My First Year in a Career: The Truth About Professional Life

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Congratulations! You finally landed your first career after college. After spending tens of thousands of dollars on a fancy new degree, you’re ready to put it to action. Your professors loved you, you got a few internships under your belt and you thoroughly impressed everyone with your final senior marketing plan to increase donations for a local non-profit. Doing this stuff full time should be a breeze, right?

Well, not necessarily. While your confidence is admirable, it turns out 73 percent of employers don’t feel college is preparing students for the workforce. That’s a little … disheartening.

Don’t fret, though. We’ve all been there. In fact, I was there only a year ago. I interned here at Quinlan summer 2014, continued freelancing with the company as I finished up my last semester at SUNY Fredonia and then was hired as a full-time employee in February 2015.

To make it through your first year in the real world, take note of my own five biggest realizations:

Understand that you’re basically starting from scratch.

career advice

I’m by no means saying everything you learned in college was a waste. Those essays, presentations and capstone projects you spent countless hours slaving over? That’s valuable knowledge that will serve as the fundamental basis of your career. The reality, though, is that no college program can prepare you for the exact responsibilities that come along with your job description.

“Effective marketing isn’t about looking up the answer, it’s about creating the answer,” Anum Hussain of Hubspot explains. “For example, social media wasn’t taught in a classroom until recently, yet it’s been around for years. Nobody taught professional marketers already in the business how to ‘do social media’; they had to figure it out on their own. That’s your future: figuring out marketing. Forever.”

The best way to figure out how to do your job? Just start doing it. Complete your tasks the way your boss tells you to, watch how your coworkers successfully master their own responsibilities and ask a ton of questions along the way. You’re not going to start pitching annual marketing plans on your first week, but over time your experiences will build on one another. Just remember: it’s okay not to know everything right away.

Personally, I found that it helps to follow industry experts on LinkedIn and Twitter (like Neil Patel or the experts at Hubspot). Take the time each day to read about how they’re successfully using the latest trends, and try incorporating them into your own work.

Always double.. no. Triple check your work.

career advice

I swear I’m not just saying this because one of my job responsibilities is proofreading. You’re new–it’s your job to prove you can be trusted with the big stuff. A sure-fire way to squash your boss’s faith in you? Making silly mistakes.

“At your first job, details matter, whether they’re taking drink orders, coding Excel grids, or sending perfectly-worded tweets,” Megan Reid, a career advice writer for Levo, writes. “Master the details, and you’ll convince your boss you can crush any task.”

If you’re not sure about something, ask someone. This, of course, comes with boundaries. You don’t want to be that annoying girl who can’t handle anything on her own, but you also don’t want to jeopardize an important project just because you were too afraid to ask your boss to clarify something. In the end, your boss will just end up being more annoyed that they had to spend the time cleaning up your mess. Trust me: they’ll appreciate the fact that you care enough about your job to come to them with questions.

It’s seriously worth it to join a professional organization.

career advice

If you’ve considered joining a professional organization, you’re not alone: 92 percent of young professionals believe that today’s professional groups provide great opportunities to network.

Professional groups offer plenty of perks. I joined the Public Relations Society of America and The Advertising Club of Buffalo and in my first year alone, I was able to attend a variety of events, such as skill-building labs, happy hours, exclusive webinars, award nights, professional panels and networking mixers.

And it’s not enough to just show up. I chose to join the student chapter liaison committee for PRSA–a group that works to increase communication between the student and professional chapters. I thought this would be a perfect fit for me, since it wasn’t too long ago that I was in the student chapter myself. Not only have I been able to work one-on-one with some key professionals in the area, but I’ve been given the opportunity to have full control over new initiatives–an opportunity most entry-level employees don’t receive in their office.

I have to admit, though, that I’m pretty lucky. Quinlan is all about supporting my professional development by funding my dues. If your company doesn’t already have a policy in place, put together a well-researched pitch asking for its support. In the best case scenario, your organization will front the bill. If not, at least you’ll show your coworkers that you’re serious about you fueling your career.

Your lack of experience shouldn’t stop you from being a leader.

career advice

Yes, you may be the youngest person on your team (or, if you’re like me, in the entire office), but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until you’re in a senior position to take on a leadership role. The trick, though, is finding a clever way to do it.

Employers want candidates who can lead in the workplace and motivate coworkers,” Nicole Cavazos of ZipRecruiter writes. “If you want to be taken seriously, you should be able to provide numerous examples of your leadership skills. This can include instances when you’ve taken the initiative in teams or spearheaded a project.”

Showcasing your leadership is all about showing initiative. While you’re there to master your specific role, don’t confine your contributions to the company to the responsibilities outlined in your job description.

After my six month review, I mentioned to my boss that I wanted to help find an intern for our department. I successfully managed the outreach and interview process, and ending up finding a candidate that was a great fit. Then, by my annual review, I was given the responsibility of coordinating the internship program for the entire agency. Not only does this allow me to collaborate with people outside my department, but I’m able to attend career fairs and meet recruiters in the WNY area.

You’re the only one in control of your future.

career advice

While it surely helps to have supportive managers and kind coworkers (shout-out to my Quinlan peeps), your success is determined by what you bring to the office each and every day.

Your professor may have made it their personal goal to help you succeed, but understand that it’s not your organization’s job to move your career along. It’s your responsibility to make a mark on your company and develop skills along the way.

To stand out: volunteer to help fellow employees, always keep a positive attitude and take advantage of any professional development opportunities within or outside your office. It also really helps to earn a credible certification (I opted for Hubspot’s Inbound and Hootsuite’s Social Media Marketing). Most programs offer short training sessions, which will help you dive a little deeper into the latest techniques that can help take your work and personal development to the next level.

Need a little more entry-level career advice?

I’d love to chat! Tweet me at @grace_gerass or @QuinlanCompany.

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