Tips to Survive Your First Job

Work Advice For Beginners

Tips to Survive Your First Job

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It’s your first day at work and you’re nervous, naturally. You decide to quickly remember the journey that brought you to the computer screen you are now looking at. Many INOMICS readers will relate to this journey.

After high school, you got the economics degree. At great emotional and financial cost, you got it. Three years of diligent work, complete. Never to be repeated, either; your liver feels permanently weakened, you continually explain to people that your degree had nothing to do with the stock market, and you’ll never hear the word “incentive” quite the same way. 

You then finished the internship. Though it was lengthy, unpaid, and involved minimal compensation, it was likely worthwhile because everyone strongly encouraged you to do it, and you complied. It served one important purpose at least. Brought up-to-date, with the font size adjusted to 24, your CV finally ran to a full page of A4, now ready for new job opportunities. 

Emboldened, you began the job search. 14 months later, self-esteem long gone, your persistence paid off, the application process, the long-awaited interview, vindication. You remained calm under pressure, outperformed tough competitors through four rounds of interview questions, and impressed your hiring managers with your commitment to working weekends. Contract signed, you now sit at the computer, nervously, waiting for adulthood to begin in this first step into the working world.

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Now, don’t get fired!

And the nerves are there for a reason. Work is no walk in the park. Indeed, resting on your laurels now would be unwise. The 9-to-5 can be a cruel master, ruling with an iron fist, and is particularly prone to nepotism and other office politics. To survive its tumult and built-in bias, one must be smart, savvy and alert - things they don't teach at college, yet things you’ll need asap. Complacency on any of these fronts and, well, expect disappointing results. 

But let’s remain positive! You can prepare. Follow these tips to reduce the risk of floundering and increase your chances of experiencing success. Together, they make up the INOMICS guide to surviving your first entry level job.

Get to know the office culture, quickly

An appreciation of office culture will be critical to your longevity. As a general rule you should respect it  (unless, of course, it’s toxic), particularly at the start. That includes the parts that seem silly, too. For inevitably - and this is fine - there will be aspects of it you don't like. Wearing a tie in 35 degree heat, for instance, is gross, and there’s nothing professional about sweaty, red faces. 

But as a newbie in an entry level position, save the protest and keep your neck below the parapet. Try to gauge the work culture before you go about dismantling it (great advice to remember when you are inevitably promoted to a manager position, too!). It developed in your absence and will reflect both the history and values of the company, which, unsurprisingly, many will hold dear. Don’t go about offending on day one.

And not offending should be easy, you’re a considerate person after all. But presumably you’ll have loftier aspirations; you’ll want to impress. One of the best ways to do so - besides routinely leaving cookies in the staff kitchen, which can be expensive - is to ask questions. Not to just anyone, though. Find a sympathetic colleague, someone with years of experience within the company, and get the office low down. Do people leave as the clock strikes 5? Are hour-long lunch breaks standard, or looked down upon? Does the boss have any unusual quirks you may need to tip-toe around? And how formal is office etiquette? 

Not only will getting a grip of these practices help you settle, it will move you out of the firing line and push you towards your dream job. And certainly, if you can afford it, don't forget to bring cookies. Bribery works.

Signpost your humility and willingness to learn

It may sound desperately obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people fail at their first job for not showing enough eagerness to learn. Don’t be one of them. Learn from your mistakes quickly, ideally while remaining dignified. And be open about what you don’t yet understand. 

Asking for instruction when unsure on something is preferable to charging ahead, effectively blind, and hoping for the best. The results of this wrecking-ball approach are time-consuming, discomfiting and potentially even job-losing. Avoid it. Signpost

In fact, you ought to consider surveying your workload and your colleagues in your first few weeks. What skills do others have that you might need, or be expected to learn? What parts of your job make you feel the least qualified? 

Especially in economics, it pays to review areas of study that you may need more intensely in the office than in school, or topics that you might be unfamiliar with but need in this role. Companies often hire economists for their proven ability to learn and analyze data, not just their expertise in labor movements across borders (for instance).

Bosses also admire humility in their employees. Its practice facilitates honest, efficient communication, and demonstrates both maturity and confidence. Remember, you’re only entry-level. No one is expecting perfection, so there’s no need to pretend you offer it. Be cool with what you do know. It did, after all, get you hired.

However, keep in mind that excessive humility is to be avoided. You don’t want your colleagues to think you’re incapable. Be honest when you’re in over your head and ask for help; gracefully accept the praises given to you, and earnestly consider the feedback (positive and negative) you receive.

Now to the signposting. A practical way of doing this is establishing an open dialogue with your superiors. Not all companies will automatically schedule performance reviews, and oftentimes when they do, they’re sporadic. Not so helpful for a newb. 

If this is your experience, be proactive (signposting in action) and request one.  It doesn't need to be too formal. It is just a way to check your progress and identify areas for improvement. Consider bringing specific topics or questions for feedback, to tighten the scope of such meetings.

Also, a bit of one-on-one time with your seniors is always handy for making - or hopefully consolidating - a good first impression and to build relationships. Be sensible, though: sycophancy is an unattractive trait.  Limit any excessive flattery, customize it to suit your boss's ego in a subtle way.

Over stretching is bad

And easily done. It's normal to want to make promises to everyone, especially in the first few weeks when you may still be nervous. We all know the desperate desire to impress, to be seen as competent, independent, and unfazed. Over worked employee

Abstractly these inclinations are positive, they show you to be a well-intentioned person, willing to pull your weight, and more. So on that front, well done. However, you must have them under control. Unfettered enthusiasm can get you into all kinds of trouble. Don't make big promises you can't keep. It can upset important people who have control over your job and could fire you. Ward against this. 

It’s fine to say no to doing yet another ‘favor’, and sometimes necessary. As the famous saying goes: it’s better to do one thing well than three things catastrophically. Don’t undersell yourself, just be realistic with what you can manage. If you’re nervous about refusing a favor outright, consider asking if it can be delayed, and mention that your work time is dedicated to other important, time-sensitive projects.

Don't be afraid to take the initiative

While keeping the above in mind, you should take the initiative. And if possible, try and do so when people - the more senior the better - are watching: make it visible. This will make you look accomplished, show leadership, and when promotions are in the offing, help you stand out. 

Worker leading a meetingTaking initiative can be achieved in a number of ways. The most obvious is doing more than is expected of you. At the beginning, your task will be clearly defined and not too difficult. Try to do more than expected, but be careful not to do too much as advised above.

This does not mean taking out the bins, although that’s a nice gesture and a chore many avoid. It means sharing your ideas, skill sets and expertise in topics you are interested in, even if no one has requested them. It also means thinking critically about the tasks you’ve been handed, and trying to find new, innovative ways to accomplish them.

Modern institutions know well the need to innovate to stay relevant. Try to become part of this innovation. For if you do, you’ll find your career path, safe from the next round of cuts.

Final words

Okay, back to you, sitting there at your computer, tense. You can take a breath, we’ve covered the basics. It is now for you to remember them. Print them out, recite them and make sure you follow them. The imposter syndrome will subside if you do; and what a feeling that would be. 

Seriously though, things, in all likelihood, will be fine. With a good attitude and the ability you (surely) have, it won't be long before you gain the confidence to look away from your computer screen to the room and colleagues around you. In that beautiful moment you’ll realize you deserve the position you’re in. You’ve worked hard, and in reality, you are ready for this job. 

You may also notice that actually most of your work is pretty well received. You feel a bit less stressed, and you’re even getting invited to after work drinks now and again. The bliss... Now, to ask for a pay raise.


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