GRADUATES / AUG. 09, 2016
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Everything You Need to Know About Your First Job Out of College

Your first job out of college isn’t exactly the best thing since sliced bread, but it doesn’t have to be so horrid! Here's everything you need to know!

Finishing college is a great feeling. Sure, you have to give up the student lifestyle – unless you decide to do a graduate degree straight away – but when you are finally finished school, it's great. Of course, this also means that, unless you are the kind of person who should be on The Rich Kids of Beverly Hills or Keeping up with the Kardashians, you now need to get your first job out of college.

Getting your first job after college is an exciting but also terrifying prospect for college graduates. I know it was for me, and I certainly feel no shame admitting it. There is a lot of pressure on you, both societal and personal. It is embedded deep within us that we need to get a job and do well at it. Any failure or perceived failure can lead to a lot of anxiety.

The important thing to remember is that, although it is an important part of your working life, your first real job is usually an entry level job you use as work experience that leads to bigger and better things. So, try not to get too stressed about it.

But to ease your mind, we are here to help; first, we will tell you how to prepare for your first day of work, then what to do on the day and, finally, how to keep your job.

How to Prepare for Your First Day at Work

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The key to preparing for your first day in a real job is actually quite simple. You basically treat it like an interview – but a job interview on steroids. If you prepare for it the same way that you did for the interview – with a bit of extra effort – then you will be fine. A lot of the same principles apply. You are trying to make a good impression and not seem like a complete jackass, and a large part of the interview is focused on that goal.

Dress For Success

I know we have said it over and over again, but it can’t be emphasised enough. What we are talking about here, though, is preparing the right clothes, to ensure that you are dressed for success on the day. You need to find out what kind of dress code the company has and make sure that you either go out and buy the right clothes or have the right clothes cleaned and ironed if you already have them. You definitely don’t want to be the dull person wearing a full suit in a cool startup where everyone is wearing shorts and T-shirts. But you also don’t want to be wearing shorts in J.P. Morgan where everyone is wearing suits.

Luckily, you should have had the chance to check out what people were wearing when you were being interviewed. I don’t mean what your interviewers were wearing as they often dress more formally for interviews; try and get a look at what the regular employees are wearing. That is the best indicator of what to wear. But if you have no idea, the safest choice is always to overdress.

Research the Company

You should have already done a lot of research before you were interviewed, but you need to do even more now. The more about a company you know, the more your boss will love you. So, dig as deep as you can. Find out every possible problem they have and every goal they hope to achieve. You need to know the names of all the important people in the company. Trust me: if you don’t know who the CEO or your boss is, it will be incredibly embarrassing. Use the company’s website or LinkedIn page, and connect with all your new co-workers. It’s easier if you can put a face to a name.

Of course, they won’t expect you to know everything. So, make sure you bring a notepad and some pens with you because your new boss is probably going to give you a lot of information that you will want to write down.

Get all the Documentation You Need Ready

If you have ever started a new job, then you know the amount of paperwork that needs to be filled out and you always seem to be missing something like your social insurance number, bank account details, or passport. Even printing out a few copies of your CV can be useful. After all, the idea is to treat it like an interview, so make sure you have everything ready.

Plan Your Route

Just like the interview, make sure that you will be able to get to office not just on time, but a few minutes early. You are trying to impress. Being tardy on your first day is going to make you look bad!

Don’t Pack a Lunch

This is optional but if you pack a lunch, then it could mean that you don’t have as many opportunities to make friends. Going to lunch with your new boss or co-workers is a great way to bond and get to know them. If you want to go one step further, you could even try taking some of them out to lunch and pick up the bill!

Practise Your Small Talk

Not everyone is naturally gifted at small talk and you don’t want to have nothing to say to your new co-workers. So, much like you practised your interview questions, try practising your small talk. It actually isn’t that hard to have a few conversation starters ready, and you just need to catch up on the latest news, gossip, and TV shows to keep the conversation going. However, try to steer clear of controversial topics like religion or politics, if possible. It can lead to a lot of tension if people feel very passionately about something.

Watch Your Body Language

You did it for your interview, and you will have to do it in the workplace, especially on the first day. You will have to pay attention to your body language. It is a major part of your communication in the workplace, after all. So, if you don’t practise it, then you might communicate the wrong impression to people at work.

