Landing your first career-track job should be an exciting time — you're literally laying the foundation for the next 30 or 40 years of your life. This also means it's a high-stakes time of your career. Decisions you make and things you do — or don't do — will follow you into the future. Here are some things career experts say you must do as soon as possible that will reap major dividends later.
Get your face out there. "Be visible," said Len Morrison, director of undergraduate career services at Bentley University. "Seek out projects and assignments that are strategic and that make your presence known in the company." Volunteer to give presentations, or look for opportunities to interact with clients or other stakeholders in your company.
Shut up and listen. "Be totally objective, listen, don’t pass judgement even if you see something that doesn’t seem to make sense," said George Boué, vice president of human resources at Stiles Corp. and an expert panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management. Millennials, in particular, growing up in what Boué called the "Yelp generation," tend to think it's not a problem to share their unchecked opinions — but what flies on social media might not work in a conservative workplace, Boué warned. "Just listen and observe for the first three to four months," he said. "See who the power players and decision-makers are. Once you get to that comfort level, you can start playing in the game."
Find your niche. "Be a master of something, not just a generalist," said Michael Aaron Flicker, president and founder of advertising and marketing agency XenoPsi. Carving out an area of expertise early in your career will give you focus and make you stand out to others in your company and industry. And make sure it's a topic, skill set or specialization you're passionate about, Flicker added. "This passion will take you much farther than simply doing what you think will provide the quickest career growth," he said.
Seek out a mentor. "Finding a good mentor can change your career," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. You want to find someone you click with personally, but who's a few steps above you on the corporate ladder. Having a mentor means more than just being able to ask them for advice, and a good one will invest the effort to help you make big-picture decisions to further your career. "A mentor commits valuable time and attention to make sure you’re progressing toward your goals," Haefner said.
Be willing to move. This might sound like a tall order — and it's not possible for everyone — but Morrison said a willingness to relocate could bring opportunities that otherwise would go untapped. "We find that people who are willing to take the assignment to move to another part of the country or state get far greater exposure in a company. It sends a message about your commitment and often leads to promotion," he said.
Banish the slouching, fidgeting, and eye-rolling. "Having positive body language at work can make a huge difference in your attitude," Haefner said. It also makes a big difference in how others (like your boss) perceive you.