8 Essential Tips for Getting Ahead in Your First Job
by Lane Florsheim
Get-Ahead Career Tip 1: Play up your strengths.
You have unique skills and talents, so use them to make yourself stand out. “If you’re a social-media whiz, play that up in a new position. If you’re great at organizing events, volunteer to take the lead on community-building activities in the company,” says Jenna Goudreau, staff reporter at ForbesWoman. “And don’t let anyone tell you your youth is a weakness.”
Get-Ahead Career Tip 2: Become an expert at your “silver bullet.”
Once you’ve found your specialty at work, use it to get noticed. Emily Bennington, author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job, calls it your “silver bullet.” “This is a great way to distinguish yourself early in your career because it’s your specialty area and a place where you can become a go-to contact,” Bennington says.
Get-Ahead Career Tip 3: Find a mentor with whom you connect.
Finding a mentor seems like a no-brainer, but Laurel House, author of QuickieChick’s Cheat Sheet to Life, Love, Food, Fitness, Fashion, and Finance on a Less Than Fabulous Budget, says the right one can be way more than just a role model. “Not only will you get a full view of a certain lifestyle—What will your boss be like? The hours? The projects?—but that mentor will get you great connections and maybe even a job because they know you and trust your quality of work.”
Get-Ahead Career Tip 4: Know how to talk to your mentor.
“If you sit down with an intimidatingly powerful person, have a goal in mind, home in on it like a laser, and let that focus force you to forget your fear and instead empower you,” advises House.
Get-Ahead Career Tip 5: Be generous with your contacts.
It’s an old-school mind-set that hoarding your address book will give you a leg up. “Information generosity is not slowing us down, holding us up, or hurting us in any way,” says House. “Even competitors are teaching trade secrets, because you never know who can help you, who can open a door for you.” Every time you open up your phone to hand out a contact, remind yourself that your helping out is what someone will recall down the line.
Get-Ahead Career Tip 6: Get noticed at networking events
Lots of important people in one place? Here’s how to work the room, according to House:
- 1. Present a business card.
- 2. Follow up the next day with an email or call. Don’t wait a week!
- 3. If someone offers advice, makes a call for you, or chats with you for an hour, send a thank-you card.
- 4. Know connections there, like friends, parents’ friends, friends’ parents, etc.? Utilize them.
- 5. Tell people what you do, who you are, who you want to be. (Tactfully, of course.)
- 6. Listen, contribute, listen, contribute. That’s a conversation.
Get-Ahead Career Tip 7: Go after the next challenge.
If you’re doing well in your current role and have earned trust, that’s a signal to go after the next challenge. “Raise your hand for a big assignment. Suggest something that no one’s thought of and volunteer to take the lead,” says Goudreau. “You may not always get a yes. You have to ask and keep asking. Be persistent. Don’t get discouraged. Soon, you’ll be on your way.”
Get-Ahead Career Tip 8: Stop being afraid of no.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for…anything, be it a raise, feedback, or a meeting with one of your superiors. If you don’t ask, somebody else will,” House says. “Remember: The worst thing someone can say is no.”