As a new graduate, everyone from your slightly older BFF to your favorite college professor has most likely lined up to give you their best advice for being the very best at your first job. But even with all their amazing and wise tidbits, a few things could still take you by surprise. “New graduates need to be flexible and observant during their first few days on the job,” says Heather Huhman, Generation Y career expert and founder of Come Recommended. “Pay attention to how people interact in the office so you can begin to learn the rules in this new environment.”
Of course, you can also read this inside information so that nothing (hopefully) will take you by surprise as you navigate your new job.
1. Building relationships takes work. Fact: You won’t walk into a new office and immediately find your new BFF. “Your first job isn’t going to be like college or your internship where there were others starting out at the same time as you,” Huhman says. “There may not be a group of other newbies who you can lean on for support.”
The good news is that “if you take the time to try and get to know your co-workers and form connections, your transition will be a lot easier,” says Huhman.
That’s something Carrie Aulenbacher learned the hard way. Aulenbacher assumed her coworkers would appreciate her work ethic and they’d be buddies, but instead, some held it against her. “One of the employees pulled me aside and told me not to work so fast—it was making everyone else look slow,” she says. “I’d been told about office politics, but wasn’t aware of the degree to which things could manifest.”
2. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness. “I’ve seen a lot of new graduates who are scared to admit when they don’t know something,” says Huhman. “They fear looking incompetent.” But often the smartest move you can make in a new job is to ask a question. After all, there are only two options when faced with a situation that overwhelms or confuses you, as Huhman points out: “Pretend like you know what you’re doing and hope you don’t mess up—although, chances are you will,” she says, “or ask questions and get clarifications. The second option means admitting your limitations, but it provides you the chance to learn and avoid costly mistakes.”
3. The learning isn’t over. You spent a lot of time and money on your education, so we’re not surprised if you think you’ve left college with all you’ll need to do well in your job. But, if you’ve got that viewpoint, we’ve also got bad news: “You’ll be very disappointed,” Huhman warns. “Each company has their own way of doing things, so be prepared to adapt to new processes and ways of working through problems.”
When Caroline Stokes took her first job as a marketing assistant, “what took me by surprise was how much needed to be learned and the repetitive nature of it,” Stokes admitted. To top it off, no one seems to step up to teach her those new skills; she had to learn on the job, as she went along. “It surprised me that I was put into a role with no support—I was just expected to find initiative then be able to read minds on what was needed next,” she says. “There was no real guidance…of what ‘good’ looked like.”
4. Timing is out of your control. Like it or not, “in every organization, there’s some degree of red tape,” says Huhman. And often times, she says, “no matter how quickly you complete your tasks, there will be delays that are beyond your control.” The fact that your time—when you’re on the clock—is out of your control can be frustrating, “but understand that all you can do is try your hardest to meet your own deadlines.”
5. You won’t be getting a “report card.” You’re used to being graded in college. But unless you specifically ask, your boss may not be as forthright with feedback as your professors were with your test scores. As Huhman explains, “Teachers and professors give us grades as a way to let us know what skills we’ve mastered and where we still need to improve. [But] don’t expect the same flow of feedback in your first job.” In fact, she says, “if you do find an employer who regularly sits down with you to discuss progress, count yourself lucky. It could take months, or even a year, before you receive input or recognition from your boss.”
In fact, no one may be grading—er, watching—you at all. That was Kalyn Duguay experience at her first job, anyway. “I was used to my roles as part-time customer service job and a student, in which you are constantly under the supervision of someone who is watching your every move,” she describes. “No one really tells you about the complete freedom and independence you have at your first job. It definitely was a surprise, and is something that can easily be taken advantage of.”
6. Professionalism is everything. According to Huhman, “Many new graduates have trouble adapting to professional communication etiquette.” In other words, you might be surprised to find that your boss doesn’t appreciate being called “ma’am,” or the emojis you seem to stick into every email. “They either craft emails that are overly formal or are filled with typos and slang,” says Huhman. What’s a new employee to do? “The key is to find an appropriate balance. You should always be respectful, but don’t be afraid to show your personality as well,” Huhman says.