When I started my first job out of college (actually, while I was still in college), the idea of working someplace every day for an entire year was a bit terrifying. Although my course schedule was always full, and I’d worked during school as well, I’d never had to clock a full eight (ahem, 12) hours in a row—and of the hours I did put in, none were under the watchful eye of anyone but myself.
So, when my first one-year anniversary approached, I was pretty proud I’d made it! Then, right as I was about to start patting myself on the back, my manager sat me down to go over my performance—which is when I realized there was a lot more I could’ve been doing to set myself up for success in those first 12 months.
In my defense, none of these things were outlined in my job description, nor were they in the goals my boss had set out for me. No, the difference between simply “doing a good job” and being seen as invaluable part of the team isn’t about hitting your numbers or meeting your goals—it’s the much more subtle things that have an impact on how you’re perceived at work.
Since then, I’ve figured out there are a few key milestones everyone should try to achieve within that first year at a new company, in a new department, or in a new role. So review this list at least once a quarter (if not more), and make sure stay you’re on track to impress your boss when anniversary time rolls around.
1. Name that Suit
By the end of your first year, you should know the names of all your immediate colleagues, and a little bit about them, too. This helps show you care about your team beyond a superficial level, and starts to create roots that can lead to professional perks like mentors, opportunities to take on more, and yes, even raises and promotions. An important note: Don’t focus your memory skills only on the big cheeses—build relationships with everyone, and I mean everyone. Job title is not synonymous with influence, so getting to know your receptionist, janitor, or parking attendant could open doors you never thought possible. (Not to mention, it’s just the right thing to do.)
2. Be Someone’s “Godfather”
Don Corleone knew a thing or two about favors—most notably the fact that after doing someone a solid, he knew that, someday, he could call upon that person for a favor of his own. The workplace may not be quite like working for the mafia (if it is, please tell us all about it!), but the Godfather had it right.
Within your first year, you should have done a few favors of your own. But don’t worry—they don’t need to be mob-level favors—a simple offer to help someone out that’s working late or cover for a colleague who needs to leave early will suffice. When you offer to ease that burden as the rookie, it says a lot about you, and creates a solid foundation of trust and reliability with your colleagues that’s difficult to achieve without years on the clock.
That said, while it’s a generally accepted social contract to return a favor, it’s by no means a guarantee—and when you do a colleague a favor, it should be because you’re truly trying to help, not channeling your inner mobster.
3. Become a Barista
Whether you mainline your coffee or prefer tea, knowing how to brew a good cup o’ joe will endear you to many a bleary-eyed, coffee-loving colleague. Those of us that love our morning coffee usually end up being the ones to make it every morning (and make a new pot when someone drinks the last cup), and while we know and trust our own brewing skills, it’s a welcome treat to discover a pot of coffee has already been made—and it’s good. Believe me: A good cup of coffee will win you a special place in your colleagues’ hearts, and the coffee-bond is one that’s hard to break.
(Note: If you aren’t comfortable with your brewing skills just yet, experiment on a willing coffee-drinking colleague until you get it right. Brewing a watery pot of coffee could have disastrous consequences.)
4. Find Your “Person”
With every job, I’ve had someone that became my go-to person. This person wasn’t necessarily in my department, or even the same state—but we worked together in some capacity, and through a mutually beneficial partnership, endeavored to help each other get shit done.
Find this person—and ideally sooner, rather than later. I’ll give you a hint: Look for the person who can make miracles happen at the 11th hour, when everyone else tells you they can’t be done. This person is usually part of operations or the back office. Get in good with that person, and I guarantee, you’ll be pulling strings even the highest-level executives couldn’t touch.
Ultimately, what you accomplish in your first year will say a lot about the kind of asset you’ll be to your employer. Working hard to crank out a lot of “product” may seem like a strategy that will get you noticed, and that’s probably true—but what does it say about you as a long-term investment for the company?
If you weave yourself into the fabric of the company culture first, you’ll establish a relationship with your working community and demonstrate to everyone that you’re committed to the success of the entire company, not just your own. And that is what will make you an asset in the long run.