Advice upon starting your first job

Nancy Anderson
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“I wish that I knew what I know now – when I was younger” – The Faces, “Ooh La La”

Do you ever wish you could give some career advice to your younger self? If I had it to do over again, there are a lot of things I wish I knew starting out as a 22-year-old college graduate. If you’re starting out in your first job, here are some things I wish I would have known when I was your age:

• Be punctual and dependable. There’s a famous quote attributed to Woody Allen: “80% of success is showing up.” It’s reassuring for your co-workers and managers to know that you can be counted on to show up on time each day and can be relied on to do the job – your punctuality and dependability can be just as valuable (or more) as your creativity and productivity.

• It's not how much you know, it's how well you can influence others. The workplace is full of smart people who understand the technical aspects of the job. What really distinguishes the leaders and the stars is their ability to sell their ideas.

• A big part of office “politics” is just being "polite." You need to constantly build and strengthen your relationships at work – with your colleagues, supervisors, customers, and anyone else you come into contact with during your day. Building relationships at work is about extending basic courtesy and anticipating the needs and possible objections of the people around you.

• Build coalitions to create change. It's great to be a bold visionary who's impatient for action, but make sure you've got buy-in from the other people on your team. You want to make sure that the people who are going to be affected by the decision are on board – if you’re proposing a big shift in the way things are done, trying to establish a tight deadline, or trying to get other people to pick up a bigger share of the work, make sure you navigate these waters carefully; people might have good reasons for wanting to cling to old ways, and they might be wary of any attempt to change the parameters of what they’re expected to do.

• Perfectionism is the enemy. At most jobs, you will constantly be pulled in two directions – between the urge to “Get it Done” and the urge to “Get it Done Right.” From my experience, perfectionism – the overwhelming urge to get things done the “right” way – is a bigger obstacle to most people’s careers. It’s true that you want to get the details right, especially if you’re dealing with high-pressure situations, extremely valuable transactions or complex systems – but most jobs don’t require the level of perfectionism that many perfectionists think is the case. (The book “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand” has a good explanation of these different types of work styles – some people are more “process oriented” and want to “Get it Done Right” even if that causes them to miss a few deadlines, while other people are more “task oriented” and just want to “Get it Done” even if that causes them to miss a few details.)

• Don’t sacrifice too much for your job. In the end, it’s just a job – try to avoid working on weekends or taking work home with you. Maintain a healthy work life balance – exercise, rest, spend time with friends and loved ones. No matter how much you love your work, you need to have a life outside of work, and the time you spend away from your desk will ultimately help you at work by giving you a renewed sense of focus, new ideas and perspectives. Sometimes the best way to get a breakthrough at work is to step away from the office.

Ben Gran is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Des Moines, Iowa. He is an award-winning blogger who loves to write about careers and the future of work.
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