The holidays are over, and so is your six month, self-imposed hiatus from the real world. It seems like just yesterday that you devoured the leftovers from those graduation barbeques and sanitized your senior year apartment for the next lucky inhabitant. But now, it's time to get down to business. Hopefully, by now, you have a job offer in hand and a business-appropriate wardrobe hanging patiently in your closet. You can't wait to decorate your cube a la Extreme Home Makeover and scale the corporate ladder faster than you can say "Vice President."
When you start that first job, enthusiasm is essential, but you want to be prepared too. It wasn't long ago that I graduated from Northwestern University and touched down on the alien planet known as Corporate America. I was so eager to strut my stuff as a PR account exec that I didn't realize the rules had changed. Unlike school, success in the business world wasn't about how much information I crammed into my brain, or how well I exceeded a set of defined expectations. I didn't understand the importance of marketing myself or knowing the right people, and after months of working my butt off with no results, I was ready to escape to law school.
I stuck it out, though, and after some tough lessons, finally figured out how to stay sane and move up. In an effort to help new employees avoid the agida I experienced, I published They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World and now I'm looking forward to writing this blog for the Huffington Post, which will cover everything from overcoming a lack of experience to coping with reverse age discrimination.
As for surviving that first job, here are some tips I picked up along the way:
* Play the role of the mature professional: Think of yourself as a publicist with the task of promoting you. Capitalize on the skills you bring to the table, be confident, and subtly assert your achievements without bragging.
* Establish profitable relationships: Networking with colleagues in and outside your department is a valuable way to gain information, increase your visibility, and make connections that will help you move forward.
* Be a humble, can-do employee: Show that you can learn from any assignment, no matter how unglamorous. Don't have a sense of entitlement. As the newbie, it's your responsibility to fit in and figure out how you can best contribute.
* Master skills that will take you anywhere: You might not know exactly what you want to do with your life, but transferable skills like goal setting, effective communication and time management will serve you well no matter what future path you pursue.
* Be proactive about your career growth: Don't just wait for your review to happen. Approach it strategically by soliciting feedback on your progress and hammering out a long-term promotion plan.
I'm going to do these posts once a month, and I'd love to hear from you! Send me your thoughts, your feedback, your sticky situations, and your unique ways of troubleshooting workplace issues that other employees in the trenches will find useful. Life as a corporate freshman isn't easy, but if you approach your journey in the right way, you'll be speaking their language in no time.