14 Things We Wish We Knew At The Beginning Of Our Careers

Unsplash/Jose Escobar

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while now, we bet you have some serious advice you would share with your younger self. But if you’re the younger self just coming out of college, we’re about to give you the gift of knowledge that so many of us just didn’t get when we started our careers. TBH, we still benefit from hearing this stuff today. Here are the 14 biggest things we wish we knew from the beginning:

1. Think about the growth trajectory of the role and career you want to pursue.

The words “growth trajectory” may seem a little…dense, and that’s because they are. They’re words some people don’t hear until job #2 or #3. The big message: think long-term when it comes to your goals. Sure, you may have an offer on the table and you’re excited just to have a salary, but really consider the direction you want to steer your career. You don’t want to have regrets later in life, wishing you had pursued a difference course. Plus, that would mean playing catch-up to achieve what you truly wanted from the beginning.

2. Seek out the white space in your company.

When you start your first job, you may think it’s best to focus only on what you have in front of you, but true innovators and leaders think beyond daily responsibilities. They look to fill white space, or the areas that could be improved or challenges that are unmet. How can you fill the gaps? Go beyond your J.D. and identify opportunities to advance your company’s goals and mission.

3. Don’t underestimate the importance of culture.

Annie Spratt / Unsplash

You may think you found the perfect position for you — it’s in the field you want and you feel precisely qualified for the job description. But when you go into the office for an interview, you don’t like the vibe. Maybe the office feels too sterile and your interviewer tells you that talking is held at a minimum so everyone gets their work done. Maybe the office feels unprofessional and your interviewer swears like a sailor throughout your hour in the office. Everyone has their preferred office environment and be sure to consider your wants and needs before accepting a position. If your vision for an ideal office culture is starkly different from what’s in front of you, you may not be happy there.

4. Do serious research on the standard salary for your role.

Though there are great non-salary benefits companies can offer that make it acceptable for you to take a lower-than-desired salary, know the average pay for your role in your industry. Don’t expect a salary that’s much higher than what your peers make, but you don’t let yourself be low-balled from the beginning. Sharpen your negotiating skills and use data to back you up. For example, mention that companies of similar size, age and industry pay employees with your job title X, according to Glassdoor.

5. Look beyond your first offer, if you can.

Not everyone can wait for the “perfect” opportunity to come along. Some people need to jump right into a position after college to pay the rent, which is absolutely fine. But if you have a few months of cushion before you have to take the leap, consider your options and don’t immediately take the very first offer you get. Think critically about whether the position will put you on the path to achieving your long-term career goals and give you an office culture that aligns with your own values and the work you’ll be doing.

6. Don’t be afraid to take educated risks.

The keyword here is educated. For example, take that role at a new start-up if you believe the company will be successful. Just make sure that before diving in you do as much research as possible. The more you know about what you’re about to jump into, the more control you have over the outcome, even if it’s not a positive one. We’re all for taking risks, especially while we’re young enough to take them, but we also understand that we’re now adults. Don’t compromise your financial stability or jeopardize your mental, physical or emotional security.

7. Be ready for everything to change.

We’re not trying to scare you, but everything you know about your industry could completely change — whether that be in one year or five. Some industries evolve at a slower pace than others, but you should know that your field probably won’t always look the same. Be ready to adapt to new information or surroundings.

8. Don’t run away from challenges.

If you’re anything like we were, you’re probably terrified to mess up anything in your first job. Though we can definitely empathize, we gotta say that mustering up the courage to take on the challenging tasks will serve you well in your first job and throughout your career. The toughest tasks teach you the most, not only about how to handle that particular responsibility, but how to face and overcome challenges in general.

9. Who your boss is matters.


Everyone hopes to have a boss they work well with — that’s no huge news. But it’s worth noting that every boss is completely different when it comes to your working dynamic, as well as growth and learning opportunities. You want to be able to grow under him or her in a positive way. Most of all, you want a boss who can help you get to that next step in your career. Make this consideration a part of your decision to work at (or continue to work at) a company.

10. Even your job has a honeymoon period.

Everything may seem incredible at first — you’ve got your own desk, an engaging workload and lots of new faces to get acquainted with — but there will likely be a time when your job won’t be as incredible as you first thought. Don’t panic. Not being obsessed with your job doesn’t mean that you need to go find another one, and it’s definitely normal to feel less enthusiastic as the months roll on. You’re simply settling into your new role and getting used to the ebb and flow of the office, which can feel very similar to getting used to the phone you bought a few months prior. The glimmer fades and all that’s left is reality. The key is to remember that reality can sometimes be good! If you find yourself dreading going into the office though, then that’s a different story.

11. You’ll probably cry at least once after a hard day. Let it happen.

Though your gig may be exciting and great, we can guarantee that you’ll have some bad days. Some days might be straight-up awful — the days when you rush out of work to call your mom and sob on a street corner. You should know that this is normal, too, and it also doesn’t mean that you need to job hunt immediately (unless it’s a serious case or it’s happening frequently). Being an adult is exhausting, and you’ll likely feel pent-up energy some days that can only be released with a good cry. Embrace it — it actually feels good.

12. Don’t get stuck on your job description.

When you join a company, you may feel that you’ll only be working on what’s in your job description, which can sometimes be true. But other times, you may be asked by your boss to help with a project or focus on a task that isn’t a part of your daily to-do’s. Think of these instances as opportunities and not barriers for achieving success. Getting your hands in different parts of your company will give you a broader sense of how your organization functions. Bonus: you’ll have a lot more to brag about on your resume.

13. Pace yourself.


We’re just gonna say it — burnout is real. You might think that it’ll be possible to fulfill every single request, work as many hours as you need to and just become a miracle worker when you start at your first company, but it simply isn’t sustainable. Check in with yourself often, making sure that you’re physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. If you feel spread too thin, know how to (respectfully) say no.

14. It’s all one big learning experience.

Cut yourself some damn slack! We know the first full-time job can seem insanely intimidating, but remember that you’re also here to learn. Making mistakes is what makes us human. Try your best, but if you fail, take the lessons you learned with you to be better next time. And you will be better next time.