Every new job brings a variety of surprises and lessons to learn. Even if you're working in a similar role but at a different company, there will be a learning curve that comes with the move. For young professionals entering the workforce for the first time, that learning curve is much, much steeper.
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Adapting to the business world is not only challenging, but also necessary to be successful after graduation. This article is for you, young professionals. In your first year in the business world, you will learn a lot more than merely what your job title says you do. Although you can never fully prepare yourself for these situations, here are five hard lessons you will learn at your first job, along with explanations on how to deal with them:
1. Accept Criticism With Grace
This lesson is particularly difficult because a lot of people can become defensive when faced with criticism, especially young professionals who are trying to make their way in a new career or company. If you aren't willing to accept criticism gracefully, you can really get off on a wrong foot.
Instead of getting upset, take the criticism. Before responding, repeat it to yourself internally. Recognize that the feedback is related to your work, not to your character. No employer wants to bring someone on only to let them fail. At the end of the day, your goal should align with the company's vision. The only way to find out if you might be running in the wrong direction is through feedback – both positive and negative.
2. Own Both Your Failures and Your Successes
You don't want to be a braggart, but if you have done something noteworthy and you think your boss isn't aware of it, mention it. For example, if you discovered an error that was going to cause problems and you resolved it, give them a heads up. This lets your boss know that you add value to the company.
The flip side to this is that you should also own up to your mistakes. You don't want your boss to find out that you did something wrong, knew about, and tried to hide it. It's easier to fix a problem as soon as it happens than it is to fix it after it's been allowed to fester.
3. Know How and When to Ask for Directions
Your first job out of college will be a very different experience from your time in school. There's no outline that lists all your duties, deadlines, grades, or how you'll be scored.
The upside to this is that there's more leeway to make your own path in the post-graduate world. If you don't understand the nuts and bolts of a project but understand the overall concept, you can take it and make it your own. Most employers aren't going to require you to execute the project in the exact same ways as everyone does else as long as you reach your project's goals. Don't knock on your boss's door for every answer that could easily be found on Google.
On the other hand, if you feel like you're floundering and have lost sight of the end goal, it's a good idea to ask for help.
4. Adapt to Your Company's Culture
Forget what you've seen in movies or TV shows that depict life in an office; the real thing is almost always very different. Every company has a unique culture made up of both what's in the employee handbook and the unwritten rules people learn from their peers. The company may have an explicit dress code or specific hours when everyone has to be at work, but you will really learn about the workplace and what others expect of you by stepping back and observing everyone else.
On the same note, don't assume that if the dress code says "casual dress is fine" you can stumble into the office wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. Even if you're not technically breaking the rules, you'll stand out if your entire team wears slacks and a polo every day.
5. Know Where to Draw the Line Between Your Work Life and Personal Life
I've seen many young professionals give way too much of themselves personally at work. You can be friends with your coworkers, but your office is not your fraternity or sorority house. It's not the place to bring your breakup drama or your drinking stories from the previous weekend.
You also need to know when to disconnect from work. So many of us live in an environment where we're always connected. If you find yourself constantly checking emails when you're not in the office, step back and assess if this is your company's culture and expectation or if this is your habit of always having your phone in hand.
In my experience, the hard lessons mentioned above are by far the most common challenges that I've seen young professionals face. Take note of each, and you'll be well on your way to a successful professional career!
Meghann Isgan is an HR consultant working at One Click.