In your first post-grad job? Read this!

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a powerful, no-bullshit list written by Jason Nazar, founder and CEO of Docstoc, who is 34. In his blog post for Forbes, an American business magazine, he offers 20 tips for people in their 20s, like:

Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable
& multi-tasking generation yet.  As my father says, “I’ll Give You a
Sh-t Medal.”  Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are
simply wasted potential.  There’s no prize for talent, just results.
Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked
their way to success.

I like a lot of what he says.

When you’re looking for your first, or second or third, job, it’s easy to forget or not even realize how utterly different the world of work is from school, which is why internships can be a useful glimpse into the “real world.”

In school, you have very clearly defined parameters of success and failure.Whoever else is attending your college or university appear to be your primary or exclusive competition, for grades, for profs’ attention, for campus resources.

But if your classmates are not economically or racially or politically or religiously diverse, you’re in for one hell of a shock if you relocate to a different place, or several, to earn your living.

Who are these people and why do I have to do what they tell me?

In school, if you attain a fantastic GPA and some awards, you’re the bomb.

In school, yes you are.

But in school, short of wasting tuition money and/or flunking out, there are no terrible consequences to failing or missing deadlines or getting wasted or showing up to class late and/or hungover or high.

The real world is much less forgiving of stupidity and a lack of preparation.

In school, most students hang out with their peers, i.e. people within their age group. Adults end up being annoying things to please (profs) or placate (parents) but not people you may spend much time trying to understand, cooperate with or relate to as a fellow professional.

If you’ve never worked with (or managed) someone 10, 20 or 30 years your senior, how’s that going to feel?

All these new adults — not your parents or their friends or professors or people who are inherently interested in (or deeply invested in) seeing that you succeed — don’t care. And they expect a lot. All the time. OMG!

As Nazar also writes:

You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have.  This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career.  Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success.

The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favorite films ever.

I’ve seen it so many times I can recite dialogue from it, like Priestly’s hissed dismissal: “That’s all.”

It’s about an ambitious young journalist in New York, (so I can identify with that bit) but is also about the price of being ambitious and what it means to sacrifice your friendships (or not) or your sweetie (or not) or your ethics (or not.)

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...
Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The boss in the film, Miranda Priestly, is insanely and insatiably demanding, but I get it and know why. And having a boss like that is basically boot camp for the rest of your career.

If you freak out and cry and think you can’t do it — whatever it is — you’re pretty much useless. Find someone to help you. Read a book. Watch a video. Take a class, or three. Find a mentor.

Resourcefulness will probably be your most valuable skill, no matter what sort of work you do.

The truly useful/valuable employee memorizes a two-word phrase — “On it!”

I also really like this tip:

Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It – Over time, your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business.  It’s the invisible key that either opens or closes doors of
professional opportunity.  Especially in an age where everything is forever recorded and accessible, your reputation has to be guarded like the most sacred treasure.  It’s the one item that, once lost, you can never get back.

It’s temptingly easy to think: “I’m young. It doesn’t matter. No one will notice or care or remember.”

Not true!

Take every opportunity to leave an impression as a chance to make it lasting and positive. That doesn’t mean sucking up or being a phony.

My current part-time assistant, C., has been stellar for the six months or so we’ve been working together. She never whines or complains, gets on with things and I routinely throw her into all sorts of situations for which she has zero training or experience. I know she can do it well — and she does.


In return, she knows she can count on me for a kickass reference to anyone she needs.

One of the things I most enjoy about this relationship is that, on some levels, we’re very different — different religions, 30 years apart in age. But she’s fun, funny, worldly. That goes a long way in my book.

My husband and I both started working freelance — while full-time undergrads — for national media, he as a photographer for the Associated Press, I as a writer for magazines and newspapers. Paid.

We put ourselves in harm’s way by competing, as very young people, with those who had decades of experience and awards and real jobs. But that’s how you learn to compete and cooperate effectively at the highest levels.

If you’re just starting out, or have been working for a while, what advice would you offer to someone just joined the work world?

28 thoughts on “In your first post-grad job? Read this!

  1. BE FLEXIBLE. I recently interviewed for a different student job in my office, something with more hours. One other person was being considered for it, and apparently we both did very well. However, I mentioned if I’m not expecting a big change in routine, it can wear on me. Apparently in that job, changing things up is common. I think that’s why I didn’t get the job.
    Sucks, but I know for the next interview.

  2. Love “The Devil Wears Prada.” I, too, have seen it many times and could see it 100 more times! As for advice… I would second BEING RESOURCEFUL and add BE PASSIONATE. I once interviewed to be David Mamet’s assistant with the man himself. He told me I was over-qualified. I told him it didn’t matter that I was over-qualified, I still wanted to work with him. So, he gave me a couple of really difficult tasks – one to complete by the next day, one to complete ASAFP. For the latter, I spent hours calling London bookstores trying to find this obscure book he wanted but hadn’t given me the author, title, year of publication or anything! All he told me was the subject. I knew I was being tested, and went above and beyond his expectations. He ended up being the best boss ever and a mentor. (He’s actually attached as EP to one of my scripts.)

    People sometimes forget that resourcefulness means calling on favors too, brilliantly illustrated in TDWP. Keep your friends, family and even your enemies close! You never know when they will help you achieve (what seems like) the impossible. Just be prepared to return the favor.

