33 Tips on How to Succeed at Your First Job

You succeed at your first job by managing your time, being likable and by doing good work. This is actually the secret for succeeding at any job – not just a new one.

Below are 33 tips that will help you achieve in your new role:

1 –Your Appearance Matters

Every day in the real world is a job interview. I cannot overstate how important your dress and appearance is to your future success. You can’t show up looking like a potato sack and expect to be seen as future executive material.

Invest in your career by investing in your clothes. I’m not saying to spend a lot of money. However, being put together is important. Be very careful to not be seen as an edgy hipster. Pay attention to your shoes. Shoes often make all the difference.

Make sure your clothes are appropriate for your office setting. I knew of a guy who insisted on wearing a tie every day, even though everyone not on Wall Street stopped wearing ties in the 80s. He said that is how he was raised. He was seen as a try-hard and never was a good fit with the team. His career suffered as a result.

Be sure you are put together as well. Make sure your hair is maintained. Don’t grow an out-of-control beard. Cut your fingernails. These are little details, but the little details matter in the real world.

2 – Be Alert and Engaged

I once had a new hire that struggled to pay attention in meetings. I could tell he was fighting sleep. Whenever I gave him a task, he did good work. Unfortunately, he had a hard time being present during meetings. He didn’t last with us long as a result.

You have to always be engaged. That means getting enough sleep, and finding a way to be interested even if you aren’t. The fact of the matter is you are being paid to be an active participant in the business at all times.

Some tips if you find your attention drifting – ask questions. Being part of the conversation will force you to be more present. Stand up discreetly and participate in the meeting while standing. If that fails – pound coffee like it’s going out of style.

3 – Hard Work is Your Entry Ticket

It is incredibly frustrating when an employee tries to justify something by declaring how hard they worked. Hard work is expected – that is what you get paid for. You get rewarded at work for your achievements, not for doing what you are expected to do.

Don’t work your tail off because you are trying to impress someone. Work hard because you have a good work ethic and it is the right thing to do. And don’t expect a pat on the back for working hard. That is why you will be paid. Show results, and you will be recognized.

4 – Be Proactive

Your manager has a million things to do, and not nearly enough time to do it. As a result, you will be seen as extremely annoying if you are constantly asking what you need to do. Take some initiative, and put yourself to work.

If you have a clear understanding of the team’s and your objectives, then you should be able to find a way to work towards that goal. Managers love employees who are self-starters. Show yours that you are…

5 – Understand Your Role

You were hired for a reason. Be sure you understand the goals of the team. Be even more clear on why you were hired to help achieve those goals. Learn your objectives and how your performance will be measured. If you are given poor instruction, this should give you clear direction for your activity.

6 – Find a Mentor

There is an old saying that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. That makes it impossible to learn everything you need to learn on your own. As such, you need a mentor. You need a trusted advisor who can help guide you and accelerate your learning.

If you do this right, your mentor will become an advocate for you later in your career. Having advocates who can vouch for you are critical if you hope to climb the corporate ladder.

7 – Always Be Prepared

Most often, the person who appears to be the smartest person around the table is the one who is best prepared. Most often, this means having relevant data.

If you are attending a customer meeting, what do you know about their business? How did they perform last year? If you are having an internal production meeting, is production up or down? What factors are influencing the change? If you are having a marketing meeting, what are your competitors doing in the space? Are you gaining or losing ground?

Spend five minutes to prep for every work interaction. This preparation will quickly separate you from your peers.

8 – Make Your Boss Look Good

You were hired to be part of a team. Collectively, your team’s objective is to achieve your bosses goal. As such, your job is to make your boss look good.

You do that by doing your job, and doing it well. Should the team be recognized for your efforts, let your boss take the credit. If he is a good boss, he will make sure you are recognized and rewarded as a result.

9 – Be Low Maintenance

High maintenance people suck the energy out of any team. You must avoid being this type of person at all costs. High maintenance people simply need a lot of attention, and when they get it they are exhausting to all who they come in contact with. Avoid being this person.

