Level Up Your Career

Five Ways to Succeed at Your First Job

Your first position after college could be a major step on the career path you’ve envisioned for years or the first step on a journey yet to be determined. Either way, it will be an opportunity to develop transferable business skills, make critical connections with colleagues and mentors, hone in on future goals, and discover what type of work most excites you.

My two years as a business analyst at JPMorgan Chase equipped me with the foundation I needed to pursue an MBA and a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

If I could give advice to my 22-year-old self on how to excel at that first job after college, here’s what I’d tell her.

1. Deliver reliably, and go beyond what’s asked.

Complete deliverables on time and provide more than what’s expected, when appropriate. Taking an extra step demonstrates creativity, leadership, and, most importantly, an understanding of the ultimate objective.

Every organization has stakeholders it needs to satisfy. It’s critical that you understand who they are and how success is measured. If you aren’t clear on goals or expectations, ask questions to clarify.

2. Don’t undersell your accomplishments.

Keep track of your accomplishments and achievements. When performance review time comes, toot your own horn. Don’t assume people see and know everything you’re working on — it’s your responsibility to ensure they do. While you might gain advocates and cheerleaders along the way, you own your career.

To avoid underselling yourself, document your work as if you are bragging about a friend or someone you admire. Track your progression in real time so you’ll be able to showcase your skills when applying for MBA programs and new positions. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date so those you meet during your career and MBA journey can stay connected with you.

3. Give credit to supporters

Give credit to those who help you — both colleagues and mentors. You’ll meet people who will be honored to help you grow and succeed. Nurture these relationships. Show your genuine appreciation. These are the people who will sing your praises when you’re not in the room and serve as references in the future.

Being a team player builds your credibility and makes others more willing to include you in a new opportunity. MBA programs are group-oriented and team-based, just like most organizations, so it’s important to demonstrate you work well with others. It’s true: together everyone achieves more.

4. Keep learning, always!

Be curious. Sign up for training programs, learn new ways of working, and share what you’ve learned with your team. If what you learn can aid a coworker, they might become an advocate who helps propel your career.

People will assume that as a new graduate, you’re eager to learn. Live up to that. Volunteer as an early adopter — not everyone is willing to test something new. Your constant desire to learn more will set you up as a strong MBA candidate, ready to go back to school and expand your knowledge.

5. Be the go-to person for something

Build your brand through service to others. Think about how you add value to the organization and what you’d like to do more of. Become the go-to person for something: the one people can brainstorm with, the person who’s great at data visualization, the organizer, the one who’s good with graphics — identify your something.

At work and in your MBA program, share your talents and passions. Your colleagues, professors, classmates, and others should know your skills and interests so they think of you when opportunities arise. And don’t forget to return the favor — help them network with your contacts. Be someone who people want to see succeed.

Samantha Grant earned her MBA and Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She’s currently the HR Integration Lead, Ultrasound, at GE Healthcare.

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