How to Ace Your First "Real Job"

I remember feeling so proud of myself when she looked at me across the table and said, "I would like to offer you the position." I had to stop myself from jumping up, with my fist in the air, screaming "YES! FINALLY!" 

Things have been rough out there for recent college grads--myself included. I graduated with a liberal arts degree and not much in the way of real experience or marketable skills. I don't feel like I had a clue what I was in for; like so many college students, I had been led to believe that if I had any sort of degree, a job would practically fall into my lap. Well, a few years and a couple retail jobs later, I finally landed a salaried 9-5 job. 

The following tips are some things I have learned the hard way over the past year--things they don't teach you in college.

How to Survive Your 9 to 5:

1. Do it right the first time.

           Make sure you are always doing your best work, and allowing yourself enough time and energy to do things right the first time. Don't leave little details unchecked or incorrect--they often come back to haunt you!

2. Double check your work.

      Even though you did it right the first time (see step one), always take time to double check your work before submitting it to a superior. It is really tempting to be lazy and not want to go over everything for the umpteenth time, but the small effort it takes can outweigh the embarrassment of having made an obvious error.

3. Always try to find the answer yourself first.

    Instead of running off to as your supervisor or a colleague how to do something or what the earnings were this time last year, etc., try doing a little digging to find the answer yourself first. You will be less annoying to your supervisor, and it will show them that you are capable of being independent and self-reliant. Often, going through the process of finding information for yourself will help in the future, as you learn to navigate your company's records and systems.

4. Make a daily and weekly plan.

    Time management is crucial. If your job is anything like mine, however, your days vary widely. Sometimes a crisis  comes up, and everything you meant to do for the day never ends up happening. I find it useful to make a list of everything I need to do for the week, then assign each task to a day. I always have the freedom to juggle things around, depending on how the week goes and what project I feel like tackling that day. As long as the weekly list is done by Friday, it doesn't really matter how you go about it.   

5. Write yourself notes.

    Along with time management, when you are starting a new job, there are going to be a lot of things thrown at you at once. People will mention something verbally that they want done or perhaps mention something in passing that you need to get them more information on. There always seems to be those little nagging tasks that you often push to the side or forget, especially if they are only mentioned in conversation. Dedicate a note pad or word document to making a list of those little "to-do's" or random tasks, and try to write them down as soon as you think of it, even if you don't take any action on it at that time. Tackle the list when you have down time between projects, and you will see those little nagging tasks disappear!

6. Don't be afraid to brainstorm.

    One of the benefits of being a new employee, is that you are seeing everything with fresh eyes. Your outside perspective and ignorance can actually be quite helpful.  For example, I have found that since I knew little about some of the products we sell, I was able to tweak some of the wording in marketing materials to better represent our products to those who had never heard of them. You may be able to question routines and systems that have been in place for a long time, but are no longer effective. You might be familiar with better technology or be able to dream beyond the current limitations of your business. Don't be afraid to brainstorm or offer suggestions on how to improve or expand. 

7. Be a "doer" not a "talker"

    However, if you are going to come up with brilliant ideas (in the previous tip), be ready to follow up with concrete action. No one likes  to work with the person who comes up with a bunch of ideas or says "We should..." but expects other people to form a committee and run with their brilliant idea. If you really want to impress your boss, be ready and willing to implement your ideas using your own brainpower and elbow grease.

8. Take ownership of your position.

   One of my teachers in high school would hand out the instructions for a project, and give everyone a "C" if they only just followed the instructions. He said that was average effort--you only received an "A" if you went above and beyond. I hated that teacher at the time, but now I appreciate what he was trying to teach us. It is one thing to just fulfill the requirements of your job (average effort). But why not really make it your own and bring your talent and creativity into expanding your position? Wouldn't you be that much more proud of what you had accomplished? Try taking fifteen minutes a day to brainstorm new markets or projects that would benefit your position or company.

9. Continue your education.

    As you figure out what skills will help further you in your position, try to seek out resources to help you keep learning. Whether it be an online course, book, seminar, or You Tube tutorial, the more skills you can acquire, the more valuable of an asset you will be to your company.

10. Practice saying, "It's no big deal"

    Like I mentioned before, you will probably have a lot of things thrown at you at once. People will come in and out of your office demanding this or that, clients will change things at the last minute, and while you are working on ten other things, someone will lay another one on your desk...oh, and they need it done as soon as possible. You can either freak out, get your feathers ruffled and be upset, or you can choose to say "it's no big deal". I tend to stress out a lot, and every time someone would add to my workload, I felt overwhelmed. Honestly, there isn't much you can do to change these situations, though--people are always going to change things at the last minute or something is always going to go wrong. You can only choose your response, and let's face it, griping about it doesn't really help that much. Save it for when you have a bottle of wine and someone to listen to you vent! So grit your teeth and work through the situation--chances are your boss will note how cool you are under pressure.