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11 Career Mistakes to Avoid in Your First Job

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These are some of the top career mistakes that recent college graduates make in their first job after college. After college, I’ve personally experienced all of these things, have quite a few career regrets, and want to tell college students and recent grads how to better prepare for life after college. Some of the things you do now can have a lasting impact on your next few jobs.

You can avoid these career mistakes by preparing for them now. Most of the things on this list are relevant throughout your 20s. Some of the things on this list I had been told before, but I didn’t really focus on it and soon regretted it.

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Top Career Mistakes Recent Grads Make:

1. Not negotiating salary and benefits before accepting the job (especially for women).


Your starting pay and benefits are the foundation for how much you are paid later on. If you accept significantly lower pay than the average for your level of experience in that job role, it will be more difficult for you to catch up later on. Most employers do not give huge salary increases unless you have a significant promotion.

So let’s say you accept a job that pays $36,000 for a marketing coordinator role and that position is paid on average $45,000 with your experience level, you are already starting off way behind your peers in that role. If your company has a salary increase of 3% each year, it would take you quite a few years to reach the average while your peers are probably receiving the same amount of increases.

So you will always stay behind your peers unless you get a huge promotion or move companies. Save yourself the headache and lost income by finding out how much employers usually pay for your position and experience before you have your negotiations. Always let the employer say a number before you start your counter offer. They might say a number higher than what you had in mind.

Women tend to not negotiate as much as men. According to CNBC, 60% of women have never negotiated their salary, leading 72% to quit their job in search of a higher salary instead! Women need to start negotiating to help decrease the gender pay gap. Don’t be a part of that statistic and always negotiate.

2. Expecting that you would start off with only higher-level job responsibilities


The rookie usually gets the tasks everyone else doesn’t have the time for or wants to do. Expect to have lots of time-consuming tasks that are very repetitive. Do these well and overtime ask for more responsibilities. Don’t ask for too much at once. You want to grow into your role and prove that you are capable.

Take the time to learn from more experienced employees at your company and take advantage of opportunities as they come. Build your foundation slowly and strategically. Enroll in professional development workshops, conferences, courses, certificate programs.

Learn things that your department is not so great at and you’ll become an even more valuable asset to the team. People might start to rely on you more for your specialized skills.

Related Article: What Happens in Life After College?

3. Not speaking up in meetings because you feel incompetent


They wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t think you were competent. If you are on the team, your voice should be heard and valued. Ask questions in meetings if you are confused, study to understand more, practice, and prepare for your meetings to feel more confident.

Your ideas might help your team overcome difficult challenges. It’s always great to have a variety of opinions and constructive feedback. You got the job, you are skilled. You can contribute to the team.

4. Avoiding feedback because of your fear of criticism


You’re not supposed to be perfect at everything on the job. The first job is a learning experience and you’ll make a lot of mistakes. Over time you will get better, but you must learn how to handle criticism. Your boss may tell you what you’re doing good at and what you need to improve on. Take notes and make strategic goals on how you will overcome them.

Prove to your boss that you can improve on your mistakes over time. Your first job or two is for practice until you get great at what you do.

5. Not learning your supervisor’s communication style early on


Some managers have a very specific communication style and don’t like when people talk to them a certain way. Find out what’s the best method to communicate with your manager. Do they prefer a meeting request a week in advance before bringing up a new topic, do they prefer a phone call, knocking on their door, or an email?

When do they tend to be the most available? What are their pet peeves? Take notes on how they like to give and receive communication. Some don’t have a lot of time and want all the facts in a few mins.

6. Not speaking up to your manager when issues arise or are ongoing


If you feel you have way too much work and no matter what you do, you can’t finish it, communicate this to your supervisor. You don’t want them to start blaming you for not finishing your work when you’re doing everything you can to finish it on time. If you’re struggling with anything, always ask for help because this isn’t college anymore. What you do affects the entire team.

If you can’t finish a task on time, let your supervisor know ahead of time so that someone else can or they can help you finish the task. One of the top things that upset a manager is when employees don’t ask for help and the deadline passes. This could also make that manager look bad to their boss. They might give you a bad review if you keep doing this.

7. Lacking time management, prioritization, and organization skills to get things done in a timely manner


You’ll usually have tasks in a wide variety of areas that are time-consuming, so this is where your time management and organization skills that you’ve learned in college come in. Find out what projects need more priority and get those done first. Work on the hardest and most important tasks that would have a huge impact.

Consider doing time-blocking as multi-tasking being effective is a lie. Working on two or more different things at once causes you to reshift your whole thought process each time. It’s better just to work on one thing at a time, with complete focus, ensuring quality work.

8. Avoiding networking opportunities because of fear


In the real world, if you don’t take initiative to go after opportunities, you are going to stay mediocre in your industry. You never know who knows who that can get you into the door of your dream company. By not networking with others, you are limiting yourself to only who your friends and family know.

If you’re trying to apply for jobs, you want to know people that are more experienced than where you are currently. You need to network if you want to grow in your industry and learn from others. This is probably one of the top career mistakes that hold people back from advancing in their careers.

9. Not shining professionally online and investing in your personal brand for future job opportunities


Most employers are looking at your social media when deciding if you would be a great fit for the company. So why not stand out from having a generic profile like so many applicants and go above and beyond to give them more information than what you told them in the interview? You led a project at your company in which you achieved amazing results, but why did you not list that on your LinkedIn profile?

Knock them out of the ballpark. Spend a lot of time crafting your online personal brand. Research others in your industry and see how they best present themselves. Employers love to see results and achievements more than anything. Make sure to include numbers that show the impact of your work.


It’s best to build your brand over time so that you don’t have to worry about it when it comes down to applying for another job. You already have a year or so worth of experience online. Take note of every single achievement and project you’ve ever done. You need to use that in your job interviews, your resume, and your cover letter also.

10. Taking too long to resign when you feel it’s time to move to another company


It’s recommended to stay in your job for at least a year or two before moving onto the next one. If you feel like you are limited in your first job and want to try something new, start searching for other places to work at. If your workplace is toxic and you have constantly talked to management about it only for them to do nothing, it’s time to move on and find a company that cares about their employees’ well-being.

Never stay in a toxic job because of the stability. This is one of the top career mistakes people regret when they are older because they could’ve been way happier if they didn’t keep dealing with that. Keep applying for other jobs until you find something better. You need to prioritize your mental health because your job has a huge impact on your personal life and health too.

Related Article: How to Navigate the Post-College Identity Crisis

11. Undervaluing yourself when applying for jobs when you meet at least 60% of the requirements


As you may have heard, many women don’t apply for jobs they don’t feel like they meet all the requirements compared to men. Men will apply for jobs they are only 60% qualified for. Most employers know it’s rare to find the perfect candidate. That is why they have training programs to teach them the skills that they lack.

Think about all the internships or any other experiences you had. Did you know all the skills that were necessary? There’s always something new to learn on the job. Most industries are rapidly changing. What you know now could be outdated 5 years later. Stay constantly learning and apply for those jobs where you meet not all, but most of the requirements.

It’s okay if you make some career mistakes. We all do. What’s important is learning from those mistakes to not repeat them again. Ask people you know in your industry what career mistakes they wish they could go back and correct.

Take it easy and learn everything you can in your first job after college. You are a valuable employee. They hired you! So sit at the table and contribute to your team.

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