Success on the Job

Center for Career & Vocation

Your First Year on the Job

Your first year on the job is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and start devising a long-term career path.

It seems like a lot to accomplish in 12 short months, but as any seasoned employee will tell you, the first year is one of the most crucial for both personal and professional growth, so it’s important to get as much as you can from it.

Master the Basics

As a new hire, it’s natural for you to want to dazzle your boss with your knowledge, revolutionary ideas, and unwavering team spirit. These are all important, but your first job is to demonstrate that you have mastered the basics: Show up on time every day, ready and willing to work, and dressed appropriately.

Sound simple? Many employers report an alarming shortage of qualified, enthusiastic job applicants who can be trusted to report to work each day. Your first job in your new job is to demonstrate your reliability, trustworthiness, and enthusiasm.

Know What's Expected

It’s critical that you understand your job, your supervisor’s expectations, and how you fit into the larger picture of the company. Consequently, ask as many questions as you need to do your job well and learn about the organization and its culture. Don’t worry about looking foolish; it’s more foolish to pretend you know something (and risk getting it wrong) than to admit upfront you don’t.

It’s also important to find out about your organization’s performance review process and terminology—such as “meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations.” You can’t meet or exceed expectations if you don’t know what they are!

Watch and Learn

While it might be tempting to contribute ideas at every staff meeting or team-building session, it is generally better for you as a new hire to sit back and observe your co-workers before jumping into a discussion. You don’t want to come across as a “know-it-all,” or as dismissive of the knowledge and insight those senior to you have. Listen. Pay attention. Not only will you gain information that is relevant to your job, but also you will learn about your company’s culture and your co-workers’ distinctive personalities. You will also learn quickly that the working world is very different from the insular life on campus.

During your first year (and beyond) it’s important to have a mentor. Long term, a mentor can help you reach your career goals, but initially, your mentor’s main role is to help you navigate the unwritten rules of your organization, coach and counsel you, give you feedback and insight, and help you get on—and stay on—the right path.

Many organizations have formal mentor programs: If yours does, be sure to take advantage. If there is no formal program, seek out an informal mentor or mentors.

Closing out the Year

New hires in virtually every industry can expect a yearly performance review, and some employers require them at the end of the 90-day probationary period, or after the new hire’s first six months of employment.

Seek out constructive feedback periodically so there are no surprises at your review. This will also help you correct mistakes or improve your processes quickly. Use your performance review to your professional advantage. Build on your supervisor’s comments to assess your work style and improve your performance. Your review can help you get to the next step in your career.

With the right combination of a strong work ethic, the willingness to learn and improve, and the ability to accept constructive feedback, this year can be an amazing learning opportunity and can help you lay the foundation for later career success.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Email Etiquette + Tips

  • Do not use your employer’s e-mail address for anything other than work-related correspondence.
  • Read the e-mail carefully so that you can respond appropriately.
  • Don’t send confidential material by e-mail.
  • Use a subject line that reflects what your message is about.
  • Don’t use abbreviations or text-message jargon (BTW, LOL, or smiley faces, and so forth) in your e-mail.
  • Use a brief greeting as you might in a letter (Dear John, Good morning Mrs. Smith). Include a closing (Sincerely, Yours, Thanks).
  • Use spell check and reread your message before sending.
  • Respond to e-mail promptly.
  • Use typefaces and colors that are appropriate to your workplace. Ask if your office has a style that you should follow.
  • If you find you are e-mailing back and forth several times, pick up the phone to settle the issue.
  • If you forward a message, remove the FW from the subject line.
  • Change the subject line if the topic of the e-mail changes.
  • Do not share other people’s e-mail addresses.
  • Be careful using “reply all.” Consider whether it is necessary that everyone sees your reply.
  • Do not forward other people’s messages without permission.
  • Watch the tone of your e-mail. Remember, the person receiving the e-mail can’t see your body language.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Cubicle Etiquette

Many people in today’s workforce toil away in cubeville. So, there’s an excellent chance that your first job out of college will find you in a cubicle, too.

