10 Career Lessons I Learned Since College

I started my first job since college in July 2021. It has been 22 months since. I feel very very very lucky to be able to have landed a pretty great job opportunity straight out of college, as I had gotten the job offer in April 2021 a few weeks before my Senior year of college finals. And, since that day in April 2021 when I got my job offer, I have learned SO MUCH in my own career. There is so much wisdom to be shared and gained on my part. I have learned and grown so so so much ever since I first entered the workforce in July 2021.

The job search is intimidating but so is starting your first job out of college and career. It’s really challenging as there is no set handbook or one size fits all to starting out in the real world. All of us come from different walks of life, whether it be educational backgrounds, types of colleges/universities, years in school, or home lives that may have changed or not. I know while I may have had the “traditional” sorority-like college experience, many of my coworkers and friends and peers around me did not. Each of us and our own experiences have shaped us into who we are and how we will tackle our own careers. We’re all unique and so are our careers. Nowadays, the job market leaves many of us hopping from job to job. Fortunately, I have been at an amazing company where I essentially hopped from job to job within my company with the exact same benefits and a salary that has increased quite a bit over time. I feel extremely lucky to be working at an incredible company where the retention rate is higher than most. Yet, I still faced my own challenges and learned a ton within my own career – all of which has shaped me into the extraordinary woman that I am today.

Today, I am going to share 10 things that I have learned in the whopping 22 months since I have started my own career. Career paths nowadays aren’t linear and we can try out different things and still end up with incredible experiences and memories under our belt. We learn so much and grow from the things that we accomplish and may fail at career-wise. In the end, everyone’s career path and experience is uniquely theirs.

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10 Things I Learned Since Starting My Career

1 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, in college and school in general, it feels like asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, in life, we cannot do things on our own and we all need help from time to time. I used to be SO afraid to ask for help when I was in college and in the workforce at first. When I asked for help in college in the classroom, one of my classmates aka THAT classmate who made themselves known as a know it all always answered others’ questions which made me fearful to ask questions. This classmate of mine always wanted to beat the professor teaching us to answer everyone’s questions, which made me wanting to ask for help more fearful as I did not want this classmate’s prideful help but rather my professor’s help. Those experiences of mine from the college classroom made me fearful to professionally ask for help. Yet, we aren’t supposed to inherently know how to do everything on our own, so that’s where the breath of knowledge from our colleagues comes into play. And, indeed, asking for help is a sign of strength NOT weakness. Always ask for help and don’t be afraid to do so.

2 – Continuously be active and engage with others on LinkedIn. Yes, LinkedIn can feel irritating and perhaps like a chore from time to time. I used to say that I hate LinkedIn, but it DOES have its advantages. LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool and a GREAT way that I have found connections and events that are professionally related. It is important when using LinkedIn to use it wisely — including following relevant professional associations and societies, charities, your company/company(s) of interest whether industry-wise or applying to, and those you work with and have worked with. Never be afraid to send a LinkedIn invitation to someone else. The worst that they can say is no. At the same time, I have found professional development webinars, programs, associations, and connections through *none other than* LinkedIn. Be active on LinkedIn and reach out to others, engage with others’ posts, and post if you are comfortable doing so. Creating your own LinkedIn profile is key.

3 – Attend networking events with your company and in your city. Networking events are a powerful way to make connections both at your company and beyond. Many companies offer happy hours for people to network with others within their company. Having a network both within your company and beyond is a very powerful thing. While it may feel daunting to attend those in-person happy hours and networking events, they are SO valuable to your career as overtime you will feel less uncomfortable and awkward when you do. Attending those networking events will pay off, too. Networking is a powerful thing – the more people you know, the more opportunities that will be opened for you. I got my first and current job out of college through networking with others on LinkedIn and personal connections via informational interviews. At the same time, I met two of my best friends – Briana and Brittany – through attending a Holiday Happy Hour in December 2021 which I *almost* didn’t attend out of none other than nerves. Needless to say, building a network in your career is such a powerful tool that helps us develop our soft, communication skills when it comes to elevator pitches, establishing connections, and even assertive communication. When in doubt, just go for it as you never know who you may meet!

4 – Register for webinars pertaining to your career interests (time-permitting). Webinars are a powerful way to learn different skills, concepts, and strategies pertaining to professional development. Many webinars are during the 12-1pm hour (at least on standard Eastern time where I am), which makes them an easy thing to attend during a lunch break (lunch and learn anyone?!) and are FREE to register for. And, LOTS of webinars are recorded, too, with recordings sent out to all who register, so if something pops up, you can still watch on your own time. I recently attended a webinar on burnout and how to identify it and take care of ourselves when it happens. I feel extremely fortunate to work for an amazing organization that supports their employee’s well-being including taking care of themselves when they burnout and for allowing me to attend this incredible webinar. Burnout can affect employees’ work ethic and performance, so knowing how to identify it is an important professional skill to have. I really needed and enjoyed the webinar on burnout, too. I also recently attended a webinar on leadership pertaining to women in data which was really powerful and I learned a lot about ethical leadership especially as data can be construed in SO many different ways. Now, where do I find these webinars?! Company-hosted events, LinkedIn, and professional societies!