10 – Have a Positive Attitude

This alone will take you far in life. The fact of the matter is that no one has time for miserable people. As such, leave your negativity at home and force yourself to be positive at work. Encourage others. Compliment often. This will make you well-liked which will lead to your colleagues wanting to help you on your journey to success.

11 – Learn Everyday

You have to carve out time every single day to invest in yourself. There is great power in routines. If you have a routine to learn a little more every day, and dedicate yourself to that routine for your entire career, you will quickly become the subject matter expert in your field.

Ways to learn are through your company’s online portal, by asking co-workers questions about a topic you don’t know much about, by watching industry-related YouTube videos and by reading. Spend a little time every day investing in yourself. Those seeds you plant today will turn into tremendous forests in the future.

12 – Build Your Network

You can have a nice career based on who you know and not necessarily what you know. Regardless of business or industry, success is based on the relationships you build. Make it a priority to develop relationships in your jobs.

The first step is to make sure you know everyone in your office. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their challenges, and try to help them when you can. Don’t be afraid to branch outside your team or organization. Be sure to engage your customer and partner network as well. Your success will probably ultimately depend on the strength of your network if you aspire to a high level in the company.

13 – Look to Exceed Expectations

If you want to be seen as an average employee – meet your goals and take your 3% raise per year. If you want to get promoted, receive big bonuses and all the perks of being a high performer; then you must exceed expectations.

Every role will managed by some metric. Sales roles are measured by sales. Operations are measured by output. Supply chain is measured by cost savings. Quality is measured by the number of defects. Know what your metric is, and strive to outperform any goal you have. This is how you will get recognized as a high performer.

14 – Learn Your Boss

All bosses have things that are especially important to them. All bosses have things that annoy them. It is best to figure these things out early.

My biggest pet peeve is I hate email. I think it is a tool for lazy people that stifles interaction and team building. I would much rather receive a phone call than an email. However, a new employee may miss this important detail during our introductions.

Asking the boss directly about what annoys him and what he likes is perfectly ok. Also, asking your co-workers for advice on how to deal with the boss makes sense. It is better to ask and be 100% clear, then to assume and be wrong.

15 – Don’t be a Flake

There is nothing worse than someone who is unreliable. If you say you are going to do something, do it. You need to be able to be counted on. You need to be dependable. It is incredibly frustrating when someone commits to something and backs out. It is much better if they don’t commit in the first place.

16 – Don’t Get Caught Screwing Off

You will be tempted during slow times to play with your phone, or surf the internet on your computer. Don’t fall for those temptations. There is always something to do, or someone to meet or something to learn. You need to become a professional by adding value at all times. Never give someone the idea that you aren’t dedicated to your job.

17 – Review How You Look on Social Media

People are looking at your social media account. They want to see who you really are when you are not at work. What you put on social media will be a reflection of you, and will help shape the image people have of you. Make sure the image it portrays is a positive one.

18 – Help and Don’t Care Who Gets Credit

On Day 1 of boot camp everyone is confused and uneasy. I was no different. As a military brat, I knew a little more than most, including how to shine my boots. One of the guys in my squadron was having trouble shining his, so I showed him how to complete the task. I wasn’t looking for fanfare or credit. I was just helping a guy out. Word of this got back to my commander, and I was labeled as a team player that would do anything to help his team.

Realizing that, I made it my priority in the military to help others, and never look for credit. The credit didn’t really matter to me, as I knew I wasn’t going to make a career out of military. I was doing my duty, and never minded others getting credit.

The result was I was never more recognized in my entire life.

19 – Don’t be Late and Don’t Miss Meetings

Every morning should be started with planning your day. During this planning set an alarm in your phone for every meeting you have that day. That will ensure you are never late, and never miss a meeting.

20 – Never Speak Bad About Anyone

First, it is rude to talk junk about others. The very best thing that can result from you speaking poorly about someone else is the person you are speaking with will think you are petty. The worst is whatever you say gets back to the person in question.