    1. Great story! I had an editor who once asked me for something fairly impossible — instead I found him a former Prime Minister to write for us.

      It’s true that the best bosses push up into achievements we didn’t think ourselves capable of.

      And the favors are key…all the more argument for creating and nurturing a wide network.

  3. My first decently paid job out of graduate school was as a manager of someone who had applied for my job. She was late to work every day, resentful and near-insubordinate, dramatic and in constant need of her feathers smoothed back into place. In hindsight, I can tell you I really and truly hated her. She is everything in a person I can’t stand. But I needed to get her to want to do what I said. Oh, and she was older and had far more experience that I did.

    It was an absolute God-send in a first professional job. I don’t think I’ve ever learned as much about how to get along with other human beings in such a short time since. I’d say, if you’re up for it, get a really hard job and do it damn well. You can do something easier later when you know what you’re doing.

  4. I always tell prospective teachers when they are graduating from University, don’t worry about having your own class your first year out. I was lucky enough not to find a job until 2 years after my certification. Those two years as a substitute teacher were like working for that boss that is horrendous or the boss that pushes you beyond what you think you can do. If you are a good teacher, discipline problems a few and far between, but as a substitute you have to learn what works on each class, each day, each moment.

    1. Interesting point — and so true. I doubt I would have the stamina or patience to teach younger students who were poorly-behaved. I’ve done teaching at the college level and enjoyed it, but no one disrupted my class. The one boy who did got a serious talking to after class and he stopped it.

  5. I am currently doing my Masters and am amazed at how little they prepare you for life outside of school. I am increasingly questioning both the relevance and necessity for artists to go to post-secondary school education. Yes, they learn about the history and concepts of art but if they don’t do internships, work and network, they leave school having failed before they have even begun. I think it is also a huge irresponsibility on the part of universities to take thousands of dollars of tuition, leaving some people with huge student loans only to not teach them the actual skills they need to succeed as artists, entrepreneurs and as people. The solution is to implement a proper education (including life, business and technical skills), internship, apprenticeship program (while in school and out of school) to take them from novice to an experienced professional.

    1. Hey, good to hear from you!

      It is indeed crazy…my first husband was a doctor, and practice management was not part of the med school or residency curriculum. Nor do journalism schools teach how to run a freelance business, on the naive assumption that every grad will have unbroken FT employment for life. Hardly!

      It’s challenging indeed to realize all the skills one really needs to run a business relying on creativity (like ours) AND business acumen. I learned exactly nothing about how to work in journalism as a freelancer, or staffer, from four years at U if Toronto studying Chaucer and Romantic poetry. I essentially created my own internships, paid, by just going out there and drumming up as much work as I could. In some sense, that’s really all you need…get out there, learn on the job and get paid to learn, instead of the opposite.

      Good luck!!

  6. My advice: be confident. I didn’t have any, so I missed out on so many opportunities. This is a great blog post for recent grads. I wish I’d had this during those first few scary years in the job market.

    1. I had thought of including that — but some young ‘uns are so horribly cocky as it is! In general, yes, without a sense of confidence, you’re really going to struggle. You have to be willing and able to step up and try things you are not “ready” for, and know you’ll figure it out on the fly. That takes initial confidence, which grows every time you do it successfully!

      Thanks for this!

  7. michelegwrites

    I enjoy the way you reframe other writers’ articles to make them applicable to your (and our) lives. In this time of constant self-centeredness and jockeying for money and status jobs, the casualties seem to be humility and common sense. Neither is taught in school. Both of helped me succeed in positions I thought I could never do. Thank goodness for level-headed parents and having a job at age 15 rather than being coddled and allowed every whim.

    1. Thanks!

      I so agree with you. Humility is a rare quality in most people, but especially in the chest-thumping U S of A, where self-promotion is rampant and fairly nauseating.

  8. 🙂

    My advice would be that unless it’s illegal, dangerous, deliberately constructed to be degrading, or unethical, it’s not beneath you. Learn how to do what’s asked of you and do it with a good attitude. I won more points with my boss for spending a day cleaning out the (horrific) department fridges one day than the whole week of doing my normal tasks, because no one else was able to tackle the domestic problem. At the PD I started answering phones and emails, by the time I left I was running background checks, hiring and outfitting 200+ people a year, and was regularly asked to contribute my POV to department decisions – all because I’d put in the time making millions of copies, running errands, and other trivial stuff. When opportunities for bigger and harder things came up, my reputation as someone who would learn to do a task well, quickly, and pleasantly meant I was a logical choice to take it on.

    I know I was underpaid and I didn’t love working at the PD, but my work ethic and attitude really was honed and sharpened there. So I guess my other advice would be do a job you don’t like, you’ll learn a lot of skills that a job you love won’t teach you. Of course, once you’ve learned them, find one you do!

    1. Brilliant! But I would expect no less….:-)

      Seriously, this is such great advice. The fact is that many of us, at every age, put off the gross/boring jobs and are very grateful to those who step up to do them well, cheerfully and with no whining.

      I also learned more in my $11/hr retail job than I ever did in an ego-ridden newsroom full of professional journalists.

      I’d add — stepping up (i.e. seeing a problem and offering to solve it) is huge, not just waiting to be asked to do something.

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