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6 things to know when starting your career

6 things to know when starting your career – UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolYour first real job comes loaded with new experiences – getting settled in a new location, meeting new co-workers and exploring a new organization. While the novelty wears off, making the transition from college student to business professional can be a daunting task.

Through my own experience and my work at a top consulting firm, where I’m surrounded by hundreds of talented young professionals – many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring – I’ve learned a thing or two about starting off your career on the right foot. Many of these lessons can’t be taught in a classroom or textbook – they come from experience.

Here are the top six things you need to know about starting your career.

Adjusting will take time.
I polled about 50 young professionals who were recently out of college and asked them how long it took before they felt comfortable with their job. Most said it took them between six and twelve months.

Do your best to stay positive as you navigate the transition. Be open to learning, and find an ally in your organization.

Your network matters.
Your network is the most valuable resource you have. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to meet new people. It won’t be as easy as it was in college, but it will be worth it. Find the relationships that matter most to you and invest your time in nurturing them. You’ll not only gain valuable career insights – you’ll also attract new opportunities.

Success is relative.
Developing self-awareness has helped me navigate my professional career and set me apart from others. Take time to think about what success means to you and identify metrics to quantify your progress. What gets measured gets managed. Defining your own personal goals and metrics will make you better equipped to achieve personal, social and professional success.

Your skills give you credibility.
Every job in every industry has a set of core skills you must have in order to succeed. In banking, these might include things like formatting pitch decks and building financial models. In consulting, you’ll need to be skilled in creating PowerPoint presentations and analyzing Excel data.

Once you’ve understood and mastered these core skills, focus on developing your unique skill set – things that demonstrate the value you bring to an organization and make you memorable.

Feedback is a gift.
As a college student, your homework and test grades give you a clear indication of how you’re performing. In the workplace, however, direct feedback isn’t as straightforward. Your boss or manager may not be proactive about giving you feedback on your performance – so it’s up to you to take the initiative to ask for it. More than likely, they’ll be happy to provide advice and guidance on how you can improve.

Embrace the journey.
In the early days of my career, I was so concerned that I wasn’t on the same path as everyone else at my firm. The UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA program helped me build my confidence and create my own path. I still get anxious about my career sometimes – but that’s okay. I’m embracing the journey and following the unique path that’s right for me.

The best advice I can give you is to set realistic expectations, stay true to yourself and always put your best foot forward. In reality, no one expects you to come into an organization and know everything right away. You may love your first job, or you may realize it’s not the right fit for you – and that’s okay. Your career is supposed to be a journey – not a destination.

By Alex Dea (MBA ’15), consultant and founder of MBASchooled, with Jonathan Ponciano.