Your First Day

Coffee Break Shutterstock

The first day of your first job out of college is going to be tough. In fact, for millennials, it is harder than any other generation. Jody Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group says that, “Globalization and advancements in technology means the productivity and efficiency demanded from workers is higher, adding pressure to new workers. The expectations of entry-level employees and what they need to contribute is higher than ever before.”

We pulled the short straw in life, that is true. Previous generations even call us lazy, despite the fact that we have to work harder than they did just to get a job. Our lack of soft skills – like communication, leadership, and teamwork – is one of the biggest problems that employers complain about, but we weren’t taught these in college; you can only learn them in the workplace.

Given these factors, you need to make that first day count and do everything possible to make a great impression.

Smile

It might seem simple but having a good attitude, smiling, and being nice to people on your first day is one the best ways to make a great impression. No one likes negative or toxic people in the office, so why not start being positive from the very beginning? Everyone will be more interested in you and friendlier towards you.

Introduce Yourself with Confidence

Introducing yourself to everyone you can will boost your confidence and leave a great first impression. One of the best attributes that business people can have is confidence. As Nirav Mehta, associate director of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says: “It is critical to shake as many hands as possible. Offer a genuine smile, and spark dialogue with co-workers. Let others know that you are available to help and that you are looking forward to collaborating with them.”

Actively Listen and Ask Questions

One of the most important ways for you to learn about your new job is to ask questions and actively listen to the answers. Your new manager is (hopefully) going to give you a lot of information about your new role. If you don’t understand anything or need help, then you need to ask questions. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s what your boss wants. The key is to actively listen to what they say, write it down in the notebook that you prepared the night before so you don’t forget it, and not to pester them with too many questions.

You may notice all of the factors I have mentioned in this section are soft skills, mainly communication skills. So, the first day is really all about communicating with people because no one expects you to do your job on the first day. You spend most of it learning and listening to what you will be doing and how you will be doing it.

Keeping Your First Job

Dismissed businessman carrying box Shutterstock

Remember that your first job after college will almost certainly be an entry level job, and it may be completely unrelated to your degree. In fact, college will probably have taught you almost nothing about a real job or the skills involved.

Inside Higher Ed reported on a 2014 survey by Gallup, saying that “just 14 percent of Americans — and only 11 percent of business leaders — strongly agreed that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace.”

With such worrying statistics, it is essential that graduates learn how to keep their first job after college by continuing to improve the soft skills and competencies that they are lacking.

Office Politics and Rules

Understanding office politics and unwritten rules is an essential skill for graduates to learn when they start a new job. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by making friends with a veteran or someone else who has a thorough understanding of how the company works. In an interview to Business Insider, Amanda Augustine, career expert at TheLadders, said: "Companies have their own language and inside jokes. Look for the one person to help you decode the acronyms and office politics."

Part of this is effectively navigating the social landscape of the company by identifying the right clique or groups of people to hang out with. Not the ones who sit around gossiping, but the ones who are friendly with management. It is not enough just to be friendly with your new co-workers; you need to be friendly with the right ones.

It is also essential to learn about the kitchen and what the rules are – for example, who buys the coffee, makes the coffee, washes the dishes – and if you need to buy your own coffee mug, plates, and knife and fork. These might seem like minor details but people can get really annoyed if you use the wrong refrigerator, coffee mug, or milk.

Manage Your Expectations

You are not entitled to anything just because you went to university. So many graduates don’t understand that simple fact. You need to understand that you are an entry level employee and you are unlikely to have a massive impact on the company and, as such, you are easily replaceable. There are so many other graduates with the same hard skills that you have.

As we mentioned above, it is not your hard skills that are going to make you stand out from the crowd; it is your soft skills. Focus on developing your communication, teamwork, and leadership skills, and you are more likely to catch the boss’ eye.

Take Advantage of the Opportunity to Learn

Similar to managing your expectations is using your first job after college as an opportunity to learn. Because college has taught you little or nothing about work, your first job is a fantastic opportunity to learn. If you constantly act like you have a chip on your shoulder because you didn’t get the six-figure job in your field you hoped, then you are going to be miserable, and when you eventually leave or get fired, you will get a bad recommendation.

Hopefully, I haven’t scared you too much about your first job after college. You shouldn’t be; as long as you follow the instructions in this article, your first job should be fine. The key is to make sure you work on your soft skills and continue to develop them once you land a job. You simply cannot rely on your hard skills alone; it is not going to impress most employers, unless you have soft skills, as well. Do you think that I left anything out of this guide? Let me know in the comments section below!

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