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60 ways to excel in your first job - the definitive guide

excelling at your first job

Want to excel at your first job? Of course you do! Here’s what you need to know and do to shine in your new position:

Here's what you need to know:

1) It’s harder to get a good job than you may have expected. The duties will be less interesting, too. Despite that, your first job will be a stepping stone to what you want to do.
2) College did not truly prepare you for the work world. The work world takes some getting used to. Expect your work environment to be awkward, confusing, antiquated, hard, boring, overwhelming, or just plain awful. Learning to handle your company’s unique environment brings maturity and tenacity.
3) Paychecks are punier than they first appear. Taxes take a huge chunk of your paycheck and your expenses are ... well, expensive. Save money and live within your means. Bring your lunch and brew rather than buy your coffee. Hold off on buying a new car or moving out of your parents’ home until you can afford to leave. While living at home, pay rent, obey house rules and do chores so that your staying there will not be a chore to your parents.
4) Your first job is not your destiny. You will likely have many jobs and may even work in several industries. 

Here's what you need to do:

5) Try hard and do good work. Laziness can turn teammates against you because they can't count on you.
6) Expect drudgery. Newbies get stuck with bad projects. So do seasoned workers. If the drudgery becomes excessive, speak up, but in the meantime, do your part even if it stinks.
7) Learn something new each day to make you and your company better.
8) Support your company. Speak positively about it and help it succeed. Refer job candidates and attract clients.
9) Meet people at all levels of your company. Invite coworkers to connect on LinkedIn. Remember names and build relationships. Knowing the right people can save your job or lead you to different opportunities.
10) Fit in. Become a positive part of the company culture without getting sucked into its unique brand of drama and dysfunction. Occasionally eat lunch with coworkers and form professional friendships.
11) Keep people informed. Let your bosses know the status of projects and alert them of problems so that they can take action. Keep coworkers and cross-functional teams up to date on issues that could affect their efforts.   
12) Realize work deadlines are different from college assignments. While colleges often want long papers with lots of lead time; companies have tighter deadlines. Learn to be faster and more succinct.
13) Learn to make decisions and don’t pester your boss with unnecessary questions.
14) Don’t take other people’s bad moods personally. Don’t assume that the boss is cranky because of you. Their bad mood usually has nothing to do with you. 
15) Learn to deal with all kinds of people. Be accepting of other people’s lifestyles and choices and don’t engage in political or religious arguments.
16) Share your ideas. Speak up at brainstorm sessions. Today's workplaces have a flatter hierarchy so it’s easier to make your thoughts known. Your fresh perspective may be just what a company needs to pivot from tried and tired practices. At the same time, get comfortable with rejection. Not every idea you have is brilliant and your company may not be open to change.
17) Think before doing. Work completed quickly, but incorrectly can make you and the company look bad.
18) Realize that your job is not your life. Don't let it take on greater significance than it deserves. Make time for family, friends and fun.
19) Be realistic about raises and promotions. You need to prove yourself before you are eligible to move up or make more money. Many companies only give raises at pre-set times and often the raises are tiny across the board. 
20) Realize your worth. As a recent graduate, you bring new ideas and fresh viewpoints, as well as an eagerness that seasoned employees may no longer feel. Embrace your potential and work to make yourself invaluable.
21) Embrace in-person interaction. While a quick text or email may seem like the most expedient method to message a coworker, misunderstandings can result. When it's important that you not be misunderstood or vilified, meet in person or, if that's not possible, talk with the person by phone. Also remember to check and respond to your work phone messages. 
22) Older doesn't mean antiquated. Just because someone is older, doesn't mean that their skill sets are rusty or that their thinking is out of date. Respect their contributions and input. And remember, many seasoned workers enjoy the fresh perspectives younger people can bring. Learn from each other!
23) Don't act like a jerk even if you think you are smarter or more qualified than others. In a similar vein, don't harshly judge what was done before your time. Coworkers who have been around longer than you likely had good reasons why they handled things the way they did. Get their input before making changes that have already been tried (and failed).
24) Don't be too passive ... or aggressive. Don't wait to be told what to do. Seek out assignments and volunteer for duties. At the same time, don't be so obnoxiously aggressive that coworkers resist your efforts.
25) Don’t miss deadlines. Be dependable.
26) Don’t blame others. Own your mistakes and admit them. Fix the problems that you caused. Learn from the situation and don't make the same mistake again.
27) Arrive on time. Being late is disrespectful. Fix the reasons that make you late.
28) Be a good listener so that you fully understand assignments and why they are important.
29) Make your boss look good, but beware of aligning yourself too closely with someone at odds with leadership. Take on tasks to free up your boss’s time.
30) Ask for assignments that stretch you and spark your innovative spirit.
31) Become a master networker and leader in your field/industry. Introduce your leadership to influential people who can help your company.
32) Resist office gossip. Saying negative things about your coworkers and company makes you feel worse, makes you feel guilty and makes you look petty. Step away from the drama and go back to work. A good response to an insistent work gossiper: “Have you talked with Carol about your concerns about her? Better to talk to her than me!” Or, say, “I’m sorry that you feel that way about George. He’s my friend.” That’ll shut ‘em up!
