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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 (Surprising) Mistakes to Avoid at Your First Job

As a new grad, you’ve probably been intensely focused on finding that perfect first job. (And if you’re just getting started, good news! NPR recently reported that the job outlook is brighter for you than the grads who have walked before.)

But once you do land that dream job, it’s time to work just as hard at getting off on the right foot. I’ve been working as a writer for CareerBliss since my graduation in 2011, and looking back on the transition into my first real job, there are a few things I would have done a little differently to set myself up for success.

While making a rookie mistake or two is, well, part of the job, here are a few common ones I’ve seen myself and other new grads make. Consider them lessons you don’t have to learn the hard way.


1. Not Asking for Help

When you start a new job, you want to feel like you have all of your new duties under control. You don’t want your new colleagues to think they made a mistake by hiring you, right?

Unfortunately, this fear of seeming helpless or clueless often translates into not asking questions and trying to figure out your job on your own instead. And this, my friends, is a terrible plan.

Early on in one of my internships, we were all learning a brand new internal system, and I was totally lost. I was afraid to ask my boss to slow down and step back, so my plan was to stay late and try and figure it out on my own. Luckily, my boss could tell I was struggling a little bit and privately asked if I needed some help. While I was panicked that he had noticed, he reassured me that even seasoned professionals often need a few months to get the swing of things when starting a new job.

Honestly, most bosses are more understanding than you’d think. Asking questions (especially when they’re well-thought out and specific) is expected—and in fact, asking the right questions will show your manager that you’re deeply driven to be your absolute best. So, if there’s a process, assignment, or situation you don’t understand, speak up and ask for the help you need.

2. Thinking You’re Too Low in the Ranks

Here’s the cool part about your new job: You’re in charge. You might not be in charge of much just yet, but you own some sort of stake—whether big or small—in the department and company.

I think many new grads forget this, because in most entry-level positions it’s easy to feel like you don’t have much of a say in anything. But, even if your company is hierarchically driven, try to consider yourself part of the team rather than the lowest on the totem pole. No matter what your job, your boss wants to know that you’re dedicated to the team’s success, and he or she wants to hear your ideas (as long as you approach them tactfully, of course).

This means: Look for ways to contribute even if they’re not part of your “official” job responsibilities, and feel free to speak up if you see ways to do your job better or more effectively. At one point, after finishing up my tasks for the day, I had a great idea for a new project. I proposed it to my boss, and to my surprise, he told me to run with it. It was a great opportunity to do something I was really interested in, but I wouldn’t have had the chance to tackle it if I hadn’t have seen a need and brought it up myself.

3. Avoiding Workplace Social Activities

Got a work event coming up? Here’s the thing: You sort of have to go.

I’m not exactly a social butterfly, and I prefer to keep my work and personal life separate. So, when my company sent around an invite for a team bowling event one day, I embarrassingly asked my manager if “we had to go.”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized what a poor sport I sounded like.

The truth is, almost as important as doing your job well is building relationships with your colleagues, and these events are prime time to mingle and be friendly with the people you work with. No, you don’t have to be BFFS with everyone in the office, but spending a little outside-of-work time with them helps you all bond and work together even more effectively. As I learned the hard way, consider these after-hours events—from annual company functions to impromptu team-building dinners—part of your job.

Starting your first job is an exciting time, and those first few weeks and months on the job can really set you up for success at your company. So, don’t be afraid to dive in to your new role, ask for help when you need it, and open up to your new colleagues. You’ll be off to a great start.

Photo of people at work courtesy of Shutterstock.