Entering the workforce for the first time is your cue to start collecting experiences that will benefit your professional future

It was the early ’80s when I landed my first full-time job out of university.

Dressed in a new suit, I entered the office of the financial institution that’d hired me full of high expectations about the exciting challenges that lay ahead, only to be abruptly grounded when issued with my primary duty: filing documents.

This involved spending hours in a small room on my own each day, sorting and depositing paperwork onto rows of shelves. Just when I’d think I was nearly finished, someone would arrive with another box of documents for me to sort out.

If only filing was as simple as a click of a computer button like it is today.

While the workplace has changed a lot since then, I believe no advancements in technology or processes have altered the most effective way to transition from student to professional life.

No matter the field or profession you are about to enter, whether it’s in an interview or after you’ve secured a position, I believe the fundamental key to success is maintaining a positive attitude, willingness to learn and being authentic. It really is that simple.

While the first few months in the job may feel like you’re a pinball bouncing from one foreign challenge to the next, keeping an optimistic and curious mindset will help set you on an advantageous career course.

This is because your employer won’t expect you to already know how to do everything. Yes, you have a university degree, a fantastic base of knowledge, but what you will discover is that every business has its own processes and protocols which you’ll need to work within.

Consequently, what your employer will expect from you is an eagerness to learn, and an ability to consistently put these lessons into practice. This applies to even the most menial tasks that, to you, may seem pointless – remember, you wouldn’t be asked to do them if they didn’t matter.

What was my attitude like in my first job? Admittedly, it was poor – no doubt about it.

I made the common mistake of entering the role with preconceived notions of what it should be like. When it failed to meet my expectations, I quickly became disappointed, frustrated, unmotivated.

While I had a degree, worked hard to finally reach this point, here I was, filing for the majority of each day. I felt like I was being under-utilised and undervalued; it seemed like such an injustice at the time.

As you might’ve already guessed, my tenure in that role was short-lived. This wasn’t because I was asked to move on; I left on my own volition, leaving behind an unfavourable reputation.

For the next 10 years I chased that elusive job that’d match my lofty expectations before finally realising the problem wasn’t who I worked for, or the tasks I was expected to undertake – my attitude was the problem. I knew the only person who could fix my predicament was me.

So I made a conscious decision to learn how to respect the colleagues I didn’t necessary like, and persevere rather than run away from the tasks that didn’t excite me.

My life became much more fulfilling and fruitful as a result. It really felt like a weight had been lifted.

Today, I am a CEO, and I often see some young people entering the workforce weighed down by the needless pressure of lofty or unrealistic expectations, just like I did.

Many glorify what life will be like when they’re earning an income, working five days a week. Add to this the natural inclination to compare one’s progression with friends at the same stage of their career, and one can really get distracted by things that really don’t matter.

I remember when I was younger certain people would get promoted ahead of me, leaving me confused and frustrated as to why I hadn’t progressed too.

The reality is that everyone progresses at a different pace. There’ll be times where you’ll be ahead and potentially times you’re not. One’s career is a long and often unpredictable journey.

You could’ve been the smartest student in your university class, or struggled to earn your qualification, but once you enter the workforce you’re back on an equal playing field. The knowledge you would’ve gained during your studies is of course valuable, but it’s not everything. The workplace is far too dynamic.

Natural traits or skills that might not have benefited you at university might actually prove advantageous in the professional world. For instance, you might be an inherently sociable person who finds it easy to interact with various personalities, which is a very valuable asset in professional life.

It’s for this reason that you should never discount the power of just being yourself it really can be your competitive edge.

Yes, you’ll be in a new environment, but that doesn’t mean you need to skew who you are to fit in. People want to know that the person they’re working with is what they seem.

Besides, people will see through the mask more often than not, which will do you no favours in building trusted relationships based on respect the lifeblood of any successful career. Authenticity really is such a valuable quality. Too many people let it go.

Entering the workforce for the first time is your cue to start collecting experiences that will benefit your professional future. Good or bad, every scenario will be a valuable addition to your career. It will teach you a lot about yourself, which is always a fascinating and worthwhile process.

A positive attitude, willingness to learn and being authentic: the power to take your place in the professional world rests with you.


Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia and author of The Naked CEO.



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