There are so many things I wish I knew when I was 20. On Monday, Bret Simmons wrote about that topic, and it got me thinking about what I wish I knew then. I wish I had realized during college how important it was to begin polishing up my professionalism and networking skills from the get-go.
After I graduated from college with a psychology degree, I ended up working for a temp agency for about 6 months before I landed my first full-time job. I was a temp for a few different companies in various office support roles (receptionist, file clerk, etc.). I did not end up temping in any departments where I wanted to get a permanent job, so I did not even consider networking with my coworkers.
I now wish I had networked with people at those companies, I may have found out about some great opportunity. Unfortunately, instead, I said something that lead them to think I thought I was too good to work with them. When my various supervisors or co-workers would comment to me that I should apply for a job at their organization, I would say to them, “I don’t want to work here, I am looking to get a real job.”
Looking back, I can only imagine the shock those people felt after I said that. I did not even think it was a bad thing to say, until I overheard a co-worker complaining to someone else about what I had said to her. She was angry and felt quite insulted. After that day, she no longer spoke to me. I now understand why she shunned me, I was telling her that her job was not a “real” job. What I actually meant to say was that it was not my target company to work for. However, my careless words had already done irreparable damage to my image in that department.
Make the most of wherever you are
My coworkers and supervisors at these temporary jobs were trying to tell me that they saw potential in me but, instead of cultivating my contacts, I burned any bridges that were forming. Please don’t make the same mistakes I did. Use your first few jobs in and out of college to get to know your coworkers and learn about their work experiences. Never think that you are “above” any job tasks. Through your various job activities and through talking to coworkers, you will learn what you value in a job and what you will or will not seek out in a future job.
It is likely that you will not score your dream “real” job right out of college, particularly considering the current job market. You may decide to work temporarily with a non-profit, such as AmeriCorps, or you may work at a job primarily to pay the bills until you find a position that is more ideal. Whatever it is you do, be sure you always put your best foot forward. Be professional and friendly to everyone you work with. Seek out opportunities to speak with people in an informal setting, such as during lunch. Networking is most effective when people get to know you on a personal level. Talk to coworkers about their jobs and work experiences. Seek advice from them and they will likely enjoy telling you their stories.
Before you leave a job, make sure you get the contact information of your most supportive coworkers and supervisors. If possible, connect to them on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Don’t forget to check in occasionally with these people by contacting them to catch up on what you both have been up to. Speak with them about your career aspirations as well as your personal life. You never know who’s son or step-father is looking to hire a worker just like you.
Lori Bielek is the Marketing and Technology Coordinator at University of Delaware’s (UD) Career Services Center where she advises students in the arts and sciences through all steps of their career development. You can connect with Lori through LinkedIn or her UD Career Services Twitter account (@UDcareers).