If you blink, you’ll miss it.
That describes the past one year, 52 weeks or 365 days I spent working at a fast-paced advertising agency just a week out of graduating college.
At several (many) points of this year, I’m sure that I epitomized a fresh college graduate. My 401K confusion and first tax season were sure giveaways. But through it all, I came away with lessons, success stories, mentors and friends that I will remember at every chapter of my career.
Find your gold star
My first lesson came in the form of a reality check. There are no grades, no report cards and no syllabi at your first job. Any marks of “success” that the past 17 years of school taught us to strive for are very absent from the professional world.
My first response? Check all the drawers at work for gold stars that they may be hiding away.
In reality, it is a significant shift to leave an academic world that provides structure and clear measurements of success for the professional world that leaves only you in charge of your progress.
Over time, I found ways to measure my achievements by the success of my client work. Increasing the profitability of an account, meeting deadlines, executing high-performance campaigns all became my little gold stars.
While having internships are generally a precursor to landing a good gig, they barely scratch the surface of what your first job is like.
One of the biggest shifts I had to make as a new professional was understanding that I am entirely responsible for my work. Supervisors don’t exist to swoop in and fix mistakes or remind you of tasks.
You are the only one who can effectively manage your deadlines and progress– so own it!
As an account coordinator, I not only manage my own deadlines but manage projects across teams. With that comes the expectation to take ownership not just of myself, but of others and their progress.
Taking ownership doesn’t mean that you take the credit or that you “own” the project. It means that you dedicate your time to keeping the ball rolling on the big and small tasks.
Dive into the culture
I happened to luck out. My first job was at an advertising agency that bursts at the seams with funny coworkers, engaging clients, office dogs (you heard me– pups!) and all-around kickass culture.
Even though I barely knew my coworkers or my clients at first, I tried my best to participate in office life and show my true personality. It was simple things that helped me connect– like saying good morning, asking others about their life outside work, or just getting in on a joke.
Now that I’ve been here a year, I can tell you that being genuine and diving into office culture has brought me laughter every day at the office. It’s also taught me that treating others with warmth and respect will always serve you well.
Don’t fear mistakes
It’s hard to accept your mistakes– whether they’re mishaps on a project or misjudging a job entirely. But no matter what mistakes you make, it’s important to take them as learning opportunities.
Ask questions and consult your mentors when you get confused. No one will fault you for earnestly trying to learn, better yourself and contribute to the company overall.
In the end, first jobs can be a toss up. It’s hard to know from interviews or from stalking the company’s Glassdoor if you’ll be a fit. But one thing is guaranteed: you’ll learn more in your first year than you ever thought you could.