5 – Set limits to ensure you have a work-life balance. More and more nowadays, companies are striving to emphasize the importance of a work-life balance. Working around the clock and nonstop truly does affect both our physical and mental health. In recent times, I have set limits in my professional life to balance out my personal life. One example of how I set limits is by setting aside an hour each day for a lunch break. That hour may *just* involve a webinar (see above!!) but it also may be me simply petting my dog and visiting with my neighbors. Another way I do this is by trying to work less in the evenings and more during the 9-5 time frame. Another GREAT way to set limits at work, which I do as well, is by using my personal leave and NOT being afraid and feeling bad to use it. There is NO SHAME in using your personal leave and many Americans don’t use theirs for similar reasons. On the same token, it is important not to over-use personal leave beyond limits set forth by your company. It can also help us strengthen our assertive communication skills to set forth limits within our work and personal lives. Work-life balances look different for everybody and it takes time to find out what is right for you.

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Conference briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC

6 – Don’t be afraid to reach out to others who you admire professionally. It can be SOOO scary to reach out to others, especially when it can feel intimidating to do so as we all seem to have crazy busy lives. Asking others for advice and words of wisdom or even for help is actually super flattering and a compliment to someone else. My manager asked me how I just go after things and ask people for help seemingly without fear. And, well, I do sometimes feel nervous when I reach out to others. That is the truth. But, sometimes just doing it is much much much better than wondering “what if?”. And, at the end of the day, the worst thing somebody can do is say “no”. And, guess what?! That is OKAY. You did your part and that is ALL that matters at the end of the day. The more you reach out, the better you will be and feel with it all no matter how nerve-wracking it may feel each time. Who knows?! You will have likely expanded your network for the better!

7 – Be open to trying something new. There have been quite a few times in my career where I have had the opportunity to try something new. It may be intimidating at first to try something new career-wise, but in the end, the more skills you have the better! I have tried learning Python, BitBucket, GitHub, Tableau, Visual Basic Code Applications, and PowerBI softwares in my career. Some of these softwares I am better at than others. Some of those things I have learned that I am, well, not the best at which is 10000% OKAY. At least I tried. There are many many many experiences that I have had that I am glad I simply tried, whether with a good or not-so good outcome. But the best part?! We ALWAYS learn something when we try something new and what we learn will always be valuable to us and our career in the long run.

8 – Your first role is NOT your last role. The first role that you have will NOT be your last. You may not be as excited about the first role that you have at your first job either. A lot of people don’t enjoy the first role of theirs either. However, we will learn a lot from that first role in our career that will carry onto our future roles in our career. At the same time, it is super important to pay our own dues. No one ends up at the top of their career straight of out college or as a summer intern while in college but much longer. It’s just like being a Freshmen in college versus a Senior in college: it simply takes time to climb the ladder. It is OKAY. Careers simply take TIME and lots of HARD WORK to progress. It’s all normal and apart of being in a career. Just take the time to learn and grow in every role and see what you can carry from one career experience to the next.

9 – Always be proactive. It is SO important to be proactive in your career, especially when communicating your needs and what you have accomplished. One time, I had a former manager of mine tell me that there was an issue in my work compared to what she had anticipated. In that moment, I knew that she was only focused on a certain population as opposed to the population that was laid out for me to look at. I immediately sent her an email to explain the difference in my work and what she had initially expected compared to what she had expected in her email later on when I submitted and that the expectations may have not been made clear on her end. I was SO nervous to send that email, as I knew that my manager could’ve been upset, but, at the same time, I knew that it had to be done and was proud of myself for being assertive and speaking up. Fortunately, my manager agreed that she had made a mistake and one of my teammates who is older than me send he was proud of me for how well-written my email to this manager of mine was that he had also seen. I still to this very day feel very proud of myself for being proactive and speaking up for something that I knew needed to be addressed to not have confusion or mistakes when there weren’t any. This scenario is one of many where I have been proactive in my career. Being proactive can be nerve-wracking at times, but it is very important in being successful.

10 – Don’t compare yourself and your career to someone else’s. Self-comparison is toxic. There. I said it. Somebody else’s career markers are NOT your own either. We all have different career paths and aspirations. The other week, I was networking with a coworker of mine who happens to be a Program Manager. Program Management is definitely something that I am interested in over time. And, this coworker of mine has plenty of knowledge in the realm of Program Management. One of the most important things she said to me was that many of us have to wait for the right fit or opportunity, given our own experiences and backgrounds and goals career-wise, and that is OKAY. This piece of advice sat very well with me and is so so so vital to being successful. Sometimes, we simply have to wait and wait even longer than we have aspired to. It’s OKAY. Whatever is meant to be will be in life and especially in our careers.

Above all else, remember to do what feels right for YOU in your career. Adults spend a lot of their adult life working. SO, why not make our careers fun and empowering for ourselves?!

XOXO – Katie <3

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