#AskAHiringMangerSeries: Mistakes to Avoid As A Young Professional On Your First Job

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By Khadejah Stegall

Khadejah is a part of the TLC College Ambassador Program and a recent graduate of North Carolina A&T University. 

Your first job out of college is an exciting journey but transitioning from college life to working at your first corporate job can be challenging and many people don’t talk much about it. Toni, CEO and creator of The Corporate Tea gives us the tea on mistakes you should avoid on your first job and talks about her current experience of handling corporate America. The Corporate Tea is an online platform that helps young professionals navigate the unspoken and unwritten rules of corporate America. Toni has worked with brands like Kia Motors, Black Enterprise, Levo League, Huffington Post and more! She is the go-to person if you are ever having a career crisis and need some advice on managing the corporate life.

Q: What are some common mistakes young professionals make when they first start a job that could hurt their brand?

A: Balancing your personal and professional journey can feel more like mastering a jungle gym rather than climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. There are so many mistakes that young professionals make that become derailers in their careers. However, for the sake of time I’ve narrowed it down to three. 

First, being way too casual with colleagues. Your peers and leaders are NOT your friends. Oversharing personal details about your life, allowing access to personal social sites where you don’t behave professionally, or being the talk of the office after hours is like writing your one way ticket to the land of bad brand. 

Second, expecting too much, too soon, Hard work pays off, but not overnight. There were many times throughout my career when I thought I was ready for next levels. When I finally achieved that level, I realized just how unprepared I would have been had I received the promotion any earlier. 

Thirdly, failing to invest in yourself. You are the most important element of your career, and you must choose yourself first in order to be chosen. Failing to keep your goals at the forefront of your work decisions can lead to a stifling career that never matriculates to top levels. Invest in yourself by attending classes/conferences whenever possible, taking the time to learn and develop new skills, and finding new avenues for professional development. It is not your company’s responsibility to ensure you grow. 

Q: What are some mistakes you have made on your first job? 

A: My first job out of college really selected me. Although I still remain in the same field, I hadn’t yet “found myself” professionally. I wasn’t clear on what I needed long term to get to where I was striving to become. The first mistake I made was not taking a role where I was more strategic than tactical. I’d tell young professionals today to position yourself for executive succession by taking on roles that give you high-level exposure and influence over corporate objectives, performance objectives, and P/L responsibility. For young professionals aspiring to make it to executive ranks or the C-suite, setting clear career goals, mastering unique skills needed for leadership roles, and having long-terms plans are crucial. This doesn’t translate to being high level out of the gate but rather stop playing it safe. Choose a company that will allow you to rotate and build core business skills and or take a stretch assignment outside of your job function or department to figure yourself out. Professionals who map out their goals—and keep them visible—are far more successful.

Secondly, I was way too emotional. Everything was personal. Climbing the corporate ladder can be a roller coaster ride; upping your emotional intelligence will prove useful in navigating difficult situations throughout your career. Early in my career I hadn’t mastered the skill of getting comfortable with feedback or failing. My advice would be to learn to fail fast and accept feedback so that you can get to success faster. It’s not personal, it’s business. 

Q: Some young professionals want to move up fast and fail to focus on their current job role. Could you talk about the importance of mastering your current job?

A: It’s so important to master the role you are in before petitioning for next level responsibilities. If you're career-minded and want to climb the ladder, it's important that you analyze your corporate culture to determine what you need to focus on besides a job well done. Believing that promotions are based on merit alone is problematic. Even longevity in a role doesn’t equal a promotion! In most cases being prepared to move up or on is about being a subject-matter expert in your current role. How you know you are ready is when opportunities are chasing you rather than you chasing the opportunity. 

Q: As a young professional, what should you do if you find that you don't like your first job? Should you give it at least one year? What are your thoughts?

A: I have a saying that I share often which is “don’t stay past your peak”. There is a tradition often projected onto young professionals that they should stay to get the golden watch. The ‘hire to retire’ model is the pocket watch of hiring models and gone are the days where professionals stay for the gold watch. To stay competitive and marketable, change companies at least 3-4 times in your career. Remember you are either ripe and rotting, or green and growing. That said, being a “career gypsy” is also problematic long term. Get clear on why you want to leave and ensure it’s not emotional. You could go from the frying pan into the fire. Young professionals who make emotional career pivots often end up in a circuitous career journey often blaming corporate America when it’s really a lack of clarity about what they need and want. Unless it’s an absolutely terrible environment, you should give everything at least a year. 

Q: What is something important every millennial should take advantage of on their first job?

A: Definitely, your company’s total rewards. Early in my career I ran out and enrolled in grad school and accumulated debt only to later work for a company who actually paid for advanced degrees up front. I kick myself everyday when I would see peers obtaining 20-40k graduate degrees for FREE! You have to know what you came to get. Young professionals should get strategic about what the company has to offer beyond just your salary and ensure that you weave your personal achievement desires within that choice. This includes relocation, certifications, conferences, and retirement savings. 

Q: What is the main lesson someone should take from their first job?

A: As you progress in your career, your college buddies can’t be your primary professional network; refine your network to reflect your present career. Your first company/ job should provide a smorgasbord of senior level talent that you can model yourself after and add to your network. Surround yourself with a team of mentors who can act as your personal board of directors and provide guidance, share insights, and check you on your career decisions. If you learn nothing else, it’s what others say about your credibility is ten times more convincing than what you say about yourself because your experience doesn’t matter nearly as much as your reputation. 


Khadejah Stegall is a mommy blogger that inspires others to achieve the impossible through the power of Jesus. She enjoys family time, eating vegan meals and mentoring others on professional development. To be inspired by more post, follow her blog at khadejahstegall.com