Excelling at the Entry Level

By Robert Half International

After surviving hours of instruction, course work and examinations, you've finally earned your diploma and are anxious to launch your career. You have the skills and knowledge to land a great job and establish yourself as a bona fide professional. But don't set your sights on a corner office or six-figure salary just yet. While passion and expertise will help you get ahead, it takes time and a steady record of achievements to reach your potential.

Following are a few ideas to help you make the most of your first job and excel as an entry-level employee:

Go beyond the call of duty.

Demonstrate a strong work ethic by completing your assignments -- no matter how tedious or tiring -- on time and making sure they're error free. Offer to assist colleagues with their workloads or take on those tasks no one else wants to do. As others discover your tenacity and talent, they'll hand over projects that carry greater weight.

Show confidence, not cockiness.

Employers' chief complaints regarding recent graduates are that they expect too much too soon and presume they know as much -- or even more -- than seasoned employees. Understand that you will need to earn your stripes before being given greater responsibility. Doing an excellent job on every project you're assigned while remaining upbeat is the best way to impress your manager and win your colleagues' respect.

Observe office dynamics.

Pay attention to the behaviors and accomplishments valued in the organization. Ask yourself what types of people seem most successful and identify what attributes they share. Consider identifying a star performer who can serve as a mentor and provide career advice. Also, note how the staff interacts with one another and how certain tasks are handled; this will help you communicate effectively with the team and make smart choices.

Take the driver's seat.

No matter how supportive or sympathetic your supervisor is, it's not his or her obligation to advance your career. It's up to you to build your knowledge and acquire new skills. Volunteer for interesting projects and pursue professional development opportunities both within and outside the organization. Take classes that will help you better perform your current duties or prepare you for more complex assignments.

Request regular feedback.

Even if it's not part of the protocol, ask your supervisor for a three- and six-month performance evaluation. Identifying your next career steps and discussing strategies for improving your overall performance will prevent your career from stagnating. Take note of the feedback you receive and store any positive remarks in a file for future reference -- this acclaim will come in handy when you seek a promotion or apply for a new job.


Your first job is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses, the kind of work you prefer and management styles under which you thrive. Armed with this knowledge, don't be afraid to follow a different career path than the one you initially identified. If you think you would be happier in another type of role, inquire about other openings in the organization.

Have fun.

All work and no play could lead to burnout. Make sure to leave room in your schedule to socialize and get to know the people around you. It will not only add levity to your workweek but also help you develop your professional network.

Entry-level jobs may not be the most glamorous, exciting or well paid, but they play a key role in setting your dreams and goals in motion. Approach them with an open mind and enthusiastic outlook, and you'll move quickly up the career ladder. Even if the experience doesn't pan out the way you hoped, you'll at least have a clearer sense of where you want to go next.

Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.

Copyright 2007 CareerBuilder.com.

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