Want to ace your first job after graduating from college? Your actual first job is to make the most out of your first job. That means turning every work opportunity into a learning opportunity and developing foundational skills that pave your future career path. Here are my top four tips for junior employees just starting their career.
1. Always be prepared – your hands should never be empty
Always know exactly what you’re doing, always be prepared. I feared getting up from my desk. I didn’t want to bump into someone who would ask a million questions. A pop quiz in the middle of the hallway! Never leave your desk without a notebook and a pen in your hands.
Note taking is a powerful, life long skill. It accelerates learning and memory. It also helps you analyze problems with clarity and organize better. Many young, overly confident people fall victim to the “I’ll remember that” belief. Unless you’re blessed with a photographic memory, you’ll forget most of your ideas and learnings.
2. Know when to speak up – the rule of three
In case you’re wondering how that balance looks like: a new employee should speak at least 1 time every three meetings, but no more than three times every meeting. In any meeting, don’t speak too much unless you’re the boss. You’ll definitely want to speak up though at least once every three meetings so you’re not the person standing in the corner taking up space in the meeting room!
3. Prioritize yourself – you’re worth two days a week
Find two days per week where you can stay late at the office so you can work on deepening and strengthening your knowledge. During the day, there are a lot of things that go on while you’re focused on execution. It’s important to also take time to reflect, look back on your notes and do more research.
This does not mean you should spend this extra time catching up on email. This is the time to look up those terms you didn’t understand in a meeting earlier this week, or learn more about the competitors in your industry, or look through an Excel model and figure out the formulas. These are things that give you the foundational knowledge that will help you to catch up with more experienced coworkers. This is how you get ahead.
4. Make the most out of your first two years at any job
The first two years of any job are about learning and building a foundation. It’s a combination of learning as well as executing. There’s no such thing as a boring job. There are only employees that are not creative enough to make the job worth it.
Of course your first few projects may be boring – your boss doesn’t know you or your skills yet. I try to finish these basic projects as quickly as possible so that I can move on to the next, more challenging one. If something’s boring, then it means you should be able to do it with your eyes closed. It also means you should produce a really high quality product because it’s so easy. So make sure you finish quickly, and that your work is top-notch. That’s the key to earning trust and getting chosen for more interesting projects.