Advice for Your First Job from Those Who Know

So you have started your first job and you are wondering what you need to do to succeed and move up the ladder.

That is on the minds of a lot of recent college grads who worked hard and landed that first job.

One of those recent grads posted a question about first job success and started a discussion on a LinkedIn group made up of alumni from my alma mater, Northwestern University. Many of the people who responded had great advice that I wanted to share here.

Dawne Simmons is president atWordStorm Communications in Chicago, Ill. She wrote:

  1. NO WHINING! I don't care how unfair, inefficient or unproductive a process, the work environment or other staff appear to be.

  2. Remember your supervisor is NOT your parent, favorite uncle or friend. Be circumspect with whom and how much of your personal life you share.

  3. Your job, whatever it is, is to make your supervisor's job easier. You can ask, "How can I make your job easier?"

  4. For the first 90 days, one of your major duties is to LISTEN. Listen about how things have always been done. Listen for upcoming changes. Listen to find out where the REAL power/influence lies.

  5. Organizations are comprised of human beings, with human frailties. Don't be astonished that humans engage in unprofessional behavior. It's OK to be surprised. As a wise sage once advised me: 'You need to know not only who's married to whom, but also who's sleeping with whom.'

  6. And to really get ahead: Volunteer for the work no one else wants to do. Do the ugly jobs... and do them well. Then toot your own horn to your supervisor.

-- See average salaries of jobs for workers age 18 - 25.

Stephen Schuller is a businessman and lawyer in Tulsa, Okla. His words of advice:

  • Work hard -- go the extra mile. Don't settle for just doing what's expected or requested of you; stop and think about what the real objective of the assignment is, and provide more insight, more research, more value. Apply the principles of "customer service" -- be the best at what you do, take the time to become the best, provide the best work product, provide the best results. And while you're at it, be cheerful, encouraging and responsive. Love what you do, and make others love how well you do it.

Anne Howard is a recruiter for an employment agency. This is what she tells first job holders:

  • The firm you're joining already has a culture. The sooner you figure out what is appropriate (jeans on Fridays?) and what isn't (Facebook at work), the sooner you'll be taken seriously. Also, keep up with the news, particularly in your field. Your bosses know what your competitors are doing -- and so should you, if you want to advance.

And for those of you still looking for work, here's some great advice from NU alum Mitch Hagan, the art director at a Chicago area technology company:

I've interviewed several candidates just out of undergrad over the years. This is my advice when just starting out:
  • Know that at this point in your life, you are going into any position at an entry level. Understand what that means. You won't know everything and that is OK -- we expect it. Trust that the people who hired you will help you make a successful transition from your academic career into your professional career. If they don't, ask for it. Your career is your most valuable asset. Develop it, nurture it, and protect it.
  • During the interview process, be open to learning and ask questions -- even if you think it is a dumb one. Be enthusiastic, but don't oversell it.
  • Buy a good suit. Have it tailored. Make sure your shoes are polished. You don't realize just how young you look, and nothing makes you look even younger than a sloppy appearance. Ladies, do not use 'Sex and the City' as a style guide for your work wardrobe. That is a fantasy; real professional women do not dress that way.
  • And keep this in mind: We need your youth, your enthusiasm, and your desire to learn, grow and contribute.

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