The Next Big Step: Starting Your Career

From negotiating your benefits to making connections in the workplace, you can do several things to get the most out of your first year at work.
 

Ask and ye may receive

Even if you're not fielding numerous job offers from Fortune 500 companies, you don't have to settle for the bare minimum when it comes to compensation. The key is to look beyond salary to benefits.

It's not just about medical and dental coverage, either. Vacation time, personal days and other benefits are extremely valuable and may be more easily negotiated than a high salary.

Benefits can also give you more flexibility and the freedom to choose your path. Consider asking about some of the following before you sign on the dotted line.
 

Education assistance - School again? You bet. Just because you've graduated doesn't mean it's time to stop learning. Your future employability depends upon continuous self-development. Education assistance programs allow employees to pursue continuing education (including graduate degrees), while the company foots part of or the entire bill.
 

Flextime - You may be able to set a schedule that suits you. Flextime could provide a four-day workweek (longer hours each day and one day off) or a workday that goes from 10-6 instead of 9-5.
 

Alternative work arrangements - These usually consist of a few days in the office each week with one or two at home, sometimes with a company laptop. This is great for anyone who works well with little supervision or has a long commute. However, certain positions may not be suitable to this kind of arrangement - that's something to discuss with your manager.
 

Passing your probation

Most companies have a probationary period, usually three months in length, to evaluate your "fit" and performance. In some cases, your benefits will not take effect until this probationary period has passed.

Don't worry about making mistakes - you're new, it's bound to happen. Display a willingness to learn, ask lots of questions and be a team player.

At the end of the probationary period, you'll likely be given a performance review and then things become permanent. It's important to ask about your probationary period when you are offered the job so that you know what to expect.
 

Networking

Networking might not sound like much fun, but do yourself a big favour and check any negative luggage at the door.

It's not about schmoozing and brown-nosing. Today's networking consists of building meaningful relationships and helping others in whatever way you can. To be successful, everyone involved has to make an effort.

If your goal is to move up in your current organization (and it may not be), you have to make your name and aspirations known to the decision-makers.

Make a point of meeting managers outside your department, participating in company functions, eating in the lunchroom (not at your desk) and, most importantly, excelling at everything you do.

Before you know it, everyone will know your name and the quality of your work - setting the wheels into motion for that promotion.
 

Office politics

If the thought of office politics makes your stomach turn, relax. You don't have to gossip or backstab the person in the next cube to get ahead. Playing the game doesn't mean being sneaky and gossipy.

You need to know how things get through established channels and how the main players in your company like to communicate. Working this system to your advantage requires respect and trust.

Paying attention to office politics ensures your work is speaking the right language to the right people. If your goals are aligned with the organizations' goals, your work will speak for itself.
 

Have fun

If you're like most students, you've spent the past few years living on the cheap. Now that you have a day job, get out and do the things you always said you would if you had cash.

Try a new restaurant every week (one that doesn't serve with paper or plastic), check out the theatre, go skydiving, take a warm, sunny vacation - whatever floats your boat, as long as you can afford it. Go ahead, you deserve it!