Your First Job Out of College: Getting Started on the Right Foot

By Shannan Buckley

It’s graduation season, and many recent grads are either looking for or about to start their first jobs out of college. If you happen to be a recent grad yourself, make sure that you that you get started on the right foot so you can begin building your professional reputation and be a real contributor from day one.

  1. Pay attention to the details. In a highly professional environment like a law firm, you cannot turn in work riddled with typos or misspelled names. This is especially important for recent grads, both because you are still building your professional reputation and because you might be the one who has to give things a final proof.
  2. Get the basics down. Learn how to do the smaller tasks well, even if you are really more excited about getting involved in bigger projects. This is how you demonstrate that you can take on more responsibility.
  3. Ask for help, and ask the right questions. It’s your responsibility to make sure you understand how to complete your assignments, so ask for help when you need it. Remember that the best questions are those that eliminate the need for future questions! Instead of “what is the name of our contact at the vendor?” ask “Where can I find the information for the contact at the vendor?” Focus on learning all the processes so you can become self-sufficient. Take notes so you remember what to do!
  4. Be a problem solver. If you are unsure about a grammatical rule, the correct way to write a firm name or how to get Excel to cooperate with you, you can usually solve those issues with the help of a search engine. Good problem solving skills are always appreciated!
  5. Keep your schedule clear. Starting a brand new job can take a lot of energy! You may need to put in some extra time as you learn how to complete new kinds of projects. For the first couple of months, keep your non-work schedule flexible so you can focus on learning your job and making a good impression on your team. If possible, take care of foreseeable conflicts like dentist appointments before you start working.
  6. Remember that all jobs are real! I have always hated the term “first real job” because it implies that the retail/food service/childcare/etc. jobs that many college students hold aren’t real, even though plenty of hardworking adults use those same jobs to feed their families. Try “first job out of college,” “first professional job” or “first full time job.” Value the work experiences you’ve already had so far, and value the hard work being done by everyone in your office, whether it’s done by the CMO, Custodian, Receptionist, or Managing Partner.

If you have any recent grads in your life, please share this advice with them!

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