How to Turn Your First Job Into a Career

When I started my first job as an event planner and marketing specialist for a nonprofit, I sat at my desk for the first three months minding my own business, not bothering to learn more about my company or the people I worked with. Some coworkers didn’t even know my name after I had worked there for six months! After that, I realized I needed to become part of the company to make the most of my experience there.

I’ve been at my job for almost two years now, and I’ve gone from handling minor day-to-day tasks at my internships to managing long-term projects and juggling a lot of responsibilities. I’ve become a person that people inside and outside of the agency respect and turn to for information or assistance. And now, it’s more than just a job to me. It’s the start of my marketing career.

Here are five steps everyone should take at their first job:

1. Find someone who you respect, and learn from them.

Having a mentor is so important for anyone who is just starting out. Mentors have typically been in your situation and have gone on to accomplish great things. They can help guide you through your first career moves and help you unlock your full potential.

My mentor is the chair of our public relations committee, and we talk on a weekly basis about how to establish better relationships with donors and plan the best possible events. She’s also guided me through the day-to-day activities office life, and has given me advice on how to further my career. She’s a professional in the field, widely respected, and an overall good person. Find someone who has established a career that you want to emulate, whether it’s someone you have known for a while, met through work, or met at a networking event. Now, you can even use the internet to find inspiring mentors by following their websites, reading articles they’ve written, and connecting with them on social media.

2. Invest in the company

For months, I wasn’t able to explain all the work that my nonprofit does. Soon after I couldn’t answer a question a donor had about our company, I realized nobody was going to hand me the information I needed. It was my job to stay informed. I started learning as much as possible about my job, reading as much as I could about the company in our database and asking longtime employees questions about the company’s history.

That has made me better able to do my job as the marketing specialist. Now, I can more effectively inform donors and potential sponsors about what their gifts will support, and contribute thoughtfully in meetings. I’ve branched out from marketing and helped colleagues in other departments, showing that I’m a team player who really cares about the organization. By learning as much as possible about where you work and taking advantage of opportunities to grow, you’ll make yourself an invaluable asset.

3. Don’t complain about your work

Everyone deals with stress, but it can seem amplified in the office. It’s important to show that you’re capable of handling your work without cracking under pressure. Don’t get me wrong–stress is going to happen. The week before any of our events I’m a mess on the inside, but I always smile and tell people I’m fine.

I used to stress about everything, causing people to think I couldn’t handle my job. I’d lay awake at night, worrying about the next workday until I realized that the more I stressed, the more miserable I would be, and the worse my job performance would be. By keeping a positive attitude and not complaining, you’re proving to your superiors that you are capable of handling responsibility and can stay cool under pressure. This will also improve your relationships with your coworkers by not spreading negativity. Now, my boss knows that she can rely on me to deliver on my responsibilities while keeping a smile on my face. Just remember, stressful times will pass, and the best thing to do when you feel overwhelmed is take a deep breath.

How long did you stay at your first job?

4. Speak up!

During my college internships and the first few months of my current job, I felt like I was at the bottom of the totem pole and that my opinion wouldn’t matter. I wasn’t the expert, so I should just keep my mouth shut. What I didn’t realize was that this made me look like I wasn’t thinking or didn’t care. Even though we’re new to the workforce, it’s important to speak up in meetings. My boss, who has been in the professional world for 20 years, enjoys hearing my perspective as a recent grad and digital native. Confidently sharing your opinion shows that you are thoughtful, engaged, and have a voice that is important to the company.

5. Don’t be afraid of failure

I can’t tell you how much time I wasted trying to make a decision about something, or how often I turned to my boss to make any and all judgment calls. I would stress about simple emails. Was my grammar correct? Did I miss anything? At some point, you have to learn that mistakes happen, and some sort of failure is necessary. Everyone makes mistakes, and the best thing you can do is make a decision, and if you realize later you made the wrong one, just own up to it and correct it. One time, I accidentally left a major sponsor off our flyer, causing them to feel unappreciated and disrespected. I quickly reached out to them with my sincerest apology and owned up to my mistake, earning both their respect and my boss’s. Now, I will never leave a sponsor off the flyer again. You will learn much more from failure than you will from success.


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