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Making the Most of Your First Year on the Job

Firsts are important and your first job is the most important of all

By Molly Joss

They say you remember some things forever-your first kiss, your first job, your first paycheck. I barely remember my first kiss, but I do remember my first job. For one thing, the job lasted a lot longer than the first kiss! The first paycheck? Well, the money from that check lasted about as long as the first kiss...and neither were very substantial.

There is nothing like that first full-time job out of college. You've finished your education, and you're ready to get started on the next phase of your life. And, despite the surprising bite taxes and benefit co-pays take out of your pay, chances are you've never made this kind of money before.

For my first job out of college, I spent two years working as an administrative assistant in a small office. Hey, I had a liberal arts degree and had majored in history, so I didn't have many options back then-or I thought I didn't. I had done some work with mainframe computers in college, but not enough to get a job in computing. Remember, this was in the dark ages before personal computers were everywhere.

It took me only a few weeks at this job before I decided to go back to school part-time in computer programming. It took a few years and more than a few computer classes, but my plan worked-I got a job in the personal computer industry.

Expect the Unexpected

It's been decades since my first job, and although I've had more than a few jobs since then, there are a few things I will never forget about the experience.

My best advice for new employees, is to expect the unexpected. I did not expect, for example, that my boss would be upset if I came in 10 to 15 minutes late every morning. In my defense, I had to take the bus and was therefore at the mercy of hit or miss bus schedules. If the bus was late, I was late. And I always stayed overtime by at least 15 minutes, so I didn't see a problem... But my boss did. Even though she sympathized about the erratic bus schedules, she wanted me at work at or before 9:00 a.m. everyday-no exceptions.

For the rest of my employment, I headed to the bus at least 30 minutes early. And I stayed until after 5:00 p.m., too!

Something else I did not expect? To be told by this same boss about a year and a half into my employment that there was no money in the budget to give me the raise that I had asked for. Although she admired my courage for asking, and said that my request was appropriate since I had performed well on the job, she simply told me there was not enough money.

I started looking for a new job the next day.

I guarantee that you too will encounter the unexpected in your first job, even if the specifics of your experience are not the same as mine. You may find that you have to make adjustments of some sort-in the way you dress or the way you communicate with people. Some adjustments will be acceptable-I didn't like taking the earlier bus, but I did it anyway. Some will not be acceptable-finding out there was no money in the budget for a well-deserved raise told me I was in a dead-end job, and I had to take action.

Look for a Good Mentor

Some companies, usually larger corporations, assign new hires a mentor inside the organization to help them settle into corporate life. These mentors have typically been with the company for a few years and may even be senior executives. Formal mentoring programs vary widely in effectiveness and comprehensiveness, but if you're lucky enough to be set up with one, try to get as much as you can out of the program.

Even if you're part of a formal mentoring program, you might not be getting the kind of guidance you need or want. If that is the case, or if your company does not have a mentoring program, you will need to reach out to others to get the support you need.

A good mentor will introduce you to others, show you around, and give you interesting and challenging work to do. They will not take credit for your work or off-load their work on to you.

Expect Expectations

Your employer will have substantial expectations of you during your first year. Some of the expectations will be related to your job skills. Others, though, will center on your soft skills, like your interpersonal and communication skills.

Employers will expect you to exhibit energy and enthusiasm for your work and the opportunities available to you at your new company. You can display your energy and enthusiasm in several ways, including showing up for work on time, being agreeable, dressing appropriately, and acting independently and professionally.

Your employer will expect you to communicate your ideas, rather than being afraid to share them. He or she will expect you to know how to talk to different kinds of people, and be willing to admit when you don't know the answer to a question. You can always say you don't know the answer to something, but report back promptly after you find out.

Everyone Moves On

No first job lasts forever. Even if you stay with the same company, expect to change jobs and increase your compensation within two or three years. Promotions within the first year are rare, so expect to put in some time before you reach for the next rung on the ladder.

You may also decide that your first job is the fast track to nowhere. If that is the case, you will need to move on as quickly as you can. But work experience on your resume is important, so don't leave your first job without having a second job firmly in hand.

Molly Joss is an IT veteran who writes about career and job issues, among other topics of note.

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