Answer by Mark Brimson on Quora.
I am writing this from the perspective of a 30+ white-collar worker, so take it with a grain of salt if you are younger/older or working in a different type of job.
You know absolutely nothing after graduation
The more you try to look smart and try to impress coworkers with all of the definitions and theories from your college, the more you annoy senior people in your field. You also look terribly naïve and pretentious. For the first couple of months, just shut up. Don’t talk — just listen. Evaluate. You are most likely at the bottom of the food chain. It will not last forever.
Don’t study for the sake of studying
It is good to be highly educated. It is bad to start working in your 30s with zero real life experience with a Ph.D. in the area that you won’t be using anyways.
Always look for a better job
It is very easy to assume that everyone is your friend at work and you are one big happy family — until a recession (2008) comes. Maybe your company goes bankrupt. You are bought and merged with another company. Your boss gets “eliminated” and you lose your job with him/her. Your department is closed. Your position is outsourced. Your technology is obsolete.
It is absolutely terrifying to assume that you will be able to work in one company for more than five years and not make some serious compromises. You will have to change your title, your department, your boss, your building, your town, etc.
The one and only way to avoid becoming a victim is to actively and always look for a better position, better company, better salary and better coworkers. Don’t trust any company. They don’t care about you at all — at least they care as long as you both have the same goal, or as long as they can justify your position to investors.
Your earning power is usually S-shaped. In the beginning you are nobody, you have a modest salary and you are learning the ropes. After a while, if you are smart enough, you will realize that there are many other ways of accelerating your earning ability. You will change your job/title, learn new things, become a consultant or have you own company. After you make it big and become head of department, CEO, CFO, etc., it will become harder to change jobs and find a position on the same level. When you get old(er) you will most likely have to settle for less and make some compromises. You can’t just jump from one company to another that easily.
Always learn new things
This is self-explanatory. No matter how smart you are and how much people appreciate your contribution, no one in this world can afford to stop learning. The easiest way to stand out is to absolutely own your field. Commit actively to become one of the best people in your field.
Know that office and life politics is real
Learn to early recognize who is pulling the strings and what type of culture your company promotes. Again, don’t be a victim.
Have a plan B, C and D
Although many highly successful people tell you that you don’t need a plan B, I highly doubt they would be saying the same thing if they weren’t that rich. You see, it is easy to retrospectively say, “I succeeded and I didn’t need a plan B.” Well, good for you. What about the millions of others who have chosen their career paths when they were 18 and now they are 38 and hate their jobs? Play it safe. Have a plan B. Save money, build contacts, learn new skills, etc.
Losers chase job titles
Life is much more than your business card. Again, I am really boring now, but don’t be a victim. Don’t sell your life for a title.
Maintain good relationships
It is much better to know 10 good and very honest people than to barely know 1,000 of them. People with 1000+ contacts on LinkedIn are poison. They are everything that’s wrong in “networking.” One million times zero is still zero.
Don’t be afraid to stand out
Losers will call you “too ambitious,” “competitive,” “no life,” etc. Don’t care about them. Good people will always value your knowledge and contribution.
Understand supply and demand
Don’t believe in “performance reviews” and other corporate BS. The only law that exists is the one of supply and demand. If they desperately need someone with your skills, they will bend all of the corporate rules to get you on board. They will throw money at you. If they don’t need you, you can be the best in your field, but you are simply not needed. Just take a look at the IT sector. In the last 20 years almost every multi-millionaire younger than 40 was from IT. All of the lawyers and doctors can work 20 hours a day if they want, but their market is over-saturated. If you started in Internet 20 years ago, you could become a millionaire with a very modest IT skill set. The market is faceless.
In job and in life, avoid drama. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t have sex with coworkers. Don’t talk behind people’s backs. You will lose in the end.
Sell, sell, sell
You are always selling. You are selling yourself to your boss, your coworkers and your future coworkers. Master the art of selling.
This question originally appeared on Quora: What were the best things you learned in your first job?