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Bucket List for the First Year of Your Career

By Paige Kassalen

Starting your career is an exciting chapter that provides many opportunities for growth. Even in the first few months after starting my career, I remember being surprised at how much I grew.

To get the most out of your first year, too, I put together a bucket list of eight items:

  • Volunteer to take on a stretch assignment, especially one you’re not 100% qualified for – In your career, you should never take yourself out of the running for anything. Imagine an assignment comes up that you’re interested in, but you are not sure if you are a good fit. Let someone else be the judge of that and still apply. No one will ever be the perfect fit, but someone will always have to get the role. It is always better to try than imagine “what if?”
  • Offer up an idea or a solution in a large meeting – Some say you make the biggest impact at the start of your career and the end of your career, but you might not feel ready to voice your opinion early on. There is a line between cockiness and valuable contribution, so don’t just talk for the sake of talking. Do your research, come up with a good idea, and always remember that you are in the room because you have experience to share, so don’t be afraid to share it.
  • Join an internal employee resource group – When you start your career, it could feel overwhelming to balance the learning curve and getting involved in the company culture. You will never be less busy than you are at the start of your career, and the network and exposure gained through employee resource groups are well worth it.
  • Get a core group of Frolleagues (friend colleagues) – Surrounding yourself with a strong network of colleagues is very important because they will help you with the adjustment to your new job, plus it makes everything more fun! Diversity in the workplace gives you an opportunity to learn from people you might not have naturally met outside of work. Meet up for coffee, send an email to someone from your alma matter, and say “yes” to every happy hour. To this day, I still talk to the people I met my first year working, and it is exciting to see how much growth has happened since we first met.
  • Understand how your role connects to revenue – This was advice I received from the president of my former company, and it is a mentality I’ve carried on throughout my career. In technical roles, we rarely tie our job back to revenue, but being able to quantify the impact of your work in relation to dollars saved or dollars earned will help communicate how you are adding value.
  • Build a roadmap for where you want your career to go – When I started my career, I was so excited to be there and was willing to take on any opportunity. You have a lot of flexibility at the start of your career, so if you have an idea of where you want your career to go, make sure you communicate it to your manager. They want to help you grow, and it is challenging to help you grow in the right direction if you just “enjoy everything.”
  • Shift your focus from what you know to how to problem solve – You start your career with a solid foundation from your prior education, but it is just a foundation. You don’t know Python? Learn it. You never used Alteryx to automate a workflow? Try it. To grow, you will need to take on things you’ve never done before, so don’t worry about what you know, and focus on how to problem solve.
  • Become a subject matter expert – In your first year, you’ll have a lot of opportunities to try out your skills in a real-world setting. Perfect your skills in a certain aspect of your job that interests you and become the go-to person for that task. You still want to gain as much general knowledge as you can to ensure you’re not pigeonholed, but it’s empowering when you are the go-to subject matter expert. Being recognized as such tangibly highlights the value you bring to the organization.

Starting your career is an exciting milestone, and you will be shocked at how much you grow. At first, things might be overwhelming, the learning curve will be huge, and you’ll have to deal with a lot of ambiguity. Just remember this is a time for growth. This list above helped me get the most of my first year in my career, and I hope it does the same for you too. Enjoy every minute!

Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post. After Solar Impulse, Kassalen has helped Covestro and JPMorgan Chase develop and implement strategies to embrace a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now uses her problem-solving skills at an artificial intelligence startup, CrowdAI, where she leads the implementation of computer vision solutions for existing commercial customers.

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