How to Survive Your First Job

Written By Melissa  |  Career  |  7 Comments

Sometimes it seems like I’ve had several different jobs, even though, in reality, I’ve been at my ‘real’ job (the one I work for on a regular basis for real money! Not intern credit!) for nearly 3 years. Over the past 3 years, I had 6 different bosses – which is probably why it feels like I’ve had six different jobs!

With that, I think I have a pretty good handle of what it takes to survive your first few months in a new job. Sure, I don’t have decades of experience, but the experience I do have has taught me a lot about what it means to set yourself up for success… or recognize the job you have isn’t going to work out for you.

How to Survive Your First Job: Be Humble

As the saying goes, first impressions can really make or break you. I found that out first-hand with a young woman at one of my first jobs – she was around my age, but she wasn’t particularly nice. She thought she was hot stuff and everyone should know it – but guess what? No matter how good she was at her job (and she was good at it!), she gave people the impression that she was better than they were. She was denied several promotions in the time she stayed in our organization, and while I can’t confirm it, I have a feeling it was based on her reputation in the office.

No matter how awesome you are (and you obviously are, otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten the job!), be humble and nice to everyone you meet your first month or two. I’m not saying downplay your accomplishments, but just tell the facts. No need to tell everyone you’re a superstar – if you are, they will find out over time!

Listen More Than You Speak

Like your Mom may have told you, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Ask more questions of your coworkers than they do of you – first, to learn about them and their roles in the company, but also: this may be one of the few opportunities you have to ask a lot of questions and not look like you don’t know anything. Use this to your advantage!

By listening closely, you’ll figure out who is friends with who, and who is related to who. It seems childish, but it’s a fact of office life: people gossip. And you don’t want to be the one being gossiped about, so keep your mouth shut and your ears open!

Learn How Your Boss Ticks

Listening carefully goes for your boss too – ask him or her a lot of questions now, early in your job, to get a feel for how he or she ticks. What are your boss’ goals? If you notice your boss spends a lot of time in her office, carefully reviewing work and organizing files, make organization and careful work your goal. If you notice your boss out socializing, make a little effort to socialize more too.

I’m not saying become a carbon copy of your boss, but these attributes may be things your boss prioritizes. I’ve had a boss comment to me once that I ‘must be shy’ because I preferred being at my desk versus socializing with coworkers. I thought I came across as a hard worker, but in his mind, I looked like the opposite of a team player. I quickly made an effort to be seen socializing more – and it wasn’t a bad thing!

Starting your first job can be nerve-wracking, but if you keep in mind that this first job could be a long term career, or a great jumping off point to another great career, that should help you to remember these tips. Like Lil Wayne says, it’s not what you walk away from, it’s what you walk away with – and you need to walk away from your first job with some serious skills, a solid resume/portfolio, and professional references for your next awesome job.

What tips would you include for those starting their first job?