Career Services


First Year on the Job

Congratulations! You’re about to take a big step into your life after Clarke. There are a number of exciting things happening for you at this moment in your life. All kinds of doors are opened, presenting a world of new opportunities.

The transition from the world of Clarke to that of the first position or graduate/professional school is a dramatic one. Most college seniors are not aware of the magnitude of the transitions and adjustments that need to be made on virtually all fronts and are ignorant of the consequences for not making these adjustments in a mature and speedy manner.

What a shock it can be to discover that you, as a new graduate, once again drop to “freshman” status at the bottom of the rung. Just as a college freshman has to learn the ropes of the new environment, the recent graduate starting a career job faces a whole new world. The difficulty is that the real world is less tolerant of mistakes, offers less time and flexibility for adjustment, and demands performance for the pay it offers.

The graduate who enters this world with open eyes and with enthusiasm invariably does better than the one who naively expects life to continue as before. What follow are some areas of great adjustment and some ideas on how to deal with them.

The World of Work

The key variable is the recognition of the differences between school and work and a willingness to adjust rapidly to these changes.

Dealing with the clock: You can’t skip work. Excuses for tardiness or absences will not be appreciated and recurring behavior of this type will result in a negative image, then in dismissal.

Develop a reputation for being punctual. One of the easiest ways to make a good early impression at your new workplace is to demonstrate consistent punctuality.

When does vacation start? All the years you’ve been attending school you got used to long vacations after each term and a summer vacation of three months. Many jobs offer two weeks vacation per year to new employees. You may well look back enviously on all the free time you had during your college years. Remember them fondly, but don’t resent the demands made by the job. You paid the university-your employer is paying you.

It is a good idea to get some time to unwind between graduation and beginning your job, because it may be your last vacation for awhile.

Which is more important, image or substance? Substance is very important and much will be expected of you. In the workplace you must recognize the importance of image as well. In college, you may dress radically, drink heavily several nights of the week, use profanity liberally, complain about the establishment, and so on. Many of these activities are tolerated as long as acceptable grades are maintained; grades that are not based upon image. In the workplace, image becomes much more important than it was in college. However superficial this may seem, many of the first impressions you make will be based upon image.

A major part of image is how you dress and groom for the job. Clothing is important! Your attire is one of the first things people will notice about you and you must pay attention to it.

Most college students have not accumulated a collection of business suits and accessories by the time they graduate. They expect to “get by” for a while realizing that they might look shabbier that colleagues from time to time. This does NOT work well! You need to be able to dress appropriately the first day, the first week, the first month on the job.

The boss: ally or enemy? Your boss controls a great deal of what can happen to you during your first year. If your boss is not your ally, you have big problems. One of your greatest responsibilities in the new job is to make your boss look good by completing work on time, acting like a professional, and maintaining a positive attitude. Is it fair? Probably not, in the college frame of mind. Your boss is expected to train and develop you, not to become your best friend.

Willingness, flexibility, and cooperation count for a lot in your boss’ eyes. If you can survive a year with a particularly tough boss, that alone can be viewed as a feather in your cap. Before you lose your temper or take any rash steps that could jeopardize your career with the organization, take time to think things through.

Can you trust your peers? In order to function effectively you must be able to work well with others. You will continually be called upon to engage in teamwork or to get a task or project completed. At the same time, you are competing with these peers for recognition and advancement.

When you begin meeting your peers, be friendly but don’t immediately join a clique. Spend some time observing how people act, who performs well, and who takes a positive view toward the job and the organization. Hopefully, some of your new co-workers will become good friends.

Will I be stuck doing busywork all day long? It is often the entry level college graduate who is asked to photocopy reports, deliver memos, proofread documents, tally columns of numbers, and even run errands. The better your attitude in handling these chores, the sooner you advance into more “career related” tasks.

Learn the ropes from these seemingly meaningless tasks. Develop a reputation for having a good attitude.

When do my grades come? On the job your evaluations may be less regular, less formal, less precise and more important. Your boss will be your evaluator, and your organization may or may not call for systematic performance appraisals. Almost any evaluation will include some criticism of performance or behavior. View this as a roadmap of where to direct some of your efforts.

You might find that your boss’ priorities don’t match your own, but that is not cause for argument. Pay heed to your priorities, but make sure you work on those suggested by your boss.

