absolutely no such thing.

1. Your first job will not dictate what you do for the rest of your career

first job

I started out as a campaigns executive meticulously checking data, acting as the middle man between clients and creative, and generally thinking “why on earth am I doing this?”

Often first jobs teach you what you don’t want to be doing more than what you do. That’s certainly what I found – and I used that information to convince myself to try to find my real work passion.

2. You have to speak up if you need help

first job

I once had to pack 50 heavy boxes full of kit for a brand ambassador programme. Hectic day after hectic day meant I had no time to accomplish this in normal work hours, so I stayed behind to do it.

No one asked me to do this. It took me three extra hours to sort, pack, tape up and label these, and I was exhausted.

When I went into work the next day my manager chastised me on working too late and not asking my fellow team mates for assistance. Help is there if you need it, you need only ask.

3. You will have different relationships with different managers

first job

The only thing constant in life is change, and my first job had plenty of it. All in all I had five different managers, and they all had very different management styles.

Managers are usually pretty make or break for your job happiness. You have to either learn how to work together, request for another one, or accept that the relationship just isn’t working out.

However, if find a great manager, hell, make sure they are appreciated. Tell them how great they are, and work hard to achieve their expectations. The best ones will stick and mentor you throughout your career.

4. Work perks get old pretty quickly

first job

Companies nowadays will entice you with beer o’ clock Fridays, ping pong tables and laser tag socials. But work perks do not define a company, ever.

The appeal of perks may go away, but what does linger is the way your company treats their employees. Is there transparency? Room for growth? How do they handle conflict?

Work perks, while nice, are often there to mask the real cracks in the foundations, so keep your eyes and ears open.

5. Office politics is real, and you’ll have to learn how to navigate it to really thrive

first job

Everything from who you should really impress to get that promotion, to who you can’t confide your secret annoyances with will come up. High school honestly never ends – office politics are a reality every worker will have to face.

It’s important to remember the sage words Michelle Obama said recently: “When they go low, you go high.” Maintain the moral high ground by just doing your own thing, and don’t mess with any potentially heated situations.

6. Find your allies and they will guide you on your careers journey

first job

Once you find your work tribe, they’ll become like a second family. Some of my ex-colleagues are now truly great friends – I’m even moving in with one of them at the end of the month.

Cherish your work allies. In darker times you will need each other to pull through. This will especially apply to busy times of year, or if unwanted changes are happening to the company.

7. Your first appraisal will be less scary than you think

first job

There’s nothing to be afraid of if you’ve tried as hard as you could. Be prepared – don’t go into an appraisal without proof of your awesomeness and an end goal in mind, like a salary raise or a promotion.

An appraisal should be a celebration. Make sure your manager is fully aware of all the great things you’ve been getting up to, and why you deserve to be rewarded for them.

8. You shouldn’t be afraid of asking to try something out if you’re interested in giving it a go

first job

If I hadn’t shakily asked my editor whether I could write an article for my previous company’s website, I literally wouldn’t be sitting here, writing this for you as a full-time content writer.

Don’t be afraid of giving things a shot. Don’t let it interfere with your daily tasks, but you may end up truly finding your work calling if you just go for that opportunity you see in front of you.

9. Holding your company to a higher standard is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged

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If your company isn’t being transparent with you, ask questions. If they aren’t paying interns the right amount, push for them to do so.

You will regret sitting idly by if you see injustice happen, and if you feel your company is not doing the right thing, you shouldn’t wait for somebody else to speak up.

However, keep the office politics point in mind – make sure you know who you’re flagging this up with.

10. Networking with people outside of your company is crucial for career development

first job

Go to networking drinks. Make sure you follow up with the new contacts you make with a ‘hello’ and an email. You honestly never know where the next great opportunity will come from.

The bigger your network, the more of these kinds of opportunities will come your way. Whether it’s a collaboration, a sales lead, or a new job opportunity, these will come from the people you meet. Might as well have lots to choose from.

11. If you feel like you’ve outgrown the job, listen to your gut.

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There will come a point where your growing pains will get too much for you to bear. The decision to potentially leave your company will be a hard one that only you can make.

I suggest sitting down and physically writing a pros and cons list if you’re really on the fence – but if something comes along you feel you can’t say no to, don’t. Life’s too short, and you should be loyal to your own career.

Download the Debut app and you could totally grab yourself a summer internship way before anyone else.

Follow Brenda on Twitter @brendaisarebel
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