5 Things I Learned at my First Job Out of College

First job

By Adam Swerdlow

Today marks month five at my first job out of college. Interestingly, the statistics show only a quarter of college grads work within their field of study. I majored in Psychology with a Minor in Business and landed an internship at a communications agency, Wye Communications.

I’ve learned a lot throughout my time with Wyecomm. I decided to pass along some of my insights picked up here to help new graduates who are looking for a glimpse into the working world before starting their first jobs, or perhaps, industry pros who want to look back and remember what it was like when they first started their professional journey. Regardless of which category of reader you fall into, I hope you can relate to some of this or can learn a thing or two from my experiences.

1. Get yourself on a schedule

This goes beyond your 9-5 job. The days of staying up until two in the morning on a Tuesday night playing Call of Duty with your “boys” are sadly behind you. Learning how to manage your time both in and out of the office is one of the first and most important skills you need to master to be successful at your job and in life.

Commuting to and from work, work itself, working out five days a week and finding time to eat, all while maintaining a social life, was quite the struggle my first few months out of college. I was getting less than five hours of sleep a night and justifying it to myself with the mantra “you’re fine, just drink more coffee.” After a few sluggish months, I realized I would have to prioritize my sleep to be productive in both the office and the gym. Deciding the absolute minimum amount of sleep I would get a night was six hours (which is frankly still not enough) was the best decision I made.

2. No matter how well you did in school, you have a lot more to learn

Don’t get me wrong, the value of a higher education is priceless, and I wouldn’t trade my years at the University of Kansas for anything, but I was not prepared for the daily nuances of office life upon graduating. I learned very quickly when starting my job that my education, whether I had my college diploma or not, was far from over.

Working in an office, and a start-up at that, I find I am learning something new every day. From corporate nuances, as small at starting an email with “Hi” and not “Hey” – thanks Adam – to the larger aspects of business, like building contacts and relationships, every day was a journey in learning how to become a professional businessman. Never underestimate the knowledge your coworkers can pass on to you, and listen carefully when they do bestow you with their wisdom.

3. Always ask for more.

“Always” may be a bit of a stretch – obviously don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on too many projects – but as a new employee still learning the ins and outs of your business or industry, strive to take on as many different projects as you can handle.

Often, when you start a job as an intern or fresh out of college, you get stuck with a lot of the grunt work – and yes, sometimes it sucks. You have to start somewhere and this is your chance to show your coworkers, supervisors and higher-ups that there is no task too small, and just how efficient you can be in the workplace. Doing the grunt work, and doing it well, will be your ticket to the more advanced tasks and projects.

Whenever you have spare time, ask what you can do to make someone else’s workload lighter. They will be grateful for it and you will expand your knowledge base and experience within your field of work. This is your chance to explore different areas and carve out your interests within the company.

4. Ask questions

Ask as many questions as you can. When you are just starting, it is better to get clarification on anything you are unsure of before you make a potentially catastrophic mistake (any mistake at this level probably won’t be “catastrophic” but I’m just trying to make a point).

This is something I often struggled with. I regularly found I was asking myself am I annoying him? Will she think I’m an idiot if I ask how to do that? Is this something I should already know? The answer to all those questions is no. Obviously try to figure things out on your own before asking someone for help, but there is no shame in asking questions when you’re not sure about something, so ask away! Also, sometimes asking smart questions can even make you look good.

5. Make friends

I could go on and on about the value of networking, but I won’t – you can find limitless articles on that topic with a quick Google search. When I say make friends, I mean make FRIENDS. Some of the best memories working at this job have been the genuine connections I’ve made with people in the office. I found myself the only person in their 20’s playing basketball on Thursday nights with the SVP of our company and his friends. I’ve had great conversations about people’s families and weddings, and even had some fun trying to reserve YEEZYs with coworkers (no luck). Networking is important, but don’t underestimate the value of genuinely enjoying the people you work with five days a week. 

Adam Swerdlow Website Headshot  Adam Swerdlow, Project Manager/Intern at Wye Communications. Adam graduated from The University of Kansas with a Major in Psychology and a Minor in Business. He has internship experience in Entertainment Marketing and Public Relations in New York and Chicago.

2 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned at my First Job Out of College

  1. Hi Adam! I am a senior studying public relations at Southeast Missouri State University. I enjoyed reading your post and found your tips to be very insightful. I just have a few questions for you.
    1. Where there any specific tools or methods that you used to manage your time when you started working for Wyecomm?
    2. Do you think your Psychology degree has helped you to adapt in this field?
    3. What do you like the most about working for a start-up agency?
    Thank you!

  2. Hi Adam, my name is Taylor Franke and I am currently a senior studying Public Relations and Southeast Missouri State University. I found your post extremely helpful considering I’ll be graduating in December and hopefully soon after landing my first “real world” job. I do have a few questions for you. What is one thing that college didn’t teach you going into your first job that you wish it did? Also, do you recommend applying for jobs outside your degree directly out of college? Your insight is appreciated! Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *