3 Big Lies about Your First Job

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You just went five or six figures into a college degree to make photocopies. And your manager probably won’t even be happy with them.

Because the corporate entry level isn’t about what school you graduated from — even if it is UCLA — or what GPA you studied your way into, or even who you know. (Unless the CEO is your uncle.) No, this first job is really about paying dues and keeping your foot out of your mouth during meetings.

Here are a just a few of the biggest myths and misconceptions from Career Freshman CEO Michael Ball’s new book, You’re Too Smart For This: Beating the 100 Big Lies about Your First Job. For more lies, visit CareerFreshman.com (in the “For Newbies” section).

Lie no. 19 – You Can Handle It Without a Mentor

Corporate America is too big and too confusing a place to try to figure out on your own. In fact, it’s kind of like the DMV: swarms of frustrated and busy people, a litany of procedures and hoops to jump through, the need to do well with your tasks, and a permeating desire to get in and out fast.

And while some companies have set up formal mentorship programs, the participating managers are usually participating involuntarily. Meaning newbies often don’t figure into their schedules except during downtime at an airport, or after they’ve thrown a few back and are loose enough to deal with you. This is why it’s smart to find someone on your own, who you’re comfortable talking to, and who’ll recognize your name when it pops up on their caller ID.

And who better than a fellow UCLA alum? In fact, the Alumni Association has a database of more than 4,500 volunteers, who have specifically offered to help new grads like you navigate the working world. (And they’re sober on top of that)!

Lie no. 22 – Networks Are for More Established Professionals

Looking around the office, most of the incompetence you see isn’t because the company doesn’t know any better. It’s usually because there’s an uncle who plays golf with someone in the company, and goes, “Hey, how about hooking up my grossly underqualified nephew with an overcompensated position of outsized importance and authority? Nice shot!”

Way of the world, fair or not. Talent will only get you so far; it’s the people who are going to recognize and pay for your talent that are going to make you successful. And since you never know who knows whom, it’s in your interest to start getting to know everyone you can.

As a newbie, networking is one of the most important skills you need to develop (next to the ability to make photocopies without giving lip). Building effective, productive relationships is how you open up professional channels, and position yourself to gain the feedback, opportunities, and contacts you’ll need to eventually do what you really want to do for a living. And get invited to parties.

Once again, the Alumni Association is built for this — quite literally. With a full calendar of events, workshops, and mixers, you’re set to tap a Bruin network in nearly every industry and major organization. Regardless of how far you can hit a golf ball.

Lie no. 54 – The Job Has to Exist for You to Get It

Fortune 500 companies are funny like this: They’ll sit their grunts down when they first arrive, and map out the next dozen or so years of their life there. Knowing full well that most will be gone in under two. And that their interests are going to shift over time. And that many aren’t even good enough to hang. And that execs hardly ever follow the prescribed career path, anyway. But let me tell you again about all the exciting stuff you’ll be doing in 2012.

No, the best kind of promotion, arguably, is into a position that wasn’t a position before you got it. Or, more accurately, before you earned it, which is how it works regardless of where and how you move. Almost always, you have to already be doing the job before you officially get the job.

And when it comes to new positions, corporations have all the consistency of a teenager with ADD. So what you need to be doing is dolling yourself up for the Next Big Thing: really working your niche, and keeping abreast of all the goings-on in the company and industry. You might be able to yank a better business card out of it if you can make a strong enough pitch for the new gig.

For which the UCLA Alumni Association and UCLA Career Center are around to give you a hand after graduation. Look to them for career advice, networking connections with established professionals and kinship with fellow recent grads.

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