On a typical cubicle farm, there are a lot of little boxes next to other little boxes, with not a lot of room for privacy. And it is this very lack of privacy that makes cubicle courtesy so important in the workplace. After all, we can see, hear, and smell just about everything that goes on in the next cubicle…and our neighbors are seeing, hearing, and smelling us too.

The most basic rule of cubicle courtesy is to treat the cubicle as though it was an office with walls. The cubicle walls should establish a private area. If you’re approaching someone else’s cubicle, respect that area. Knock gently on the side when trying to get someone’s attention. This gives someone an opportunity to put up a hand or signal that they don’t wish to be bothered. This is a critical courtesy for employees who work on deadlines yet don’t have a door to close to signal that they can’t be disturbed.

Pretending there are walls is a good rule of thumb for cubicle dwellers—when you’re outside a neighbor’s cubicle. When you’re inside your own cubicle, however, remember that those walls are only imaginary—and the actual panels that separate cubicles do not provide the privacy that office dwellers have. Here’s a sense-by-sense breakdown of common cubicle complaints and the common-sense solutions:

  • Noise: Most complaints about cubicle neighbors center on noise control. When co-workers sit closely together, it’s hard to avoid all noise concerns, but it’s important to be aware of the people on either side of you. Develop a telephone voice so that your conversations aren’t being overheard. Do your best not to listen in to your neighbors’ phone conversations—and if you do hear them, never repeat what you heard. Personal cell phones should be kept off until break time, and never use a speakerphone—it’s distracting to the entire office.

    However, the problems don’t stop once the phone is hung up. Be conscious when using radios in your cubicle and, if it’s permissible, wear headphones as an act of courtesy to your neighbors. If a family member or friend visits, keep chitchat to a minimum or take your visitor to the break room to talk. And remember—everyone in the vicinity can hear what you’re saying, so it’s smart to keep conversations about your personal life—or your negative opinion about your new supervisor—to yourself.

    But talk isn’t the only noise that “cheapens” the office environment. It seems that some employees make “little sounds” that they aren’t aware of—but their neighbors are. Little noise that can be offensive include gum-cracking, coffee-slurping, ice-chomping, pen-tapping, and, most offensive of all, full-bellied belching. A cubicle is a public area, and those working inside should act as they would in any other public area. If you wouldn’t do it in a fine restaurant, don’t do it in your cubicle.

  • Smells: After the noise is controlled, it’s time to follow your nose (and be cognizant of your neighbors’ noses). A major faux pas is applying or wearing too much perfume while in a cubicle environment. Cheap cologne or aftershave tends to give those nearby headaches, and even worse, some people have perfume allergies and really suffer from the variety of scents in the air. Keep your fragrance choices simple, and if a co-worker has allergies, stick to an after-shower powder.

    Just because you’re in your cubicle doesn’t mean you have the freedom to take off your shoes. This looks unprofessional and, even worse, the odor will travel beyond your space. Also, remember that the hoagie with garlic and extra onions may smell delicious to you, but it could be turning the stomach of your co-worker. If you must eat pungent food, take it to the lunchroom.

  • Touch: Remember, there is no lock on your door. That means the cubicle is not the place to store valuables. But that open-door policy doesn’t mean that everything is up for grabs. Don’t take things from someone’s cubicle without asking—including tape dispensers, scissors, and staplers. Your neighbor’s cubicle is not a supply closet.

  • Sights: Cubicle décor should comply with company standards. Remember that not everyone shares your sense of humor, so leave the joke posters at home, so you don’t inadvertently offend co-workers or clients. One last word about sight cube etiquette—resist glancing into other people’s cubicles as you walk by, and don’t wander in without an invitation. The cubicle is someone’s work area and should be treated as such. Professionalism and courtesy are the keys to cubicle etiquette, so take time to know your co-workers and their individual preferences.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

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