Published May 16, 2014
Congratulations, you’ve landed your first full-time job after graduation.
Now comes the hard.
College graduates’ first month on job sets the tone of their career, according to experts, which means they need to be proactive and put their best foot forward.
“It’s about the approach you take to your job — none of these are tasks, but attributes that you take on,” says Lynda Fraser, vice president of Human Resources Contract Division at Solomon Page Group. “It’s your behavior that will determine, ultimately, how successful you are.”
Setting and executing goals is key to career success at any level, but it’s particularly helpful for new workers.
“Don’t wait to shine,” says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert. “As soon as you become a new hire, look for every opportunity to become ingrained in the company DNA. You’ll stand out as a star right away, and first impressions are so important.”
Don’t worry too much if mistakes happen at the start, just be sure to rectify the situation quickly. “There’s a bit of latitude and people do expect new hires to stumble in the first month — these can become teaching moments for the manager and the new employee,” says Mike Steinerd, director of sales recruiting at career website Indeed.com.
Experts offer the following tips to follow during the first month of employment to help you shine:
No. 1 Ask Questions and Observe. “You’ve got to learn and listen to people who have been there a while,” says Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. “Dig in to understand what’s made people successful there — treat it like a college course.”
Asking questions will help you understand how things work in that organization and what to expect, as well as how to navigate the workplace environment.
“Every work environment has processes in place that have hopefully translated into business success,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. “Instead of trying to wow your boss with new processes, really become familiar with how business is done day-to-day.”
Learn the general office culture: how and when people email, how calendars are organized, when people arrive, leave and take breaks, and how information is shared. “Pay attention to these workplace nuances and adopt them instead of trying to go against them,” Dobroski adds.
No. 2 Show Up On Time and Be Present. Experts recommend setting your work schedule around when people arrive and leave. “Showing up on time, or even early, shows excitement and enthusiasm for the role,” says Steinerd.
If you’re late, don’t make excuses, suggests Fraser. “If you are not bothered about being on time, what does that say about the rest of your work and what you’ll contribute?”
No.3 Build Your Network. “In real estate, it’s about location, location, location, and in your career, it’s about people, people, people,” says Sumita Banerjee, L’Oreal’s vice president for talent recruitment. Meeting new people will help you learn about the company beyond your direct role and understand how teams collaborate, making you better equipped to contribute and thrive in that culture.
Try to meet one new person or connection at work every day in your first month, even if that’s introducing yourself to someone in the kitchen. Building your network will help you understand who fits in where in the organization.
Also, figure out who’s a great performer and ask him or her to lunch or coffee so you can learn more about his or her success. Learning about other people’s career paths will only help you progress in your career. “It shows people that you care about the company and you want to do well,” says Rasmussen.
Get to know people by participating in office gatherings and happy hours (but always stay professional), recommends Steinerd, but avoid getting involved with office politics or gossip.
No.4 Be Respectful. “There are people who are lower on the food chain who people ignore, and it’s important to be respectful of everyone, regardless of their position,” says Fraser. “Assistants and admins are really important in an organization, and they can be very influential people.”
During work-related conversations, give that person your full attention and don’t check emails or take phone calls without excusing yourself first, she adds.
No.5 Know What’s Expected. “This sounds really simple, but the same way that you were familiar with due dates and how certain professors like to be received, get familiar with the expectations and be a master of this,” advises Dobroksi.
No matter your position, know what your boss expects and do your best to meet expectations in the beginning. “Ask peers on your team and your manager what they expect, and every once in a while, check in if you’re doing the right thing,” says Rasmussen. “It’s an uncomfortable position to be in if you don’t know whether you’re doing the right things.”
Once you understand your role, you’ll be better prepared to go above and beyond in a short amount of time, says Dobroski. “If you can master this, you’ll come out ahead of your colleagues at the same level.”
No.6 Go Above and Beyond. If you’re asked for two options and you provide five, people will learn to be able to rely on you for future projects.
“A company can train an employee to do the skill, but it can’t teach work ethic or passion for a job,” says Rasmussen. “I want someone to show me that they’re excited and positive about the job — they want to know how they can help the company improve.”
If you finish your work early, instead of checking Facebook or sending text messages, Fraser suggests finding other projects you can help with.
No.7 Be Passionate and Enthusiastic. “Be devoted and interested in the work you do,” says Banerjee. Follow your company and industry in the press and draw insights from global trends, competitors and innovation to push the frontiers of knowledge.
During your career, broaden your knowledgebase by learning every day, even if you’re learning what not to do. “As you work through your day, take some time to do some extra research so you are constantly learning more—this will help you be effective in your job,” says Fraser.
No.8 Adopt the Weekly Status Update. Get in the habit of sending a weekly status update to your boss and anyone relevant to whom your work touches, suggests Dobroski.
The update should include details on the week’s highlights and challenges, as well as priorities for the next week. “It helps your supervisor know if you’re on point or why some projects got backed up,” he adds.