Regardless of whether you’re a recent graduate or fresh out of school, heading into the big bad world of full-time work can be overwhelming. All of a sudden you are ripped away from your comfort zone, saddled with new responsibilities and effectively told to fend for yourself; scary, right?
Well, that fear is a good thing. Starting your first job represents the beginnings of true independence, where you begin to make your own way in the world and forge a career for yourself. Therefore, before you dive in head first, you want to ensure you are as prepared as possible.
As always, we are here to help. We’ve compiled some of the most important tips to help you succeed in your new role so that you can make that transition from the classroom into the workplace with confidence and aplomb. So, pick out your best tie or iron your favourite skirt, and read on…
1. Realise Where You Are
The first barrier for many first-time hires is adjusting to their new environment – there is a big difference between a college campus and a busy, working office. In school, being late might result in detention; in the workplace, your pay will get docked. Back in the day, skipping the odd class or lecture would likely go unnoticed; vacating your workspace unannounced, though, will likely get you fired.
Therefore, you should always be aware of where you are and the surroundings you are in. Try to adhere to the same behavioural standards as your more experienced colleagues, including the two Ps:
- Punctuality: As mentioned, there is little tolerance for tardiness in the real world. If your boss asks you to do something, they expect you to get on with it – not make yourself a coffee and spend 30 minutes in the group chat. You might have got away with it in school, but in an office environment, you’ll simply be removed and replaced.
- Presentation: Unless your role specifically dictates the wearing of a uniform, your appearance and the way you dress is important. While some may argue this is superficial, how you present yourself is undeniably a factor in how you are perceived by others; wearing a shirt and tie, for example, suggests that you are committed and taking your job seriously. If in doubt, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed – you can get a feel for what the dress code is as you settle into the company.
2. Learn as Much as You Can
You might be thinking that everyone will be expecting you to be up to speed from the moment you step through the door; well, relax – they’re not. Every single person in the office was once in your position, and they all understand how you must be feeling. Nobody is looking at you to deliver flawless, top-quality work in your first week.
They are expecting you to ask questions and take things on board, though. For example, when you’re given a briefing, take notes and at the end clarify anything you’re unsure of – it’s much better to spend an extra five minutes going over a task than spending the next four hours unsure of what you’re meant to be doing. Your inquisitiveness will reflect well on you, too; if you never seek explanations or ask questions, it gives the impression that you are not interested in learning.
Be sensible, though: employers do expect some degree of initiative. Avoid pestering your supervisor for queries that can be solved by a quick Google search, such as how to add an attachment to an email.
3. Have a Good Attitude
One of the biggest things that will endear you to your colleagues and your superiors is a good attitude. This means you should always put yourself forward for tasks even if you’re unsure of what to do, and offer to help others during quiet periods. Additionally, in those instances where your workflow dries up, don’t sit around and wait to be told what to do – be proactive and show initiative.
Of course, this doesn’t mean taking on every task in the office until you realise you’re totally snowed under – if you’re busy and you get asked to do something else, politely explain that you will get started on it as soon as you’re finished.
4. Become a Team Player
Even though you might not have as much experience as everyone else, you’re still part of a team and you should try gradually to integrate. Of course, this is a lot easier if your colleagues are more empathetic and welcoming, but the emphasis should still be on you to build both personal and professional relationships. For instance, if you’re invited to lunch, then you should go; if you’re invited for drinks after work, then this is even better as it’s a great chance to get to know your co-workers in a more natural setting – just don’t overdo the Jägerbombs.
Also, during working hours, it’s a good idea to observe the culture of the office and get a feel for the kind of personalities in your team. This doesn’t mean you have to sit silently in the corner or that you shouldn’t let your own personality shine, but for the first few months, it’s worth remembering the old adage that you have two eyes, two ears and one mouth – use them in that ratio until you feel more comfortable.
5. Pay Your Dues
Whatever illusions you might have going into your new career, be clear on one thing: nobody is going to hand you the keys to the Ferrari on your first day. As an entry-level employee, you will be expected to shovel the proverbial, just as everyone else on your team did when they first joined.
The key is using this opportunity to demonstrate to everyone that you have a good work ethic. For example, do you whine and moan each time you’re given a menial task or do you just get on with it? Do you cut corners and produce substandard work or are you professional and diligent? Look at it from your boss’s point of view – if you can’t be trusted with run-of-the-mill tasks, how can you be relied on to complete more complex work?
Although it can be frustrating, you just have to be patient and pay your dues. The more challenging and interesting work will come your way eventually, but only after you have proven you can handle the responsibility; in the meantime, everyone has to start at the bottom, so swallow your pride and get on with it.
6. Seek a Mentor
Although the modern workplace offers a wealth of viewpoints from a wide array of backgrounds, it is invaluable to have that one trusted person in your corner who you can turn to for advice or guidance. Having a workplace mentor can also have a significant positive impact on your professional growth and development.
Most larger companies recognise this and assign entry-level hires a mentor; this isn’t necessarily the best approach, though, as it is likely your mentor was ‘voluntold’ as opposed to volunteered. Even if it’s in an unofficial capacity, you should seek out someone you trust and admire, and who is willing to take the time to develop you: pick their brains, and learn as much from them as you can.
7. Keep One Eye on the Future
If you’re 6 to 12 months into your new role, and you’re still waiting for it to become enjoyable, there comes a point when you may have to consider if you’re in the right place. This can be a very tricky decision to make as you don’t want to jump the gun at the first opportunity but, conversely, you don’t want to be stuck in a career you hate.
Of course, it doesn’t help that you don’t really have anything to compare your role to; as you become more experienced and gain exposure to different companies and workplace cultures, though, you will become more adept at understanding what you want from a job. In the meantime, if you’re unhappy, your first course of action should be to discuss your concerns with family, friends and – if applicable – your mentor.
Speak to peers and old classmates at other companies, too, and get a feel for what else is available – it could be that, actually, things are not as bad as they seem. Finally, look at what training and progression opportunities your company offers for junior employees, and compare it with your employer’s competitors: ask yourself what you want to achieve in the short- to mid-term, and seriously consider if you can achieve that in your current position.
Starting a full-time job after college is a huge culture shift from everything you’ve known before but, like most things that take you out of your comfort zone, it’s also a great chance to meet new people, discover new passions and experience different things. As long as you follow these tips and embrace the opportunity for all it’s worth, you should slot into your new role in no time at all and be on your way up the career ladder.
Have you recently entered the world of work? What has your experience been like? Let us know in the comments…