Young Alumni: Navigating your first year in a new job

Congratulations to the St. Olaf College Class of 2022! Graduation is a celebration of all of your accomplishments and growth during your time on the Hill, and it’s also a jumping-off point to life after college. Your first year after graduating is an exciting period of exploration, but it can also feel daunting. For those who are joining the workforce, there are several things to keep in mind that can help you navigate this time of change. And these tips don’t apply just to new graduates — while each job and organization brings a different experience, the most important elements of the first year in any role are goals, perspective, and community

Understanding the primary goals of your position will make managing your time and accomplishing tasks easier. If you are unsure what your objectives are, talk with your supervisor. Create project timelines, and work your way backwards to create milestones that you can hit enroute to your final goal. At certain points, you will likely be juggling multiple tasks at once, some of which may be more or less important to your overarching goal. By prioritizing what tasks are most important, you will be able to approach your projects with more focus and efficiency. 

It’s also important to understand how your role fits in with your larger organization. Talking with your supervisor and colleagues can help you get a sense of how your work will contribute to the goals of your team and other departments. It’s also important to be transparent with your entire team about your goals and your commitment to supporting the broader work of the office.

In addition, be cognizant of how your schedule and tasks impact the work of others. What consequences will your deadlines have on your teammates’ contributions? If you need help, asking questions is always a good idea — but also do some research ahead of time. Your questions should show that you’ve done some work to find answers using your own resources as well. 

As you learn more about your organization and its workflows, you will probably start to notice things that you think could be done differently. Perhaps a team you’re on is struggling to collaborate, or you find a certain process to be inefficient. In fact, noticing the difficulties or problems in your organization can become almost habitual, as our focus drifts to what’s going wrong instead of what’s going right. That’s when perspective becomes important. As much as we may want to fix everything to our own liking, know that you cannot solve every problem on your own — but that doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. 

Recognize what structures may get in your way when tackling a problem and what your scope of influence is. What is structural and what is cultural? What is worth your time and energy? You have a lot to learn and focus on as a young professional, so prioritize the issues on which you can have the most impact. When you do decide to bring up problems, don’t just point to the negative — also bring solutions to your supervisor or team. Ultimately, your first position is probably not going to be perfect, and that’s okay. Seek opportunities to learn, and approach points of frustration with empathy. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be intentional about creating community, both at work and in your personal life. In college, so much of the community is built into the experience: you study, work, and live with your peers in classrooms, playing fields, rehearsal rooms, and dorms. Beyond St. Olaf, you will have new work and social environments in which you will need to invest some effort to foster a sense of community. Especially if you will be working remotely, community-building will require proactive outreach in order to develop connections with coworkers virtually. Still, remember that work is not everything — you can find meaning and engagement outside of work by volunteering or doing extracurricular activities. Think about what you need in order to feel happy, connected, and balanced. 

As you navigate your first year outside of college, make sure to follow your own path. You don’t need to compare your journey to those of others! There are no benchmarks — or social media posts — that equal success or fulfillment. Many of us will try lots of different things in our first few years after graduating college, with twists and turns along the way. Give yourself permission to not be on anyone else’s timeline, and don’t cause unnecessary anxiety by putting pressure on yourself. If you focus on your goals, maintain a sense of perspective, and surround yourself with a supportive community, you will be well-served no matter where your path takes you. 

If you are in search of additional career advice and counseling, reach out to Piper Center Associate Director of Alumni Career Services Jenele Grassle. More resources and a link to book an appointment with Jenele are available on the Alumni Career Services page.