Five things I learned from my first job out of college

I worked at a large technology company in a technical, customer-facing role for three years after I graduated from college. Here are the most important lessons I've taken from my experience.

March 13, 2020 - 4 minute read -

To past me, from future me – some words of advice.

1. Write clear emails.

A well-written email will establish goodwill for yourself, bring others in to your perspective, and save both time and energy in the long run.

Before you write an email, know the context of the situation. Ask yourself this: who holds power in this situation, and what are the expectations from all parties coming into the conversation? Then, figure out what information you need to include and which expectations you need to set in order to meet your own goals.

People have short attention spans, and work emails are not a great medium to include subtle implications. If you want something to happen, then be very direct or else it will be misunderstood.

On a similar note, keep it simple. No one wants to read paragraphs that are more than four lines long, unless they’re already expecting to dive deep into the details on a shared project. If you find yourself writing a longer email than you were expecting, a quick 5-10 minute phone call goes a long way.

Speaking of phone calls: know when to call it quits with email. It’s useful to have a written record of communication, but if you’re constrained by a deadline, it is worth calling or even visiting someone in person to make sure something gets done.

2. Listen attentively, speak confidently, and act decisively.

When presented with a question, always make sure to listen and ask questions until you fully understand the situation. Again, keep the context in mind: know who you’re talking to and what’s important to them.

I’m often filled with a paralyzing need to find The Perfect Answer™, but I’ve began to accept that nothing I’m working on will be absolutely perfect – while there are right and wrong answers when you’re doing homework or taking a test for school, the lines are often blurred when working for a company. It’s absolutely okay to be uncertain about the conclusions you’ve come to, but it’s important to confidently communicate where that uncertainty comes from and establish the best path forward when tackling a problem. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know an answer and ask to follow-up on it later.

If you need to act, then do it decisively.1 Trust that you’ve made the best decision with the information you have. If you’re proven wrong, no worries – just adapt to the new knowledge you’ve been given and move on. It’ll inspire confidence and trust from those around you.

3. Set aside time to learn and experiment.

I am a strong believer that low-stakes, unstructured “play” time is the best way to grow your curiosity and learn.

At a full-time job, it can be hard to find time for yourself, especially when you’re running from meeting to meeting on a tight schedule and struggling to get your work done. Be deliberate about setting boundaries so that you’re able to work in a way that suits you best; ultimately, a better environment for youself leads to happier and more productive work.

I find it important to make a space for myself with no expectations to produce anything of value, so I can experiment (and fail!) with new ideas. In this way, I’m able to take a break from higher-stress work, learn, and recharge at the same time by following my curiosity wherever it takes me.

4. Make decisions for the long-term.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and drama of a workplace environment, but make sure to put the decisions you make for the short term in perspective of the long run.

Before you send an angry email, think about whether you’ll regret sending it a month later.

Before you make decisions about taking (or not taking) on an extra project, think about whether it’s consistent with your goals.

Before you complain to your colleagues or manager, think about the kind of self-image you’re projecting and how it’ll impact your relationships.

5. Find joy outside of work.

Sure – work can be fulfilling, but it can also suck. At its best, you are making a real difference in the lives of other people, and at its worst, you are a cog of a capitalist machine that values you only for your ability to create profits which will then be distributed in a system that entrenches power for those who already hold it.

Make sure to take care of yourself by finding activities that you enjoy and participating in those activities. Remind yourself that there are small joys in life, and moments of beauty that make you smile.

  1. Take this post, for example. Am I in any position to share my advice with anyone? Arguable. Will I still write this post? Well, see for yourself.