Ask Matt: What can I learn from my first job out of college?

  • Article by: MATT KRUMRIE
  • Updated: February 24, 2014 - 9:40 AM

Dear Matt: I graduated from college a year ago but am struggling to find work in my field. I have a job, but I consider it a starter position — something to pay the bills. Will my next employer take this role seriously, and what should I focus on learning in this job?

Matt says: If you take this job seriously, your next employer will take it seriously too because you will have learned transferable skills and gained experiences that will help you grow in your career, no matter what field.

“There’s no such thing as a worthless job,” says Vicky Oliver (www.vickyoliver.com / vickyoliverblog.com), a job interview consultant and the author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions”.

Oliver knows the type: BA in Marketing and Communications, but the only job you could find was as assistant manager in a retail clothing store at the mall. Is this your dream job? Absolutely not, and you let your co-workers (but not your supervisor) know how you feel.

“The classic mistake here is doing exactly what you’re asked to do but nothing more, with little curiosity or intellectual investment,” says Oliver. Don’t overlook opportunity. Learn about the company’s marketing and advertising. Step outside your comfort zone and ask about floor design, customer satisfaction metrics, or employee retention.

“Show your supervisor that you’re interested in the business and see what kinds of challenging tasks or interesting industry information pop up,” says Oliver. You have an opportunity to learn what it’s like to be the new person on the team — the one that doesn’t know anything yet and feels a wee bit intimidated. “And that’s when you realize the stuff you learned in college doesn’t help much with the tasks your manager expects you to perform,” says Oliver. So you suffer in silence. You feel shy. You don’t speak up in meetings. And you try to figure things out on your own. No one expects you to know everything and this is where you can show that you are curious and want to learn.

“Your boss and co-workers are waiting for you to ask questions,” says Oliver.

Learn how to be a good co-worker, how to fit in with the culture and how to succeed in a team environment. Be professional at all times by following Oliver’s four C’s of etiquette — courtesy, consideration, camaraderie and class. Learn what it’s like to follow a work schedule and manage your personal life. Don’t get trapped in office politics and don’t pretend your co-workers are your party buddies. “You don’t live in a dorm anymore, and the workplace isn’t an extension of your social network,” says Oliver. “Be sure to keep your voice low and your cellphone on vibrate. Do everything you can to assist co-workers. And be a model of good hygiene and classy dress.”

Look at your job as the start of your professional career, not a road to nowhere.

Contact Matt at jobslink@startribune.com.

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