How I Survived My First Year in the Workforce

Bethany stands with four other young women at an office.

Bethany, center, on the job

July 03, 2014

If it weren’t for a LinkedIn reminder (and a congratulatory e-mail from my mother), I likely would have bypassed my one-year work anniversary without any thought. But thanks to these milestone markers, I began thinking about my first year as a young professional and the lessons I have learned. Here are five of my tips for women who are new on the job, whether you’re fresh out of college or just heading back to the workforce.

  1. Network — it works.
  2. I will be the first to admit that networking can be a challenge. With research indicating that women experience backlash for self-promotion, it’s no wonder that the idea of interacting with strangers and trying to sell yourself can be intimidating. Yet, despite the risks, the rewards can be great. According to a study summarized in the Harvard Business Review, women who actively network are more likely to get ahead and be satisfied with their careers.

    I can attest to the benefits of putting yourself out there. If it weren’t for e-mailing an alumna of my university about a job opening at her nonprofit, I would not be in my current role. Nowadays I try to earn and exchange at least one business card at every event I attend, work-related or not. You never know where that card from last night’s reception will lead you in the future.

  1. Set priorities.
  2. There are some days when my office to-do list seems impossible to finish. Whereas during college I could pull an all-nighter to get things done and still manage a few hours of sleep during the day, the real world functions on a 9-to-5 schedule. Although college professors might not have looked twice at your 2 a.m. e-mail, your colleagues and boss may not be so forgiving.

    I learned quickly that setting priorities for my day led to getting more done. On days when I need to order catering or send an all-staff email, I set a reminder on my calendar. I also keep a handwritten journal of daily and long-term projects so I have a written record of what needs to be done. Even if I lose or delete an e-mail about a specific task, I have a backup list.

  1. Expect the unexpected.
  2. It’s a cliché for a reason. In the real world, rarely does your day go as planned. When things pop up and disrupt my planned schedule (which usually happens four days a week), I adapt and learn to reassess my priorities based on the new deadlines. For example, when my boss was asked to submit congressional testimony, I spent the better part of a day rearranging his schedule so he had time to prepare his remarks. Despite a report waiting on my desk to be copyedited, the scheduling aspect of my job took precedence.

  1. Build (and balance) office relationships.
  2. Considering the amount of time we spend at work, fostering positive relationships in the office is critical. Having someone to eat lunch with or go to for help on a project can make even the most hectic day less difficult.

    Balance is equally important in office relationships. Even when you make friends with co-workers, there are still workplace expectations and boundaries to keep in mind. Learning what stays in the office and what can be discussed at happy hour is especially important during those first months in the professional world.

  1. Measure your progress.
  2. After your first year working a job, ask your supervisor for an evaluation. Prepare for the meeting by doing a self-assessment: Where have you been successful? What are your weaknesses? What goals do you have for the future? Feedback can help you figure out your next steps for the short and long term. Additionally, a yearly review is an ideal time to negotiate your salary based on your experience and responsibilities.

Do you have advice for women entering or returning to the workforce? Share it in the comment section.

This post was written by Bethany Imondi, a former AAUW Student Advisory Council member and AAUW intern.


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