My internships and my first graduate job taught me a lot about what it takes to survive and thrive in the corporate world. Below I share some common and some not-so-common tips and tricks to being a decent grad.
1. You’ll probably feel overwhelmed, and like a fraud
It’s normal to have imposter syndrome and feel like you’re undeserving of being there.
It’s also normal to wonder how your colleagues higher up seem so great at their jobs. It might even seem impossible to visualize yourself getting to their level. But you will.
You deserve to be there, even if it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing. Everyone feels like that at some stage. Remember:
“Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” – Jake the dog
Most people are understanding of your situation, as they have been there too. Everyone was a newbie at one time. Some of your colleagues, who seem like they have everything under control, will secretly still feel like frauds too.
The best tip I can give you is fake it ‘till you make it. Even if you’re feeling incredibly unconfident and disheartened, project confidence and eventually real confidence will come.
2. Turn up 5 minutes early, leave 5 minutes late
The basics go a long way in your first role.
Punctuality is one easily visible thing that people notice, and it says a lot about you. You don’t need to go overboard, having a good work-life balance is important. Just don’t be late, and don’t be first out the door.
Whether you think it should matter or not is irrelevant. Whether you are actually doing any work during that time is irrelevant. People can’t always see the hard work you’re doing, but they can see if you’re there at all.
Doing this projects that you care, and your manager & colleagues will respect you for it.
It’s not just punctuality that people notice. It’s your courteousness over email (make sure you’re friendly, it’s hard to get across in text). It’s your general appearance (iron that shirt, brush that hair). It’s staying off your phone in meetings (ideally staying off TikTok and Instagram completely during work). Try and get the basics right and you’re on the path to be an above average graduate.
If you’re not sure what you should be doing, take cues from people around you. When do they go to lunch? How long do they take? Every office has a different culture, it will pay dividends to adapt and blend in to it.
3. Communicate, and you’ll be forgiven
The only thing worse then missing a deadline, or making a mistake, is not giving your manager a heads-up about it.
Always try and keep your manager up to date. Even if it’s just to say you’re struggling with something, or that you made an error and are working to fix something.
At the very least, they will be reassured you’re actually doing something. If a task seems to be taking you a long time, and your manager doesn’t know why, they might assume you are slacking.
Get in the habit of communicating with your stakeholders (the people that are interested in the work you’re doing) and you’ll find they will be much more forgiving of any problems that arise. If they are left in the dark, they can’t help you. Keep them involved.
As with all the tips in this article, there is a balance. You don’t want to be communicating every 5 minutes with your manager, that will irritate them. Try to use your initiative and think through problems first. But if you’re struggling, its ok to ask questions and reach out.
4. Listen and Learn
You will feel quite useless at times, especially when sat in large meetings with senior stakeholders. You won’t understand all the jargon & acronyms. You won’t have much insight to contribute.
Instead, be a sponge and absorb as much information as you can. Make notes in meetings, even if you don’t truly understand everything. If you have basic questions, right them down and ask your manager after the meeting. It will show you’re engaged and eager to learn.
At this early stage of your career, you should be focused on your personal development. Focus on getting out of your department and shadowing other people. Learn as much as possible.
A great tip is every Friday, write down all the projects you worked on that week. Include stats highlighting all your successes. You’ll be thankful later when you come to update your resume, as you’ll be surprised how much you forgot about.
5. Don’t worry about the company too much
As the newbie who doesn’t know anything, the company isn’t going to benefit a lot from you. You’ll have the lowest level of responsibilities. You’re not going to make or break the success of the company.
The company could make you redundant tomorrow and it won’t shed a tear. There’s no need to get too attached.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care. You should try and be a great worker. But know that you won’t be at this company for ever, so don’t worry too much about it.
People that stay at one company tend to have lower salaries over the course of their career – changing jobs is the best way to get salary bumps.
Most of the time, staying at one company for a long period will result in stagnation of your personal development and career progression.
After 6 or 7 years, recruiters will start skipping over you as someone unlikely to move jobs. Or worse, they might think something’s wrong with you to not have any opportunity, or desire, to change company.
You’ll know when it’s time to leave as you’ll stop feeling like you’re learning, or you’ll lose all motivation. It’s usually 18 months-4 years in to the role.
So, it’s likely you’re going to leave, and possibly never work with any of your colleagues again in your career. The people you start your career with might always look at you as the newbie, and that will be hard to shake off. They won’t be reaching out to the grad who couldn’t work out the copier and offering them a high-powered role.
All of that is to say: don’t panic if things go wrong, either with the company, or with your work. Just focus on you, focus on learning and getting better.
6. It’s better to be liked, than to be the best
People want to work with people they like and can stand to be with 5 days a week.
Ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? People use it as a slight when someone seemingly undeserving gets a big role. But you know, sometimes great workers are just awful to be around.
Try to just be a great colleague & a team player. It will get you a lot further than trying to be the best, especially when that is at the detriment to your peers.
Being liked is easy. Be polite and ask people how their weekend is. Offer to get them tea/coffee. Remember birthdays – and contribute to birthday funds (even though you’re likely on a poor wage, I know). It’s an office, but everyone is just human beings.
You’re not going to have much money, but try and attend as many social events as you can. Going out after work with the people you spend all day every day with might seem bizarre, but you’ll often make your best connections on these social occasions. Just don’t drink too much!
Generally, assess the culture of the workplace and try to vibe with whatever level of humor your colleagues operate on. They might be uptight; they might know how to have a laugh.
Always stay professional and don’t cross any lines your head says you shouldn’t. That means avoiding any questionable banter, gossiping & bitching, or anything immoral/illegal. But you don’t need to be too serious generally – it’s ok to have some fun at work.
As mentioned in the previous section, you’re not going to be at this company forever. Focus on doing well, being affable and gregarious, and ensuring you get a great reference for future employment. Don’t worry about being the best, focus on making great connections with people, in and out of your department.
I mentioned you may never work with the people at your first job again. But you might make friends for life, and there is a chance they could open other doors for you in the future.
How are you feeling after reading these tips?
Don’t feel too overwhelmed. It will take a few months, but it will all start coming naturally to you, eventually.
It’s a strange world, the corporate one. You might find some of the tips and tricks above downright weird. But unfortunately, office politics are a real thing. You will have to play the game in order to fit in and climb the corporate ladder.
You’ve worked hard to get where you are today, know that you deserve to be here. If you care enough to be reading this article, you are almost certainly going to be a success.
Best of luck to you in your new corporate role!