“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
– Alvin Toffler

So You’re Starting Your Career

When you start your first real job after college, you’re starting a new chapter in your life. The concept is dripping in cliché, but that’s because so many people know this step is a major one. What’s important is where you take your story from here. My father once told me “you are the only one responsible for your career.” The concept can seem overwhelming, and trust me, I was definitely not happy when I first heard that bit of wisdom. But it becomes a comforting thought: the idea that you have more control than you realize.

We’ve heard the same bits of advice about starting a new job: show up and stay late; pack a lunch and don’t eat out, etc. But this time is about starting a career. And with the right tools, this first job can be the biggest stepping stone to a career that will be built by you.

Make your first job a good one

And I do mean that literally. The first job you’re given may not be ideal, but with it, you can create an experience that will carry you to a successful future. If you put the following building blocks into practice, you will be prepared to today’s job and tomorrow’s.

Get to know your company: This is critical for any job, but get in to the habit of this now. Look at the big picture of your company’s services and products. Understand where it fits in the market, the demand it generates, and how it changes to meet the demands of the market. Doing this will give you a better understanding of the impact you make on the company, which brings me to my next building block.

Find the gap and fill it: You were hired for a reason, but that doesn’t mean have to do only that. You may see a need for which you can provide a solution. It may a simple responsibility like running a report, or navigating through software. It is also an opportunity to contribute to the needs of the business, and develop a skill for yourself. You may even become the subject matter expert in this particularly thing, making you the go-to person for anything surrounding this particular task. This is how you become a valuable contributor to your company.

Record everything: Take notes for everything. In a meeting? Take notes. On a call? Take notes. Getting coffee? Take notes. I’m kind of kidding about the last part. Make a record of everything. You’re new and you have a lot to learn. You never know when you’ll have to reference a previous conversation or meeting, so make sure you keep good records.

Find a mentor and get good feedback: You are responsible for your own career, but everyone needs a little help. There will always be someone you can learn from; someone who is familiar with the business and the functional skills you want to develop. That way you can get strong, constructive feedback, and apply lessons learned to your future. Formal performance reviews aren’t requisite to get good feedback, but periodic conversations to touch base on assignments are a good way to keep you on the path you want to go down.

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when starting your career is to stay open and patient. This is a big shift into a promising future, full of entirely new life experiences, so now is the time to absorb as much as you can. With this first job, you can start building a career that is strong and flexible.