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Career Corner
Graduate's Guide to First Job Success

Selena Dehne -- Before you embark on your new career, ask yourself whether you're really prepared to enter the workforce as a valuable employee.

You've spent four years tearing through scantron and blue book exams, mastering the art of writing 12-page papers in a single night, and enduring the monotonous lectures of one professor after another. You couldn't possibly be any more eager to wave goodbye to your alma mater and begin your first job.

But before you embark on your new career, ask yourself whether you're really prepared to enter the workforce as a valuable employee.

Most college graduates receive a handful of advice from career counselors and professors regarding how to construct their résumé, what to write in a cover letter, and how to impress recruiters on an interview. This advice is invaluable, as it guides you through the job search until you receive a desirable job offer.

But what about advice concerning how to succeed on your first job, making your employer relieved he hired you from among the hundreds of other applicants?

"An alarming percentage of new graduates do not have the necessary business knowledge and skills to succeed in a professional career," say Diane Decker, Victoria Hoevemeyer and Marianne Rowe-Dimas, authors of First-Job Survival Guide (JIST ©2006).

"As a result, many first-time employees are making simple mistakes that lead to a bad start—or worse—termination."

In fact, many new employees often commit mistakes in the workplace they could have easily prevented. According to one recruiting firm, the biggest mistakes employees make in their first three months on a job include:

-- Coming in late for work: 12%
-- Presenting negative attitudes to co-workers or customers: 12%
-- Spending too much time on personal business at the office: 11%
-- Not asking questions: 9%

According to the company, "When college grads do land a position, it's important they recognize the first 90 days on the job is an extended interview."

Fortunately, college grads have several factors working in their favor when it comes to succeeding on their first job. Nearly 60% of employers say they will hire more grads in 2006-2007 than in 2004-2005.

The numbers speak for themselves. Employers want to hire college graduates -- but they also want to hire employees they can count on to make the most of the job they were hired to do.

Luckily, college grads have a clean slate in the workforce and can prevent their work reputation from being tarnished by various mistakes.

"The good news is that you have the ability to avoid many problems by how you prepare yourself and what you do in your daily job performance. This is especially true when you are just beginning a new job," says Michael, author of Quick Job Success Guide (JIST ©2006).

"You're starting fresh. You're excited and full of hope. The person who hired you feels the same way. You both want to prove that the decision to hire you was wise."

The best way for graduates to accomplish this is to approach their first job as though they are prepared veterans of the workforce. In First-Job Survival Guide, Decker, Hoevemeyer and Rowe-Dimas offer college graduates the following advice to guide them to success from the moment they accept a job offer through their first review and beyond.

Before the First Day

Research your new employer. Chances are you researched your employer prior to your interview. That's great! Now it's important to further that research so that you don't stroll into your new workplace clueless about what goes on there. Find out what the product or service lines are; how your employer is different than its competitors; and what the organization's vision, mission, values, and ethics statements are.

Time and plan your route to work.

Heavy traffic? Car trouble? Bad weather? Sure, they're valid excuses, but your boss doesn't care. And neither do your co-workers, all of whom manage to make it to work on time everyday. Showing up late to work is unprofessional of anyone, let alone the new guy trying to give a favorable impression of himself.

Check your wardrobe.

Tattered jeans, tennis shoes, and your college sweatshirt may have been okay for an 8 a.m. lecture when you were in college, but don't even think about setting foot in the office wearing this ensemble. Consider what clothes are appropriate for your workplace, then take them out of your closet and make sure they are clean, pressed, and in good condition.

Adapt your sleep habits.

In college it's perfectly normal to stay up until 3 a.m., roll out of bed in the afternoon, and then nap for another few hours, but that lifestyle vanished the second you received your diploma. Now it's time to join the early birds.

On the First Day

Allow extra time to get to work. Although you should have already made one or two test runs of your route to work, give yourself extra time on the first day to avoid any surprises.

Dress appropriately.

Whether it's wearing a uniform, suit, or business-casual clothes to work, it's important to know what's acceptable in the workplace. If you haven't been told what the company's dress code is, contact your boss or human resources prior to your start day and ask what they are.

Remember names.

No one expects you to memorize the names of 50 co-workers on your first day, but the faster you do and the more effort you make in getting to know your co-workers, the better the impression you'll make.

Make the most of your orientation.

On your first day or two you can expect to receive a lot of information about your job and your employer. You wouldn't receive this information if someone didn't think it was significant to your job, so pay attention and ask questions.

Smile and be friendly.

Between someone with a bright, cheerful smile and someone with a sour frown, who are you most likely to approach? The person smiling, of course. People who often smile project themselves as sociable and easy to talk to. As the new guy, you want to appear as approachable as possible.

After Your First Day

Ask questions.

No one expects you to have all the answers -- not for the first few days and perhaps not for the first few weeks! The only way you are going to find out about the company, how everything works, and what you are supposed to do is by asking questions.

Keep a journal.

There's no better way to remember your first impressions, people you meet, and information you're given than to write it all down. Recording your thoughts, information you've received, and questions you've had serves as a reference and reminder that you can refer to again and again as different situations arise.

Learn from your mistakes.

You're not perfect. In college you probably failed a quiz or two, put off studying for an exam until the last minute, or completely forgot to do an assignment. Mistakes like these are inevitable, and chances are you'll make similar mistakes on your first job. The mark of a true professional, though, is to catch the mistake, admit to it, take corrective action, learn from the mistake, and not repeat it.

The authors of First Job Survival Guide stress the importance of considering these actions and making a positive first impression your first day on the job. "The first impression others have of you is especially important because although it takes very little time to make, a first impression is lasting… so be sure that you do it right the first time."

© 2006 Selena Dehne

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