Congratulations on landing your first job after graduation! Making the move from college to the workplace can be both exciting and challenging. So what can you expect in this new world? And how can you best prepare?
In this blog, we cover essential strategies to set you up for success, from building strong relationships with colleagues and mentors to developing a growth mindset and embracing continuous learning. We also provide practical advice to help you avoid common missteps.
Following the tips outlined here can help you navigate the transition from student life to the professional realm with confidence and competence.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Set Expectations
- Demonstrate a Strong Work Ethic
- Ask Questions
- Build Relationships
- Be Adaptable and Flexible
- Take Initiative
- Continuously Learn
- Strive for Work-Life Balance
- Seek Feedback
- Adopt a Growth Mindset
- Avoid Common Mistakes
One of the best strategies for career success is talking to your manager early on about expectations and how your performance will be measured. You need to understand the big-picture stuff (like how your role contributes to the company’s mission) as well as the more mundane day-to-day stuff (like what hours you need to be available and what channels you will use to communicate).
When it comes to performance metrics, get specific. Will you be expected to attain a certain score on customer satisfaction surveys? Are there sales quotas or publishing targets you need to meet? What specific goals are you working toward?
It’s important for both you and your boss to be clear about your mutual expectations right from the start.
DEMONSTRATE A STRONG WORK ETHIC
Talent and skill will only get you so far. To really succeed in your first job after college, you need to show that you take your work seriously and that you are reliable, focused, and professional. That means:
- Showing up on time
- Meeting deadlines
- Embracing every task
- Doing your job to the best of your ability
As an entry-level employee, you’ll likely be responsible for the grunt work no one else wants to do. Don’t roll your eyes or write them off as nothing tasks. Instead, accept them with enthusiasm and give your best effort.
Demonstrating the right attitude is a key part of building a successful career foundation.
Every company has its own structure and way of doing things, which may not be readily apparent. That’s why one of the top tips for your first day at a new job is to ask questions—lots of them. Don’t hold back because you don’t want to bother people or think you’ll look stupid. There’s a grace period at the start of a job when everyone expects you to have questions, so make the most of it. Never act like you understand when you really don’t.
Continue to ask questions even once you’re past the newbie stage, provided you’ve done your research and due diligence. Asking questions to clarify goals and assignments, expand your knowledge, and find creative solutions to problems improves your communication skills and is essential for post-graduation career success.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
From your very first day on the job, make a point of introducing yourself to your colleagues and fostering connections across the organization. Positive work relationships can make you more productive and engaged and make your job more enjoyable. And if you’re lucky enough to find a mentor, you can benefit from their guidance and advice.
Forging relationships outside your organization is important, too. Navigating the early career phase is much easier when you have a wide network of contacts to draw on for support. Get started by attending industry events, joining LinkedIn groups, and reaching out to professionals in your field. Nurturing those connections can help you sharpen your skills, keep up with trends, and find new career path opportunities.
BE ADAPTABLE AND FLEXIBLE
A lot of job descriptions include a line like, “And other tasks as required.” Even in your first job after graduation, you should be prepared to take on new responsibilities or adapt your approach in response to changing circumstances. Employers value workers who are willing to learn new ways of doing things and can shift priorities as needed.
So don’t be the kind of person who shoots down every new idea or points out all the reasons why something won’t work. Instead, look for ways to implement proposed changes more effectively.
Being adaptable also means being resilient. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they’re new to the workforce. But if you can handle your mistakes with grace, learn from them, and maintain a positive attitude, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Naturally, you should complete all your assigned tasks to the best of your ability. That’s what you’re expected to do. But if your goal is excelling in the workplace, you need to go the extra mile.
Step up and volunteer for tasks without waiting for them to be assigned to you. If a colleague is struggling with a large project, see if you can help. If you notice something that needs doing, such as filing or updating old documents, offer to take care of it.
Just ensure that you keep your manager informed—and don’t take on more work than you can handle, particularly when you’re still figuring out how to manage your time.
Among the most-repeated pieces of advice for new graduates is to never stop learning. Your recent education may have helped you land your new role, but if you want to lay the foundation for long-term career growth, it’s essential to continue your professional development.
That could mean taking formal courses, but it doesn’t have to. Just be curious. Subscribe to industry blogs and podcasts. Watch webinars and TED talks. Learn from your manager, your co-workers, and everyone else in your network. By actively seeking new knowledge, skills, and experiences, you can stay relevant and adapt to changing industry trends.
Employers appreciate individuals who show a drive for improvement and a willingness to expand their skill set. It signals adaptability, resilience, and a proactive approach to career success.
Taking online classes is an excellent way to learn new skills
STRIVE FOR WORK-LIFE BALANCE
A recent survey showed that the number one concern of new grads entering the job market is finding a role that allows them to balance their work and personal lives. Striking that balance in your first job after graduation can be challenging, but it’s vital for your overall well-being.
Here are a few examples of what you could do, depending on your particular role:
- Talk to your boss about the possibility of remote work or a compressed schedule.
- Set boundaries around your work hours and avoid checking emails or messages on your off time.
- Schedule your hobbies and social activities just like you would with work-related tasks.
Keep in mind that the ideal work-life balance varies for each person, and maintaining it is an ongoing process. Regularly reassess your priorities, see what’s working and what’s not, and make adjustments as needed.
One of the most important first job tips is to seek an honest evaluation of your performance. Finding out what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better is critical.
Your company may have a system for regular reviews, but if yours doesn’t, ask your manager for a sit-down. You could also ask for more informal feedback from other team members—sometimes it can be easier to accept advice from someone who isn’t your boss.
When you do get feedback, listen attentively and ask for clarification if anything is unclear. Then take the information and act on it. Try not to view feedback as a personal attack; instead, embrace it as a chance to learn, grow, and improve.
ADOPT A GROWTH MINDSET
Having a growth mindset means believing you can master new skills through determination and hard work. With this mindset, you set goals for yourself, see challenges as opportunities, and ask for help when needed. You don’t fear failure and you embrace continual improvement.
This is the kind of mindset that will serve you well not just in your first job, but throughout your career.
AVOID COMMON MISTAKES
To succeed in your first job after college, it’s equally important to know what not to do. Here are a few tips to help you sidestep common blunders:
- Don’t set an unsustainable pace in the beginning—you’ll burn out or look less committed later.
- Don’t act like a task is beneath you, no matter how overqualified you believe you are.
- Don’t start making changes without first learning why things are done the way they are.
- Don’t text excessively or spend time on social media during work hours.
- Don’t get involved in workplace drama.
WANT HELP PREPARING FOR YOUR FIRST JOB AFTER GRADUATION?
At Herzing College, we know what it takes to bridge the gap between training and employment. The vast majority of our programs include internships, giving college graduates a chance to network and understand the job market. Plus, all of our students and grads have access to personalized help with creating resumes, applying for jobs, and preparing for interviews.
Click below to learn more about what our career services team can do for you. We’re here to help!