For new graduates, navigating the ins and outs of your first job in the real world can seem downright overwhelming. During that transitional year from school to a first full-time job, recent graduates might be surprised and frustrated to find themselves in a foreign environment of high demands, difficult personalities and unspoken rules – career issues that can't be learned in the college classroom.

For Maria Reiling, a corporate dress code, structured work hours and shift in learning styles were the biggest changes from her role as a student to her first job as a management consultant after graduating from Harvard business school.

“Suits were common practice,” says Reiling, lifestyles category director at eBay, “and I had to adjust to getting to work at a specific time every day, which is a big switch from your class schedule. ... On the learning side, it was a different kind of learning. At work, you learn by doing, not by reading and synthesizing. I was excited to stop just thinking about things and see a more tangible result from what I was doing.”

Like preparing for a class, understanding the business is something all young graduates should take the time to do, according to Carmen Sigler, provost and vice president for academic affairs at San Jose State University.

“Just because you've graduated doesn't mean you stop learning,” says Sigler. “You have to learn about the mission of your organization. Learn the structure, the culture and observe people around you. You are surrounded by examples of people succeeding and those who are talented but are not particularly successful. You learn also from those people by observing their mistakes.”

Marina Park, who served as managing partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman for nearly eight years, says her biggest mistake at the beginning of her career as a summer law associate was not speaking up.

“I was expecting people to be aware that I was buried in non-stop tedious work and I was completely overloaded with 10 partners asking for projects with deadlines that were all due on Monday morning,” Park says. “I was going through life expecting people to look out for me more. I wasn't aware of how much ownership I needed to take in order to communicate with mentors – to let them know what I was doing, how I was doing and what I needed to do next.”

New grads in their first jobs must realize that they are learning from the experience and that it's a launching pad for greater things ahead.

© 2006, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.