After years of hard work and expense, you’ve graduated from college and found your way into your first “real” job. Congratulations! Today’s economy for young people can be extremely challenging, so take a moment and savor your accomplishment. But only a moment. You’re now in a new, bigger world with an entirely different set of expectations, no curriculum to follow, and a wealth of opportunity to take advantage of, all of which will require you to be on top of your game. Here are a few tips to help you get there:
One of the most important aspects of this new phase is the prominence of communication and relationship-building skills. Modern, diverse workplaces strive to maintain an atmosphere of respect, inclusion, and honesty, and the only way they manage that is through the attitudes and actions of their employees. You’ll work alongside a wide range of people who have different ways of expressing themselves, and the ability to work with a broad range of personality types will go far in helping you advance.
Find ways to involve yourself in company activities or events and look for people from whom you can learn the ropes. Nobody really knows what to expect from you, so use your “newbie” energy to ask questions and reach out for advice without the worry of expectations. At this stage of your career (any stage, really) mentors are hugely valuable, so be on the lookout for people who exhibit the traits and accomplishments you’d like to emulate.
Finally, be enthusiastic and positive about your role and the company overall. There are always people who complain in the workplace and sometimes they have legitimate reasons to do so. But you’re perceived as more effective when you project a “can do” attitude and avoid negativity.
One relationship in the workplace is particularly important: the one you have with your boss. Listen to their expectations and directions for how to do your job. Be proactive about keeping them informed about your projects, in whatever format they prefer. Pay attention to and respect their availability, particularly if they have a large number of other people reporting to them. Do what you can on your own, but don’t be afraid to ask questions, which is one way your boss can see that you’re engaged and invested in doing your job well.
Also, be prepared for constructive criticism, which you will likely receive from your boss in the workplace far more directly than you did from your professors. Your boss depends on you for their own success, particularly if they were your hiring manager (which is often the case). They’re invested in making you better at your job. However, it’s incumbent on you to track your accomplishments, and to figure out what aspects of your role they consider to be the most crucial, so you can align your time management and focus accordingly.
You’re now in a position that may involve a salary, and hopefully other benefits as well like insurance, vacation, and retirement planning (stock, 401Ks, etc). It’s your responsibility to thoroughly educate yourself about what the company offers so you can make good decisions about how to most effectively leverage these perks. Pay attention to emails from HR that pertain to changes and deadlines. There’s money to be made—and lost—based on how the company has arranged their benefit packages, so prioritize your awareness and stay informed.
About that salary: you may have hoped that you could ask for a raise relatively soon, but that is rarely a good idea. The usual standard is to wait at least a year before seeking a raise (and you may receive one anyway through yearly evaluations, which commonly involve at least a small raise and/or a percentage bump in salary). However, if the scope of your role grows dramatically without an accompanying discussion about compensation, consider opening up the option with your boss—but only after you’ve demonstrated competence with your new responsibilities.
Be Organized—At this stage of your career, it’s more likely you will be noticed for doing something wrong than for doing something right. So stay on top of your responsibilities, limit mistakes, and pile up as many wins as you can. It will be (eventually) noticed.
Guard against burnout—Don’t be so determined to make a good impression that you neglect your mental (or physical) health. Give yourself breaks throughout the day when able. Also, stay home and take a sick day if you’re ill. You don’t want to be Patient Zero for an office-wide epidemic.
Keep learning—You’re done with school, but you’re not done educating yourself. Look for training opportunities, webinars, and conferences you can attend to learn more about what you’re doing now—and what you might want to do in the future.
Avoid distractions—This is easy when you’re busy, but many office jobs involve down time between projects. Stay focused. Don’t look at your cell phone at your desk, and don’t browse non-work websites. Find ways to keep your head in work mode even when it’s slow.
Be confident—This might be the most important advice of all. Know that you belong here. Your opinions and your energy are valuable. Make sure you always consider your contributions in the context of team goals and collaboration, but don’t hide. Be poised and unflappable, even (especially) during stressful times.