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8 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My First Job

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I was 19 when I got my first grown-up job working at a staffing company. I was still trying to finish classes at a local university, and I had no idea what I was in for, nor did I know the grown-up it would make out of me. I feel I learned the hard way on some of this, and I sure didn’t have anyone to tell me what to do – but if I could go back, this is what I would tell myself.

1. Be on time consistently. 

We’re all late sometimes, but when I started my first job, I didn’t have the sense of responsibility I do now. I wasn’t taking a shower in the morning, reviewing my day’s agenda in my head, and preparing my mind for what needs to be done (like I should’ve done).

I just rolled out of bed, got dressed, and got to work hazy-eyed. But this routine didn’t do me any favors. Act like you want to be there and understand the responsibility you have. Wake up each morning with purpose.

2. Do your homework on the company you’re working for. 

I didn’t know what we did at my first job, not really. I was given tasks and I completed them. It wasn’t until someone took me aside and asked me if I knew what we did at that company that I realized I, in fact, had no idea. That conversation hit me hard, but I went home and started doing my homework. Know the ins and outs of the company you work for. Understand your company’s customers and competitors. Don’t just fill a seat.

3. Keep up with the news. 

I didn’t do this then (because I was young and didn’t care), but you should know what’s going on in your industry. Is there a new company coming in that you could be hitting up for future business? How is your company’s stock doing? Are any competitors going out of business? All of this will come in handy when you’re trying to have adult conversations with your boss and co-workers.

4. Dress the part. 

I hate to even put this one on here, but it needs to be said. If you are working in an office, dress professionally, and follow the dress code.  You want your boss to feel confident that you could handle a dinner with a client or a big meeting. If your office is casual, make sure you don’t take that as sloppy.

5. Be creative and help others. 

This goes for whatever job you have. Bring new and interesting things to the table. Always be thinking of how you can grow your role. When someone says, “I need you to think outside the box,” they really mean, “All your sucky ideas are in this box, now come up with some good ones.” And when I say “help others,” truly, help others if you can. There is always someone struggling at work — ask them if there is anything you can do.

6. Speak up in meetings. 

Don’t be the girl or guy that always comes to the meeting and never has anything to add. Show that you have ideas and are engaged.

7. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. 

I was always scared of asking for a raise. Or I would feel if I was doing a great job then my boss would notice and give me some wonderful bonus or raise. It didn’t happen that way most of the time. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, I’ve learned.

When you go to ask, be prepared with some things that you did that year that merited reward, or know the date the last time you did get a raise if it’s been a while. Most of the time, and if it’s within reason, you’ll have a positive outcome. Now, with that said, don’t go asking your boss every time you meet him in the kitchen getting some coffee.

8. Try out new jobs within your company.

You don’t know what job you like at 19, 24, or 30 sometimes. If you have opportunities to take on new roles, then do it. Always learn new things. Make yourself so skilled and valuable that others want to learn from you. And with this I have to add don’t be negative if new things are given to you to do. If you act put-out when things are thrown on your plate, then your bosses will stop coming to you with new responsibilities (and promotions).

Last modified on November 9th, 2016

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