Making it on your first job.

Author:Reynolds, Rhonda

Here's how to make that leap from college to career.

So, you are patting yourself on the back now that you have landed that first great job. And you think that you are well on your way to a high-powered career. Yes, you may have won the battle, but the war has just begun. How well you arm yourself and take charge of your career could mean the difference between a promotion or a layoff.

Last year, such formidable foes as an economic recession and corporate cutbacks made it difficult for workers to keep their jobs, let alone advance in them. By the third quarter of 1991, some 377,979 employees in major corporations had been terminated, says Dan Lacey, editor of the bimonthly newsletter, Workplace Trends. Undoubtedly, there are more people seeking jobs than there are positions available. By October 1991, the national unemployment rate was 6.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, the rate for blacks was 12.7% and increasingly steadily.

In light of these unstable times, it is now more important than ever for you to take an active role in how your career advances. Making it on your first job means making all the right moves. Today you are not only competing with other recent college graduates but with professionals who were downsized as well as those who are already inside of the company.

Those who demonstrate initiative, a positive attitude, strong communication skills and leadership abilities have a greater chance of staying in the ranks of the upwardly mobile. Acquiring a mentor who can help you maneuver through the trenches is another plus. But ultimately it's your responsibility to develop the skills you need to guide your career to the level you desire.

The Corporate Ladder: Rung One

The transition from academia to corporate advancement will initially be difficult. For instance, many graduates find that despite their degrees, they are often offered bottom-of-the-totem-pole positions, with salary to match. Despite this, it is up to you to map out your career path. Set your sights on job development and progression. You ought to have a realistic outline detailing where you want to be in the next six months to a year. In order to thrive during those first few months, ask yourself two questions. One, what do they say they want from me? Two, what do they really want from me? Make sure you understand your boss' expectations.

Even though you may comply with everything in your job description, on a scale from one to 10, your rating is 1 at best, according to Adele Scheele, Ph.D., a management consultant and career strategist in New York City. You have to work on making sure that the people in your company who count recognize your value. Because everything is a matter of dollars and cents, your worth is determined by how you impact the company's bottom line. Are you helping it to make or lose money?

Normally, your first assignment is when you're first evaluated. You are graded constantly on every assignment, and each success is relative to your performance. The first assignment is critical to your career path, because it will show your superiors and co-workers how you solve problems, interact with others and rely on your own ideas. Recent graduates often don't take their first work assignments as seriously as they should. When they are in school, a new semester begins every six months. "So, in the same way, they feel that they can keep starting over in the work force," says Scheele. Another mistake new employees commonly make is that they take their textbook with them on the job. "Unfortunately," Scheele explains, "you cannot use textbook answers for real-life problems."

Being one of the lowest on the totem pole requires some grunt work. Using these tasks wisely, however, can increase your responsibilities. The best way for your talents to be noticed and appreciated is to take the initiative.

"Just because you are bright does not mean you...

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