Landing your first “real,” post-college job as a 20-something can be exciting and scary.
You finally get the chance to prove yourself, but there’s more room than ever to mess up.
Lauren Berger, founder and CEO of InternQueen.com, knows the latter well. Despite feeling prepared with 15 internships under her belt, Berger says she struggled through her first job, getting behind on email and forgetting important tasks.
But she learned from her mistakes, and went on to start her own company.
In her new book, “Welcome To The Real World,” Berger chronicles this experience along with everything she learned about making the most of a job and turning what you love into a career.
Here are 15 ways 20-somethings can stand out:
First and foremost, have confidence in yourself. “Your confidence can make or break you,” Berger says. It’s impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile if you’re not willing to put yourself out there. Berger credits her strong sense of confidence to years of trying, failing, and trying again. By putting herself on the line time after time, she was able to watch potential failures turn into successes.
Get used to being uncomfortable.
Once you decide what you want to do, go for it — even if it’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there at first. If you can train yourself be ok with feeling uncomfortable, you’ll open yourself up new opportunities everywhere. “When I feel myself tensing up or getting scared or insecure about any situation I try to push myself to do it anyway, because I know forcing yourself outside your comfort zone forces you to mature and grow,” Berger says.
Accept rejection — and move on.
When you’re still learning the ropes, rejection will become a common occurrence. Get used to it. Your ideas, pitches, and attempts to impress your boss will all be rejected at one time or another, Berger says. However, it’s important to accept these moments, realise that no one gets it right every time, and learn from the experiences. Berger suggests focusing on your successes instead, which will motivate you to push forward.
If you hate your job, or your boss, or you’re simply bored at work, do something about it. “If there is a problem, spend your time figuring out how to fix it,” Berger says. “Don’t settle for an ok job — go after your dream job.” It’s impossible to get the most out of anything, especially your career, if you wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. “They won’t,” she says. You need to push yourself and make things happen on your own time.
Don’t take things personally.
Don’t take criticism at work personally — no matter how difficult that seems. “People make decisions for all kinds of reasons and usually it’s chalked up to business as usual and it has nothing to do with you,” Berger says. If your boss points out weaknesses during a performance review, take her comments as goals to work toward, not jabs at your personality. It’s her job to evaluate how you perform as an employee, not how much she likes you. “Remember the difference.”
Create a system that works.
If you enter a job that already has systems in place, for anything from sorting the mail to arranging meetings with clients, find a way to improve them. Sticking to the previous system might mean sticking to a flawed approach, so don’t be afraid to tweak things and find what works for you. “You’ll be much more effective if you organise things in a way that’s easiest for you,” Berger advises. Additionally, taking initiative will likely impress your boss.
Pay attention to email etiquette.
Email has become an inextricable part of every industry, so whenever you send an email it should reflect your highest level of professionalism, Berger says. It’s important to be aware of the tone you’re giving off, as you don’t want to sound ungrateful or annoyed.
Berger suggests keeping emails concise but still friendly, double checking that the recipients are correct, and always including a signature.
Don’t say “I don’t know.”
Berger points out a hard truth of the working world: No one will hold your hand if you proclaim “I can’t” or “I don’t know how.” Instead, it’s important to learn how to figure things out yourself. “If you don’t figure out solutions, your boss will be disappointed with your lack of initiative,” she says. When a tough situation arises, be resourceful; don’t give up and hand the problem back to your boss.
Keep your desk neat, update your calendar regularly, and stay on top of your inbox at all times. If you’re diligent about being organised, nothing will slip through the cracks and you’ll prove that you can handle more responsibilities. “There is no worse mistake than when an important task is delegated and then is forgotten about or pushed too far down on the list of priorities,” Berger says.
Make deadlines — and stick to them.
Deadlines mean everything in the working world, and missing one not only affects you, but your boss, the client, and anyone else involved on the project, as well. Always give yourself extra time when determining a deadline, and hold yourself to that date.
If a deadline isn’t assigned, set one for yourself, and don’t be shy about asking your boss for a timeline, Berger suggests. It’s always better to check in with your boss than to automatically assume you’re on the same page.
Find a mentor.
A great mentor can help you navigate your new workplace, solve problems at the office, and advance in your career. Look for someone who you’re comfortable talking to and asking for support. Seek out someone who’s been there, and can offer valuable insight and assistance when you face tough situations in your job and career overall.
Once you’ve made a professional contact, you need to maintain the relationship or you’ll lose it. Berger follows a “three times per year” rule for staying in touch with industry contacts, and checks in with them in the fall, spring, and summer. “When you reach out to employers, you just want to drop them a short paragraph telling them how you are doing,” she says. “Don’t ask for anything unless you need to.” You want to form genuine relationships; not use people to get ahead.
The classic adage, “dress for the job you want,” still holds true. “Every day, when you get dressed for work, you are representing the person you want to be in the workplace,” Berger says. To get your colleagues to take you seriously, always aim to look professional and polished. Even if your office embraces a laid-back dress code, it’s still important to mind how you look. That means no leggings, flip-flops, or ripped jeans. Ever.
Don’t act entitled.
Now that you’ve landed the job, it’s time to prove yourself. Never expect things to be handed to you or think that an assignment is beneath you. Instead, learn to be humble and work your way up. “When you are an entry-level employee, no task should be too small,” Berger advises. “You should volunteer and eagerly do the work no one else wants to do in hope that people will recognise your genuine spirit.”
Your first job probably isn’t going to be your “forever job,” but it’s easy to get swept up in the work and end up staying put for longer than you want, Berger warns. To combat this complacency, continually make and update your goals and priorities so that you’re always pushing yourself forward. Your goals can be anything from getting promoted to developing a better understanding of the industry.
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