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Succeeding on the Job

College is very different from the workplace, and success on the job can look pretty different from success in the classroom. Below are some tips that will help you make a smooth transition into the real world over the first weeks and months of your new job.

Before Your Start Date

  • Ask the basics: What is the dress code? What time should I come in? Where’s the parking lot?

The First Few Weeks

  • Get oriented. Ask, when/how do I get paid (biweekly, monthly, stipend)? Familiarize yourself with the physical layout and who sits where, and try to memorize the names of the people you come in contact with and what they do. Finally, find out your company’s rules on punctuality, length of lunch hour and coffee breaks, online and email policies, and whether you can take personal calls.
  • Sit back, listen, and observe. In general, newcomers should lay low. Don’t think you are going to knock ‘em dead right away. Instead of immediately making suggestions, show respect by first seeking to understand how and why things are done in your new company. It will take time to get up to speed. For the first few days in particular, try not to dress differently from your colleagues. It is really hard to correct unfavorable first impressions.
  • Focus on the job at hand. At the beginning, you will be judged on how well you understand your job as well as how well you perform it. Keep your priorities straight. Your eyes should be on today’s work, not on tomorrow’s possible promotion. We suggest saying, “Here’s what I think my major responsibilities are. Do you agree?”
  • Ask questions. Remember, people forget that you don’t automatically know things.
  • Get organized. Set up a system to handle your work flow in a way that suits you. Reorganize your area.
  • Be eager to contribute. As a new employee, you may be expected to pay your dues.
  • Touch base with your boss frequently. This way, you can find out how you can improve what you are doing by having a meeting with your boss and asking what is the best way of helping him or her. You may also ask what behaviors she’d like to see you start, stop or continue.
  • Get your benefits in order. Be sure to get all the details on health insurance, retirement plans (it’s not too early to start contributing now!), taxes and other benefits.

The First Few Months

  • Establish your job description. If there is none, or you have any questions about one, draft your own and review it with your boss. Don’t find yourself in trouble one day, saying, “I didn’t know I was supposed to do THAT.”
  • Keep asking questions. Show you are intellectually curious. Asking questions prevents trouble and does not indicate a lack of self-confidence.
  • Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes. You can cut down on mistakes, but you can’t avoid them. Don’t expect to. To be human means to be imperfect. There is virtually no mistake that can’t be unmade.
  • Hold back from office politics. Play the diplomat. Find a mentor (someone whose path you’d like to follow), allies (those you can exchange information and advice with) and friends (but don’t vent about workplace issues with your work friends). Work well with others or they’ll work without you!
  • Learn how you will be evaluated. What is your company’s performance review process? Knowing when you’ll be reviewed and what the actual review consists of (e.g., goal setting and feedback) will help you shine when the time comes.
  • Evaluate your own progress. After a few months, step back and ask, “How am I doing? What am I doing well, and how can I get better?” The secret to becoming a star employee is a thirst for continual improvement.