Advice for New College Grads – Do’s and Don’ts of Your First Job

You just graduated and nailed your first job in the real world. Kudos! But before you climb that corporate latter, follow these 3 easy do’s and don’ts to career success.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #172

Whether you jumped into the work force right after graduation, or took the summer off, chances are you walked into the office full of energy and left late that night wondering what you got yourself into. Wait a minute – the real world isn’t like an episode of Entourage, Ally McBeal, or Friends? No fun coworker parties? No lunches paid for by the boss? No trips across the country on the company dime? Ah, yes, the reality of the real world can be a downer, but don’t worry, we’ve all been there.

Proper Do’s and Don’ts For Your First Job

All of us thought we were going to walk into that first job and change the world – or at least make a dent – only to have our you-know-what’s handed to us on a silver platter. Entering your first job should be a positive experience and it can be if you learn how to handle the office environment properly.

So with that, let’s take a coffee break, gather around the water cooler, and check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips on the proper dos and don’ts for the recent college grad:

Tip #1 – Check Your Ego at the Door

If I could impart just one life lesson for recent graduates, it would be this: The real world owes you nothing.  Yes, you’ve spent 4 (maybe more) years of college racking up good grades, internships, and praise from your peers and teachers, but all of that changes when you enter the real world. You have to realize that in an office setting, it’s all about what you can deliver now, not what you did in the past. Flexing your college credentials and thinking you’re better than anyone else is pretty much the worst thing you can do at your first job. So, how do you properly handle yourself?

Do: When you are asked to do something, do it. Don’t think you are above any task or other employee.  This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to become the office coffee gofer, but it does mean that if you are asked to make copies for a meeting, schedule an appointment, or stand in for someone at a conference, do it.  You never know when a golden opportunity may spring up. It may just come from attending that meeting for someone who couldn’t make it, or helping a colleague prepare for their presentation. It’s only proper to offer a hand to someone if your time permits it. Call it good karma and good manners.

Don’t: At your first job, you will unfortunately start at the bottom of the ladder. Even if you are a top recruit from a top school, you are still the lowly newbie. Don’t forget that. It is not proper to command, demand, or take a stand as an authority. You have to earn your coworkers’ respect, rather than expect it to be automatically given just because in college you were student body president.

Tip #2 – Be Accessible

I’ll never forget this one time my coworker told my first boss (who was awful) that she couldn’t stay late because she had to attend a spin class. Now, as Get-Fit Guy can confirm, I am all for fitness, but telling your boss that you can’t stay 3 extra hours because you’re trying to knock off a few calories is a big time no-no.  In your first job, you need to earn your stripes and that means making yourself accessible to your coworkers and employer. It doesn’t mean being at their beck and call Devil Wears Prada-style, but it does mean going above and beyond sometimes.

Do: If you’re asked to stay late, come in early, or help someone out, do it. A job doesn’t always start at 9 and end at 5. In the real world, you will miss parties, dinners and yes, even spin classes. It’s just a part of life. Work does not have to be your life but it is the way you make a living and having to pitch in every now and then is just a part of the gig.

Don’t:  When you are fresh in a new job, you have to make sacrifices and by telling your boss you can’t help out, you are making your commitment (or lack thereof) loud and clear. Granted, your boss doesn’t own you and your time, however, prioritizing is key. If you have an important event one night, by all means stand up for yourself. But a spin class or a date probably doesn’t qualify. And if you can’t stay late, give your boss a good reason and do whatever you can to get as much done as possible before you leave.

Tip #3 – Enjoy What You Do

This may sound very cheesy but when you enter the work force, pick a field that you will enjoy. I totally understand that nowadays you need to make a living, but I will say that choosing a job you like, will ultimately benefit you in the end.  You will find out quickly that if you hate where you work, you’ll hate going to work.  My first job was an utter nightmare but I was in a field I enjoyed. That’s why I stuck it out and didn’t let the lousy environment ruin my career prospects.

Do: Pick a job that offers the best options for your mental and professional stability, one with potential for advancement in the future, one where you’ll learn new skills. It may not be your dream job for now, you may not make millions right away, and you may not have the corner office with a personal assistant, but that doesn’t mean you are on the wrong path. I have met many people who took a job they weren’t excited about because the money was right, or the location was convenient. But after the initial rush wore off, they became pretty unhappy, pretty fast. On the other hand, I know others who took a lowly job in an industry that was their interest, and they were able to learn, grow, and advance up the ladder without going prematurely gray from the misery of working at a job they hated.

Don’t:  No matter what the job is, do not let anyone else convince you to take it. Be it your parents, friends, or even the employer, never let someone else’s beliefs be the reason for taking a job. After all, they won’t be the ones to work late nights or travel on no sleep – you will. So if your heart is in being an events planner, but Mom is lecturing you for the umpteenth time on the wisdom of becoming an accountant, take it with a grain of salt.

Do you have a great story about your first job out of college? Post all the details in Comments below.  As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Check out my Modern Manners Guy Facebook page, follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips. 

College Grad image courtesy of Shutterstock