Your first real job out of school is both exciting and scary. It’s completely different than college in that you have to show up, there are no tests (well not written anyway) and the only homework is brining your laptop home to catch up on paperwork.
Your first year at your first job will be a series of firsts — first real boss, first real review, first 15 hour day, first time working weekends, first political situation and first, potential, taste of management. All of these firsts can be disorienting and frankly a little scary for the newly employed.
One thing to remember, through all these firsts, is that your best friend is hard work and intellectual curiosity. No one will ever fault you for trying hard, working hard, having positive “can do” attitude and being interested in what you are doing.
Strange But True
Your boss may have tons of years of work experience but that still does not mean they can manage humans. You would be surprised at the number of senior managers who don’t have a good grasp of management. This is even worst in high tech companies where the managers are usually the ones that got lots and lots of stuff done — not the ones that actually have good people skills.
At first, this will seem really strange. After all, they are your boss and surly, they should know what they are doing. Chances are, they probably don’t. Not a lot of managers (line level anyway) go to management school — they learn it on the job. So if you find yourself with an awkward manager, don’t fret.
The wonderful thing about work is that they pay you to show up. By paying you, your company excepts you to meet certain criteria. This criteria is pretty much universal and includes:
Show up on time: To everything, especially meetings. Even if others are late, it’s a good habit to get into. Everyone appreciates meetings that start and end on time. Also, try and come in a little earlier than everyone else. That way, you can settle in well ahead of everyone else.
Work hard but also work smart: You will be putting in a ton of hours simply because you have to learn a ton. Your boss will also want to see how you deal with stress and prioritize tasks. Always make sure you understand the why of a task. That way, you might be able to make it more efficient.
Learn tasks quickly: Or at least appear to learn them quickly. If you have to stay late to learn something new, do it. The quicker you come up to speed, the more valuable you are to the company.
Help others: Try and pitch in and help others succeed but not at the expense of your own work. Senior people and your boss will be looking at how well you interact with others and how much you can help others succeed.
Make your boss look good: even at the expense of you looking bad. It’s imperative that you support your boss and make her look good to others. Don’t lie or cheat or steal to make her shine but make it a point to do good work so people will complement her on hiring such a great person.
Don’t be too big a pain: It’s okay to push back on stupid things or demand certain things but don’t be all high and mighty about it. You are new. You will get the crap jobs and get picked on — it’s part of corporate hazing (but not as bad as in college).
Bosses are tricky. Some are wonderful mentors but lack political skill. Others are cut throat politicians but have zero coaching skills. Still others lack both and just happened to fall into it (by luck or attrition).
Whatever type of boss you have, you will have to figure out how they tick. This can sometimes be a challenge since bosses are just like the rest of us mortals — moody, opinionated, irrational or out of touch. The major difference is they actually have some power over your career and life.
To better understand your boss, try answering these simple questions about their style and behavior:
Communication style: Does your boss send tons of email? Do they prefer texting? Do they always want updates before the staff meeting? All of these items are part of communication style that you need to learn quickly. One great way to find out is ask. You would be surprised what they will tell you.
Management style: Do they micro-manage? Are they task focused? Do they like formal reports? Do they always follow the chain of command? All of these are signs of management style. The best thing to do on this one is to ask someone who also works for or has worked for your boss.
Hot buttons: All bosses have hot buttons that drives them crazy. Learn your bosses ones quickly. This benefits you in two ways 1) You know what to avoid and 2) You know how to get their attention.
What WOWs them: It’s always good to know what impresses your boss. Maybe they love data. Maybe well done reports. Maybe they like deep thinking. Whatever it is, make sure to do enough to get noticed but not too much that you show off.
Stress and conflict handling: The one constant in the workplace is stress. Your boss has tons of it and does not want any more. Observe how your boss handles stress and conflict. What behaviors do they display? Do they avoid it? What about when someones is right in their face? Knowing this will allow you to craft your approach to situations where conflict and stress are apparent.
Co-workers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, attitudes, intellect and dramas. You will most likely bond with some and despise others. This is a natural part of how people work together.
Most of your co-workers will have more experience than you. Some will look upon you with scorn while others will want to help out. It’s important to size up your co-workers so that you know how to interact with them. Listed below are the most common archetypes you will encounter:
Sage Sally: Knows everything about everything. You will constantly be going to her or being told to go to her. You will wonder how the company functions when she goes on vacation.