Professionalism This covers a lot of territory. Be aware of: your personal use of the telephone, e-mail and office supplies; clock watching; gossiping; complaining; beginning an office romance; brown-nosing; honestly owning your mistakes; practicing confidentiality; listening.

Personal life after graduation

The personal like and the job often become intertwined. A goal is to learn how to separate the two and when to bring them together. The first issue is to make sure that you establish a personal life in your new environment. Suddenly you have been pulled from this highly social College environment and are now a stranger in a new location where peers outside the workplace are harder to find. Most of the people around you seem to have their lives already in place, and it is more difficult to become part of a group to establish new ties.

Some places to meet people:

  • Apartment complex
  • Sports and activities
  • Church groups
  • Hobbies
  • Volunteer activities
  • Alumni chapters
  • Health club/fitness center
  • Continuing education courses
  • Service clubs
  • Professional groups

The above list is not exhaustive, but should give you the idea that there are many places to turn in order to find friends and companions. Your community might have additional possibilities that you will find out about upon arrival. Whatever you choose, the key point is to develop a life outside your job and career where you can be yourself, confide in others, and express yourself without fear that the wrong information will get back to your boss or co-workers.

More advice for your first year on the job!

The Moment You Land Your Job, Stop Worrying About The Competition…
You can’t waste your energies worrying about what everyone else is doing. “If somebody’s dad is head of the company, fine; if someone spends their life sucking up to your boss, that’s fine too. Concentrate on yourself and your own abilities. Work to get credit for what you do without knocking the other guy down.” (Jonathan Marder, VP of Special Marketing at Random House)

...And Start Worrying About Yourself
You hear “politics,” and you think ”cheese ball” or “used-car salesman.” But politics is the way of the world. If you have three people in a room, you are going to have politics. So in any organization it takes some work to get along. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn't mean having your lips surgically attached to someone’s butt. But it does mean understanding that your boss, like you, has an agenda and is looking out for his/her own career.

Shut Up And Pay Attention
If you have studied refrigerator repair at a trade school, great-you know your business. If you have gone for a typical liberal-arts education at a private college, you are clueless about what goes on in an office. “I don’t want anyone just out of college telling me, ‘I can change your business,’” says Jonathan Marder. “Because you can’t. You don’t know anything. You don’t know enough to know what you don’t know. “ On the other hand, not asking questions when you have them is tantamount to saying, “Please sack me now.”

When You Screw Up, Admit It And Move On
It’s a law of nature-we all do something moronic on our first job. Except in the rare case of the true psycho boss, there’s little penalty involved if you just ‘fess up and demonstrate you understand what the problem is. Just think of yourself as a well-groomed lab rat. “ What matters,” says Marder, “is learning from that mistake and not repeating it.”

Pace Yourself
You’re new, you’re eager, you’re chomping at the proverbial bit. You come in early: you leave late. But after six months, you’re still in the same job, and there’s no end in sight. You’re completely stumped. Haven’t they taken notice of the wonderfulness that is you? Welcome to the real world, where after your endless work, there is no spring break. Sometimes the first promotion takes a little longer than you expected, and you can become deeply dejected if you haven’t hit your “goal.” But that goal may be unrealistic-especially if you’re a tad too enthusiastic about charging into the boss’ office with every new idea the flits across those neurons of yours.

Read Everything Reveal Nothing
Marder is a firm believer in reading everything you can get your hands on. But whatever you learn, Marder cautions, do not discuss it with anyone. “First, it takes time to know how the game is played and who the players are,” he says. “The perception you have after one month is different after six months and again after eight.”

Keep Asking For Additional Responsibility-And Nag Charmingly Until You Get It
Contrary to what you may have heard about how bosses delegate work to the low guy on the totem pole, the truth is that when it comes to tasks that require any creativity whatsoever, most bosses are territorial as hyenas. So unless your father or mother owns the company (in which case, why would you be reading this handout?), you will have to ask, or ye won’t receive.

Bored? It’s Your Problem, Not Your Boss’s
There is no such thing as a task that’s too menial. OK, there is. You will not give your boss a pedicure unless you happen to work in a salon. But for the most part, you should accept the grunt work for what it is and not assume people will think less of you because you are doing it. While the tasks you may be performing at first are tedious, you can use the 99 percent of your brain that’s not engaged to learn the business-particularly to learn what your superiors are doing.

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