33) Don't yak. While it's OK to be professionally friendly, don't talk too much. Be cognizant that coworkers are busy (or should be). Don't overstay your welcome in their workspace.
34) Do more than is expected. You were not hired to fill a seat! Companies hire you to solve a problem or make the business better. Seek to understand your company's business and how your job plays a part in the company's overall success. Be willing to work longer than your scheduled hours and to pitch in when someone else needs help. Record your efforts and accomplishments into weekly reports that you provide to your boss.
35) Learn to prioritize and when possible, delegate. Push back politely when someone tries to dump a project on you that isn’t yours to take. The best way to dodge the dump: Ask the person to put their detailed request in writing so that you can run it past your boss. Dumpers hate to do the detail work and they fear that your boss will tell them no.
36) Break big jobs into manageable pieces. Set and meet self-imposed deadlines that will ensure that you complete the entire project on time.
37) Don't be a sucker. While pitching in and working hard is important; avoid continuously being taken advantage of by your boss or company. Set boundaries. Stand up for yourself and develop ways to combat over-work. Take brief breaks throughout the day and a vacation day now and then to refresh your spirit. Take a sick day when you are really sick. The company will survive no matter how guilty they make you feel.
38) Ask questions, then pay attention so that you don't have to ask the same questions again. Take notes and try to figure things out on your own. Realize that despite being a newbie, you are expected to hit the ground running, learn to lead and to eventually be self-directed and self-motivated.
39) Seek feedback, but don't be needy for excessive praise. Learn and improve from negative feedback and don't pout or hold a grudge. 
40) Dress better than the dress code. People who dress well are taken more seriously. Observe what others are wearing and don't stray too far from the norm. Practice good grooming and hygiene. Iron your clothes.
41) Follow company rules. You are not too special to do what's expected.
42) Watch for warning signs that things may be going badly for you or the company. Perhaps you've gotten a terrible review or your company is going broke. These are tell-tale signs that your job could be ending soon. Look for a new job before it's too late.
43) Be stealth-like when job seeking. Don't tell coworkers that you are unhappy or interviewing for other jobs. Some coworkers could use the knowledge to sabotage you. And, don't leave your resume on the copy machine where others can find it!
44) Banish burnout. Job duties can get tedious and the office setting can feel confining. Seek innovative ways to do repetitive things, volunteer for different projects and take a brisk walk at lunch time to override the prison-like vibe.
45) Resist distractions! Don't let your smart phone distract you from your duties. Put it away on company time! Also resist using your work computer or phone for personal use. Companies can and often do check your email and web history for improper usage.
46) Don’t air your company's dirty laundry on social media. Don't share negative thoughts about your company or coworkers. Also set your Facebook on private so that what you post about your social life can't be used against you at work.
47) Get organized. Consider time management and performance development courses to keep you operating at peak performance. Also keep your workspace clean and uncluttered.
48) Practice good manners. Say hello to coworkers. Invite them into conversations. Don't cuss or be too loud. Correct bad eating habits such as talking with your mouth full. Befriend the cleaning crew and others who come into your company. Don’t be one of those people who only acknowledge people who could better your career.
49) Control your temper. Learn how to state what you want/need without losing your composure. Forgive those who have wronged you.
50) Criticize people's bad behavior in private, not in front of others. Don’t talk about them behind their back.
51) Learn to tactfully tell people that you are too busy to talk. Say, “Well, I’ve got a lot to do and I’m sure that you do to.” Or, “I better let you go.” If they plant themselves in your cube, grab a folder (as if you are going to a meeting) and leave.
52) Spring into action when trouble is brewing. Accidentally offend someone? Resolve the problem by talking to them in person as soon as possible. Apologize. Don't let problems fester.
53) Don’t send coworkers inappropriate messages, jokes, or chain emails. And never pretend to be a coworker, using their email account to send inappropriate messages to others (all such "fun" can get you fired).   
54) Let your light shine. Display the focused energy and enthusiasm of your young age. Think of yourself as a spark that can ignite innovation.
55) Participate in work functions and charitable efforts. But don’t get drunk, don’t get overly personal and don’t be inappropriate. Avoid nightly happy hours lest you get a bad reputation and office romances, which can end badly on company time.
56) Learn to write and present well. People who can do both are seen as leaders. CHECK YOUR WORK! Grammar, punctuation and math mistakes can sink your career. If you are not good at required tasks or at being accurate, take classes to perfect your abilities.
57) Learn to run meetings. Create and stick to an agenda. Set time limits. Take notes and reiterate decisions made and time lines set. Determine strategies to ensure participants keep to the agenda/schedule.
58) Fake it until you make it. As a newbie, you can't know everything, but you can bring wisdom gained at college and in internships. People respect those who exude confidence, so learn your job, understand your company and research your new industry so that can become the sage for your age.    
59) Keep up your skills. Take training classes, learn from mentors, shadow other employees, join topical LinkedIn groups. Subscribe to topical e-newsletters and participate in relevant associations. 
60) Don't expect your first job to be your dream job. An imperfect position is a great way to learn what you don't want to do so that you'll have the clarity to pursue what you really want.

Learn to excel on the job ... doing so can help you get and keep the job! -- Kathy

What first job tips did I leave off? Share them! 

Definitive Guide to Excelling in Your First Job
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