Common first career mistakes

Barry Whelan advises first-time employees to be pro-active and use their initiative as much as possible instead of waiting for someone to tell them what to do

For those who have recently started their first job or are about to venture into a workplace for the first time, it can be hard to navigate the differences between the workplace and the much more informal environments of school or college. Here, Barry Whelan offers some sage advice on how to avoid creating a bad first impression

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16 July 2018 | 0

As the class of 2018 get ready to start life in the workplace next month, we here in Excel reflected on some of the common mistakes candidates have shared with us when starting their new jobs.

While many in their first jobs shared stories of how they fell for pranks, such as being asked to look for ‘buckets of steam’, we are more interested in sharing the sort of mistakes that have helped candidates at the beginning of their careers.

Don’t neglect your career development

No-one is as invested in your professional success as you are. That means it is your responsibility to continually prove your worth and advance your career. Yes, there will be mentors, coaches and people to train you, but most people sit there waiting for someone to tell them what to do and then are surprised that a whole year has passed them by without much feedback from managers.

Don’t just make a great first impression, make a great long-term impression by focusing on quarter-years when you start your career. Ask yourself questions such as ‘what will I learn in the first 90 days?’ and ‘what can I achieve in the first 90 days?’ Establish a baseline of goals with your line manager and then check in every three months to see if you are achieving them.

Don’t share too much

The office is a very different environment to the more casual environments of school or college.

That means you shouldn’t share too much information about your personal life with colleagues. Young workers should not be talking about how much they drunk one night or telling inappropriate stories about their latest romance. Firstly, because work should be a professional environment and secondly, most workplaces are multi-generational environments where the stories you regale your friends with may not impress your colleagues.

Don’t work too much…or too little

The Goldilocks principle applies to work-life balance; not too much, not too little. Try to get your work-life balance right for both you and your career.

Some young employees show up with ‘an eight-hour-a-day mindset’ and when asked to stay late or put in extra hours, they are horrified.

If you develop this kind of reputation, you are going to miss out on opportunities at some point in time. You are not going to be seen as a team player and you might not be seen as someone who is ambitious.

At the other end of the spectrum are young workers who don’t know how to set healthy and sustainable boundaries between their work responsibilities and their own lives. There are lots of companies and even cities where overwork is seen as a badge of honour. However, excessive work means you are not at your optimum while at work and eventually leads to burnout.

Don’t dress unprofessionally

You need to be aware of how you present yourself. Office dress codes vary greatly and while not all will be very formal, to be taken seriously at your first job, you need to present yourself professionally. Perhaps you are starting your first job straight from college where you wore pretty much whatever was to hand. Your presentation in work is so important; keep the mentality of ‘first impressions last’ or ‘what you see is what you get’. Take the time in your routine to plan what you wear to work and dress every day to impress.

Don’t act unprofessionally

Learn about the professional code of conduct. Telling inappropriate stories or misogynist jokes is inappropriate. Be mindful not to bring that kind of informal behaviour to the workplace.

While you may be in an unfamiliar environment and you do not know how everyone behaves yet, err on the side of caution.

Don’t act helpless

When you hit something unknown in your new job, young professionals often run right to their bosses when, instead, they should think through things or use the resources around them as their first recourse. Acting helpless instead of being resourceful can create a bad impression.

Employers want people who can think a little bit. They are looking for people who will take the best next step and not just the most convenient next step.

To distinguish yourself, rather than asking the easy questions – such as where can I find this document or what’s our policy around such and such – ask the next level questions, which shows you have already taken some initiative to answer the easy questions on your own.



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