You will never know all the office relationships and connections. Thus, you will never know who you will offend by what you say. Make it a practice to keep the negative thoughts to yourself.

21 – Don’t Swear

Many people don’t think swearing is a big deal. At most places, you will hear colorful language regularly. However, there are certain folks that look down at swearing and see it as unprofessional. Because of these people, it is safe for you to refrain from saying bad words, regardless of what is happening around you.

22 – Prepare When you Speak

My Mom always told me it is better to have everyone in the room think you are stupid, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt. You will be judged on how well you speak. If you have a hard time putting words together, those listening will think you aren’t bright. As such, it makes sense to always jot down your thoughts when you know you will have to speak.

23 – Don’t be a Lump

I had a young lady who worked for me. She never said anything. I’m not sure if she ever did anything. She never contributed or became part of the team. Essentially, she was a lump.

Don’t ever be a lump. You don’t have to be the life of the party, but you have to be engaged. Your efforts have to make enough of an impact that others notice. If you are just taking up space, you won’t have that space for long.

24 – Keep Personal Business Out of the Office

You were hired to do a job. When at work, this is your complete focus. Don’t bring your personal drama to the office. If you need a mental health day, take a vacation day. Realize we all have drama in our lives. You cannot let your personal life impact your attitude or your ability to do your job.

25 – Say Thank You!

As a new employee, you are going to need help. Probably a lot of help. For those who help you, be sure they know they are appreciated. Say thank you early and often. You will find that others are more likely to help you in the future if you do.

26 – Learn About Your Company

Be a student of your company. Know the company priorities. Know the history. Learn about the financials. Read news articles about the company. Eventually, you will be with a higher up in the company. You never know when this knowledge will come in handy.

27 – Email Communication

I hate how corporate American has turned into an army of email pushers. Don’t fall into that trap. When you send an email, be sure you only include those needed on the email. Also, be sure to clearly state what you want. Better yet, ditch the email and call or talk to the person you are trying to communicate with. This is a much more effective way to communicate.

28 – Look to Gain Experience

Realize you are looking for a career, not a job. Your career may take you to other parts of your organization or other companies or industries. You need to always be developing your skills. You do that by having a diversity of experiences. Don’t be afraid of taking on new challenges. Be eager to learn. These skills will build and prepare you for future challenges.

29 – Always Take Notes

You don’t take notes to remember things, though that is important. You take notes to let others know that what they say is a priority to you and important. Taking notes effectively is a skill that you need to learn. Even if your note-taking isn’t effective to you, it will be seen as a positive to others who are watching you work.

30 – Prioritize Your Tasks

The work week is very short. You will need to ruthlessly prioritize your tasks. Your priority needs to match your goals and the desires of your boss. Don’t fall in the trap of doing work just to do work. No one wins when you waste your time on busy work. Always be striving to make an impact.

31 – Follow the Chain of Command

Don’t EVER jump your boss and go to their with an issue. Should you ever have to interact with your bosses boss, then be sure they are copied on every email, and made aware of every conversation. This is a professional courtesy in the real world, but also the boss may give you advice on how to best approach the subject at hand.

32 – Don’t Get Too Comfortable

You are at work. Never let your guard down thinking you are with friends. You are not. You are in a professional setting. That means don’t drink too much at happy hour. That means don’t overshare your personal life. That means don’t act like your boss is your best friend.

33 – Know When It is Time to Leave

Always have an exit plan. When you accomplish your objectives, you must look for your next opportunity to grow. Also, always look to leave on a high note. Put another words – cash in when your stock is high. If you have a banner year that will be tough to repeat, you know it is time to go to your next job.

Final Thoughts

Realize these are just my thoughts on how to succeed at your first job. You will have to put your unique spin on it. Hopefully, this will give you some thoughts that can help you get off on the right foot.

I love watching commencement speeches. I think there is a lot of wisdom shared in that age-old ritual. Below is one of my favorites – which I think is very appropriate for this topic.

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