There are a lot of stories about famous and successful people who got fired from a job at some point – Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling. Yes, getting fired can provide an opportunity to learn and grow. But let’s face it – given the choice, none of us would see getting fired from our first job as a game plan for career success.
This month, legions of hopeful graduates will be starting their first professional jobs, many of them in PR. As a seasoned PR professional who remains close to her alma mater, I’ve spoken dozens of times to college classes and student groups about keeping your first job – because keeping it can sometimes be as hard as getting it.
I can tell you from personal experience that my first job was a train wreck – or maybe I was a train wreck. I definitely should have been fired – and I came perilously close. So when I talk to those eager and earnest students, I share with them these tips for keeping their first jobs.
Just like in middle school, popularity counts. True story: I didn’t get fired from my first job as employee newsletter editor at Knott’s Berry Farm because my boss liked me. My work was mediocre, and my work ethic was worse (i.e. strolling around the amusement park instead of writing at my desk). But he still gave me a second chance when a typo in the newsletter resulted in his department being called, “pubic relations.” Yes, I did that. And the CEO called my boss into his office. Yet I wasn’t fired. If I’d been a jerk, I’m pretty sure I would have been packing my bags.
Do anything and everything with a smile.
There is no job too small for you. If you do whatever is asked without complaint and with your best effort, people will like working with you. They’ll ask for you to be on their teams. It’s likely you’ll be chosen to do bigger tasks more quickly because you will have earned it. Get miffed about having to put paper in the printer or clean up the conference room, and people will stop asking you to help. No work = no job. And today I still happily clean up the conference room after lunch meetings.
Do the right thing.
If my first two pieces of advice seem like you’re supposed to blindly do whatever you’re told, that is not what I’m trying to say. Never do anything that feels unethical, unkind or just wrong. How you behave and how you treat others will shape your personal brand faster than what you say or the work you do. I learned the hard way that I wasn’t perfect, so I’d better think hard before I criticized someone else.
When you’re looking for that first job, you often hear, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” To keep your first job, I’d offer this: “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.” Smart companies like Porter Novelli hire for attitude and character because we can train for the skills we need. And whether it’s your first job or your last job, attitude and character always matter. Keep these tips in mind, and you probably won’t have to worry about getting fired.
I’m sure everyone has tips based on their first-job experiences. Go ahead and use the comment section below to share them.