Bitter Bob: There’s always a bitter Bob that can’t see the positive in anything. Everything and I mean everything, is messed up or heading to a disaster. Try and avoid them as much as you can.
Party Patty: Always wants to do after work events or plans birthday celebrations or chats about her vacation. She is a wonderful person to know but getting too close might shade you as a little too happy go lucky.
Gossip Glen: Knows every single bit of gossip known and unknown (since he will also make it up). Anything you tell Gossip Glen will get out. So, use with caution.
Cardiac Carl: Is constantly stressed about something, looks like his head is doing to explode and can never get ahead (e.g. Always behind on a deadline). Cardiac Carl is someone you should never emulate. He works hard but hardly gets anything done.
Slimy Steve: Will sell his mother to get ahead. Slimy Steve is just like those guys in college that would cheat off you, do nothing during a group assignment or pay you for your homework. Be cautious around him and never confide in him.
Most of your peers (e.g. Less than 2 years of experience) will be trying to figure you out as well. The reason stems from someone to do the crap work they don’t want to do all the way to wanting to beat you for that promotion.
I know, it sounds petty but you, as fresh meat, are both slave labor and competition. The reality is some of your co-workers don’t want what’s best for the company or you. They may say they do but deep down, what they really want varies a lot.
Some want to manage other people. Some want to get promoted to a better job. Some might want to go to graduate school. Your job, besides doing your real job, is to sort out what these peers really want.
Now, I don’t want to make you paranoid or anything like that but their are people who will try and take advantage of your naivety. They will gossip behind your back (just like Gossip Glen), they will take credit for your work (just like Slimy Steve) or try and stress you out (just like Cardiac Carl).
So be a little cautious about what you say to others, how you bash the boss or what tricks you give out until you know who you can trust.
6 Things to Do Your First Year
It’s important that you start your career off on the right footing by doing the things that will make your career grow into what you want. Take a look at the list below for the 6 things you should do during your first year of work.
Don’t Work Every Weekend: I know it’s tempting but you have to rest every once in a while.
Find a Mentor: Get a mentor that can help you navigate the company and figure out your career path.
Start Networking: Setup a LinkedIn account and start connecting. Your professional network is vital to start and nurture, even when you don’t need a job.
Learn Something New Every Week: It’s really easy to get stuck in a rut, even early on. Make it a point to learn a new fact or skill every week.
Be Regular About One-on-Ones: Insist on a one-on-one and stick to a schedule. These are valuable meetings that will help you communicate more effectively with your boss and chart your career growth.
Learn A Little About Other Areas: Don’t just learn your job function. Make it a point to chat with other areas to get a glimpse of what they do. This serves a dual purpose 1) it’s good to know and 2) others see that you are curious.
Welcome to the Workforce
Your work career can be enjoyable, fulfilling and rewarding if you start out with the right attitude, the right job and great mentors. Strive always to contribute, do the right thing by your boss and company and learn as much as you can. The more you learn, the more fun it will be. It’s also important to set some career goals but that can come later (after 2-3 years or so).
So, get out there and change the world — you only have 39 more years to retirement!
Bonus: Things People Won’t Tell You Until You Screw Up
There will be several things that most everyone screws up but no one will every tell you until after the fact. It’s not that they don’t like you or anything like that — there’s usually too much going on to tell you. Take a look at some of the most embarrassing ones below (e.g. Ones I have either done or witnessed — the scars run pretty deep):
Power point etiquette: Power point is meant as a complement to your presentation not to replace it. Use plenty of white space, liberal use of pictures and font bigger than 30. Any slide with more than 4-5 bullets is probably too much. Also remember that management loves pretty pictures more than anything else.
Delivering bad news: Never wait to deliver bad news. If you know something is seriously messed up, let your boss know right away.
Writing reports: All your reports should be clear of clutter and devoid of rambling paragraphs. Just get to the point quickly. Use plenty of pictures and bullet points that summarize your results since most people will skim it anyway.
Dating co-workers: The temptation will be great to date your co-workers, especially as you work those long hours. Just remember that you can’t avoid going to work if things go wrong or transfer easily. So be cautious but also realize that most people find their mate at work.
Drinking at work events: Make sure to keep your drinking in check or you could end up saying or doing something you may regret. Many a crazy night of drinking has resulted in regrets, embarrassing pictures and rumors. Have fun but stay in control.