What I’ve Learned in My First Job Out of College

Good morning!  I hope you had a lovely weekend.  As I promised on Friday, I didn’t do much other than catch up on the best show that has ever been on television (Grey’s Anatomy) and finish some work I put off during the week, so I don’t have any photos to share today.  Instead, below is a guest post I recently wrote for Girls Actually.  I felt old and creepy almost as soon as I started working on it (the audience for that site is a bit younger than mine), but watching ten episodes of Grey’s took precedence over coming up with a new idea.  So, without further ado…

Career Lessons I Learned in My First Job Out of College

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My work environment looks nothing like this but please roll with it

I followed the same path as many of my Economics classmates after college: moved to a new city and began working in the finance department at a large company.  I didn’t really know what to expect and went in with the idea that if I worked hard, things would probably turn out okay.  This strategy worked for the most part, but I could have saved myself some stress by learning certain lessons earlier (or, I’ve realized, listening to my mom when she imparted her wisdom the first time).  Here are five important ones I’ve taken from my first job – some of which came easily, some of which I learned the hard way.

1. Be Patient

At first, I had difficulty adjusting to the fact that I couldn’t get ahead completely on my own timeline in the real world.  In college, I could spend as much time as I wanted doing extra practice problems or editing papers in the library.  But at work I had to learn as I went along – coworkers didn’t have time to sit down and spend hours walking through various procedures that made more sense in the context of a real situation anyway.  Basically, sometimes there’s no substitute for experience, and it may be several months (or more) before you can really attack your job.  

2. Hard Work Brings New Opportunities

Doing your job to the best of your ability and developing cordial relationships with those around you will eventually pay off.  People move away, new obstacles arise, and organizational structures change all the time, opening up room for others to step in and learn something new.  Most managers recognize which employees are capable and diligent and will let them take on extra work, even if their daily tasks aren’t directly related.  

3. If You Don’t Love It, You Won’t Get Ahead

I’m not against taking a job for financial reasons.  We all have bills to pay, some more than others, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to start saving early on.  But in my experience, it’s extremely hard to go the extra mile and keep up with ambitious colleagues when you don’t find your work all that interesting or fulfilling.  I cared about my company and team from the start at my current job, but having to spend the majority of my waking hours on projects that didn’t excite me in my initial role (I’ve since moved to a different area of the business) was not ideal.  If you can make it work financially, I’d recommend following your passion every time.

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4. Prioritize Your Health

Here’s a sad truth for ya.  People talk about how much freedom you have when you start work, but it may not feel that way if you work a 9-to-5.  I definitely spent more total hours attending class and studying in college than I do in the office today, but my time feels much less flexible now.  In my first touchbase with HR about six months after I graduated, they asked me the biggest difference I noticed between college and work and I said, “I, like, have to come here every day” (surely made a great impression).   Even if an afternoon turns out to be slow, I can’t just leave at 2 p.m – I have to be available and ready during normal business hours, which is fair.

So, to make my actual point, I’ve found that making time to work out, eat healthy, and get enough sleep helps me stay calm and focused throughout the workday, even during stressful or slightly boring stretches.  

5. Be Nice to Everyone

I think this is particularly important as a young employee.  You never know who’s listening or might hear about your behavior.  I don’t mean that in a creepy they’re-watching-you way; the point is that you’re more likely to gain opportunities or favors from colleagues you’ve shown kindness in the past.  Plus, choosing not to dwell on small injustices just makes life easier and better.

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Anything you would add to this list?  Let me know in the comments!  I’m linking up with Erin and Katie today.

10 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned in My First Job Out of College

  1. Cassie

    That’s is some great advise! I graduate next year and I’m just nervous about putting myself out there and landing a good job right out of college!

  2. Shan Yi

    I have not entered university but certainly am going to do internship during university. Thanks for the helpful advice! Shared on my blog’s FB page. 🙂

  3. shellyray

    #4 is definitely the most important and also has been the toughest adjustment for me! I’m also in my first job out of college and I definitely felt like I had no free time at first. But taking care of myself by making time to see friends, work out, etc has helped a lot! Great blog! 🙂


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