Just about one year ago, I was offered my first full-time position after graduating from college. I’d spent six months as an intern, and even it felt great to have a real job complete with business cards for the first time. Yet despite what I thought at the time, I didn’t quite have it all figured out. Here are the four biggest mistakes I made in my first year as part of the real working world – and tips for how you can avoid them:
1. I accepted a job that was wrong for me.
When you’ve been an intern for a while, are living in your childhood bedroom, and make less than you did at your high school job, it can be really easy to get desperate. That’s why I accepted a job as a software salesperson even though it was far outside of my skill set and passion. I had majored in English and was far more passionate about writing and communication than product quotas. The decision wasn’t entirely a mistake: I learned about a new industry and gained experience that helped me get a job that does fit with what I’m good at six months later. But it was a pretty miserable six months of knowing I wasn’t where I could excel. If you feel yourself getting desperate, either make sure you know what you’re getting into and prepare for it, or wait for a job that’s really right.
2. I didn’t use my vacation time.
When I started in my first real job, I thought that I was proving myself by not taking even a sick day the entire six months I worked there. But in reality, I wasn’t taking good care of myself, and as a result I wasn’t doing as complete a job as I could have. As long as you don’t take off a week every month, it’s not showing a lack of dedication to actually use your allotted vacation time. Even if it’s just taking a day off to lounge around the house, breaks are important. Take your vacation time. This goes for sick time too: You’re not helping your colleagues by getting them sick. Take a day when you need it – that’s what those days are for.
3. I didn’t communicate well with my managers.
Starting out, I’ll be honest: I was a little scared of my managers. They have the power to fire you at any moment. They have the experience and position to tell you if you’re doing a really awful job. I really admired and looked up to many of them. As a result of this intimidation, I didn’t always bring up problems or struggles with a project because I was trying to impress them. This is a mistake. Because of their experience, they probably have some ideas that can help you through those struggles. They might have shortcuts to share or proven methods you haven’t been taught yet. I’ve learned it’s much better to be open about problems rather than avoiding them.
4. I had unrealistic expectations.
In school, there’s a syllabus with a clear grid of what it will take for you to get an A. As long as you put in the time and do the work, you will do well. That’s not always true for a job: There’s no report card every four months for you to get A or an F, and there will often be factors involved in a project beyond your control. It’s very possible that something you poured hours of your life and passion into will still fail – or be cancelled without notice. It’s helpful to manage your own expectations about what’s possible, and to not be too hard on yourself when you haven’t conquered your field in just a year.
At least, that’s what I tell myself. I’ll let you know in a year if I was totally wrong about that, too. I try to take it as a positive that there is so much left still to learn.