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Your Professional Debut: How to Get the Most Out of Your First Job

By Laura Sweeney

It's impossible to know what to expect from your first job. Here is some perspective on your professional debut, as well as some advice for getting the most from your first job.

You're in the unique position of being justifiably inexperienced--take advantage of it.

Your first job out of school is uncharted territory. It's impossible to know what to expect. No internship, career counselor, or summer job can fully prepare you for your first step into the working world.

That said, we'd like to give you our take on what to expect from your first job -"we" being the twenty-something members of Experience who have had first jobs in the recent past. Some of us enjoyed our first jobs, others suffered through them, but we all gained some perspective that might ease your anxieties as you make your professional debut.

Let us be the first to tell you that (chances are) your first job will not be your dream job. It is impossible as a recent graduate to know exactly what your professional interests are, or to have all the right qualifications and contacts necessary to land much more than an entry-level position.

But that's okay; it's to be expected. Your first job is your orientation to the working world. Use it to get your bearings, to begin developing professional interests and career goals, and to make contacts. At the moment, you probably have similar qualifications as many other job seekers. Take this time to decide how you are going to differentiate yourself from your peers.

Be a sponge
You're in the unique position of being justifiably inexperienced - take advantage of it. No one expects you to know exactly what you're doing, but they do expect you to learn, and most people are willing to help an eager young person. Ask lots (and lots) of questions. Identify the achievers in your office and interview them about their job and work habits. Ask if you could observe them working.

Expose yourself
Your first job is an opportunity to explore. Learn as much as you can about as much as you can; it's best not to focus too narrowly on one subject this early in your career. Make a point to become aware of what other staff members do, read trade publications to familiarize yourself with the industry, and ask people about their career experience and plans. The more options you are aware of, the better decisions you can make as you move forward in your career.

Develop relationships
Making professional contacts is the biggest favor you can do for yourself now and throughout your career. Develop relationships with colleagues who are familiar with the quality of your work. When it comes time to leave, these professional references and recommendations can help you find your next position.

Be ready and willing
Don't forget that you're "the new guy." You have to be willing to do what is asked of you. But more importantly, you have to do it well if you plan on getting ahead. Your coworkers probably have similar qualifications on paper, so your willingness to work and learn is what will set you apart in the office. If you consistently achieve beyond what is expected of you, you won't be viewed as the new guy for long.

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