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It has been two years since I have graduated from graduate school. Having just transitioned to my second professional position in the education sector, I realize there were things I did in my first job that set me up for success and helped me thrive in a career I love. Here are four key takeaways on what you can do to make the most of your first job.

ASK FOR OPPORTUNITIES

As a new professional, you are building your experiences, and it is important to ask for opportunities. My philosophy is if the worst answer you can get is no, then always ask! Here are three examples of specific opportunities you can ask for as a new employee.

SERVE ON SEARCH COMMITTEES

If you like reading cover letters, resumes and interviewing, then ask your supervisor to serve on a search committee. This opportunity is beneficial for your personal and professional growth. Personally, serving on a search committee allows you to sit on the other side of the table and learn what to do and what not to do in future interviews. Professionally, serving on a search committee will allow you to provide your perspective on who the best candidate is for that specific position. The person who selects individuals to serve on search committees may not know that you have an interest in this area, so it never hurts to ask.

FOCUS ON PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Ask your supervisor if you can attend professional development opportunities. Research conferences and trainings that will help develop your skill set. When asking your supervisor if you can attend a specific professional development event (a conference or training), give reasons as to how and why this opportunity is worth the organization’s resources to send you.

PRACTICE SELF-CARE

Self-care days are important to your overall health (mental and physical). Showing you are dedicated to your job and organization is great. However, over working and not taking care of your health is not great. Learn what you need to do to unplug and relax. I’ve learned that when I don’t exercise, I can’t focus on my work, so I’ve started going to yoga, spin class, and running (well, more like jogging). Find what works for you! Another great thing I’ve learned is it helps to turn off email notifications on my phone. This simple action really helps me unplug. So, as a new professional, I encourage you to ask for self-care days. Go get a massage, spend the day watching Netflix, or take your dog to the park – something that helps you recharge for you to be the most productive employee possible.

MAKE A LIST OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS

As you take on new projects in your first position, it is important to keep a list of accomplishments, which you can refer to when interviewing for future positions. Keep a running list of various projects that you competed and include details of what you did, what challenges you faced, what went well and what you would do differently if given the chance to start over. These details will help you when interviewing for future positions. When practicing for your next job interview, you can refer to your list of accomplishments and already have answers to those popular but painful questions, such as "tell us about a challenging project" or "tell us about a time you had a conflict."

OWN YOUR MISTAKES

It can be difficult to say, ‘I’m sorry, I messed up.’ However, it is so important to admit when you make a mistake. Owning up to when you make a mistake will go a long way in the workplace. First, apologize that you made this mistake. Then, discuss a plan with your supervisor on how you will rectify the situation. Finally, what will do you do differently to prevent this mistake from happening again? As a new professional, we need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes – they happen. But we are also adults, and it's important that we own up to our mistakes when they do happen.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

You are new to this organization, you are learning the ropes, and you don’t know everything. It is critical to ask the most important question and ask it often.

"What can I do to help?"

If there is an annual event that your company is organizing and hosting, ask the coordinator of the event how you can help. There might be times that your more seasoned colleagues already know what their role is regarding this annual event, and they don’t have time to train you. If you don’t ask how you can help, you may not be told. Perception is everything in the workplace, and if you are not asking to help out, your colleagues may assume you are not interested in helping the organization to succeed. As a new professional, you are building your reputation (keep in mind it's a small world). My biggest piece of advice to new professionals is to just ask and be willing to help.

These are just a few tips for how to make the most of your first job. I would love to hear about your own experiences and encourage you to comment below with some of your tips for new professionals. By sharing insight and experiences, we can help one another succeed.

This post is written by The Niche Movement contributing editor Julie Cogley-Pifko and cross-posted from The Niche Movement, a community of young professionals helping you find the work you love. The Niche Movement is a collaborating partner with Punch-In.

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Comment by Katie Burger on August 30, 2018 at 7:31pm

Thanks for sharing! This is all such useful and realistic information to have... It's easy to get caught up in life or work and not focus on maintaining that balance, which for me is the most important piece. This has also given me the idea to revisit past accomplishments and start keeping track of ones to come! Thanks :)

Comment by Adrienne Kleinman on August 28, 2018 at 5:40am

Thank you for sharing this! All the information presented is really important to practice, but especially the bit about self-care. It's imperative that we make time for ourselves so we can recharge and be present for all of our commitments. There's no shame in taking care of YOU! 

Comment by Sammy Abeje on August 21, 2018 at 6:37pm

Thanks for the fantastic information!  It is so challenging to maintain a positive work-life balance.  Especially with all the events, we all seem to have!  I really like the piece about discussing being on a search committee at work.

Comment by Erika J. Kluge on August 21, 2018 at 9:40am

Great advice on all accounts! Keeping track of accomplishments is important. As the years go by, one can forget if  one moves to a different team or project. I give the same advice to students in K-12 and college- keep track of projects you are proud of, events you helped at, groups you were involved in- time will go quickly and when you need to write them down for an application (or on a resume) it is helpful to have that detailed list. Thank you for sharing this!

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