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20 Career Hacks for New Graduates

Congratulations to the class of 2019! You’ve worked hard to wear that cap and gown.

Ideally, you’ll be taking that diploma and starting a new career somewhere soon. While we DO hope you and your cohort will take the inevitable commencement advice to change the world for the positive, we wanted to offer you some practical advice...stuff you might not have heard in school or from the career office.

We’ve worked with many young professionals to get started in their careers, and we hope you can use some of these hacks so you can shine in your new job and lay the groundwork for a successful career. Many of the companies that we work with tell us about their new hires – what they like and don’t like about “kids these days.” Like it or not, while you might not get grades anymore, you ARE being evaluated from day one. Here is how you can quickly set yourself apart from the pack:

  1. Be early…to everything. The saying is “if you are five minutes early, you are ten minutes late.” Your professors might not have cared if you even showed up, let alone snuck into the back of the lecture hall late because the line at Starbucks was crazy. The people you work with do care and will notice. Engineer your day – from your commute to getting to the next meeting – to be a couple of minutes early. It is one of the easiest ways to broadcast your professionalism.

  2. Dress for success. A common complaint with employers is new employees dressing inappropriately. You should get a feel for the dress code during interviewing process, walking around the office. Most professional environments are business casual with some latitude in what that means. If you are unsure, dress a bit more formally the first month or so until you get a feel for the office. Find out how casual Casual Fridays are. If you are unsure, a good rule is to wear what you’d take your grandparents to brunch in, not what you’d wear to the club. Also, less is more when it comes to perfume and colognes.

  3. Put the phone away. This can be particularly hard for young professionals who live and die by their phones. While you are in training and getting up to speed there will be some down time. Avoid the temptation to get on your phone to kill time. Even for “just for a second” – if you are spotted more than once looking at your Insta feed, responding to texts or snapchat by managers, you will get a rep as “always on their phone.”

  4. Social Media - Part 1. These days social media can provide some pitfalls for young professionals. One of the biggest is oversharing. Get into the privacy settings and lock everything down as much as possible. If every picture consists of boozy shots of you and your squad with red solo cups in hand and can be seen by everyone it can undermine the professional image you are building. Now that you are making friends at work, consider setting up some boundaries to keep your work and personal life separated. Do you really want your boss’s boss to see your Insta selfies from the gym? If you let work people connect to you on Facebook, or Instagram, know that they are in the audience and manage your posting accordingly.

  5. Be engaged in training. While you might not be excited to learn about how to file TPS reports or other aspects of your new job, you need to pay attention. Take notes. Ask questions. If not your boss, chances are the person training you is a trusted employee. They will get asked about how you are doing. It’s also a sign of respect – often it is someone taking time out of their job to help you do yours.

  6. Know your competition. This is one piece nobody will tell you – you are not competing against your peers, other companies, or your manager’s expectations. You are competing against yourself – and every day is a race to be better than you were yesterday. Set high expectations for yourself and strive to meet and achieve them. Your peers might be slackers who do as little as possible. Your boss might not really care that much. Your habits will build momentum now that will set the tone for your career.

  7. Meet people. The first few days will be a whirlwind of introductions. Many people will know who you are or of you. Through the interviewing process you get used to talking about yourself – now’s the time to flip the script and let them talk about themselves. Bring a lunch and eat in the break room for the first couple of weeks. It’s a great place to meet people from other departments. You get about three to four months where you can use the “I’m new here, what do you do for the company?” It will help you start to build the internal networks that all successful professionals have.

  8. Social Media Part 2. If you have not done so, create a professional LinkedIn profile. This is a given these days. Start building your connections – connect with your co-workers, classmates, managers, and even senior management. For people you do not know well, or at all, a note with your connection request is best practice. For example: “I’m Ashley in accounting. I just started here in May and am building my professional network within the company.”

  9. Keep learning. You might be exhausted with school by now, but now is when the REAL learning starts. The secret of success is to never stop learning new things. Become passionate in mastering your craft. We wrote about it last year. Read more here.

  10. Ask for more. One criticism about younger workers is the tendency to sit there and wait to be told what to do. If you are given a task, when you finish it, let your boss know you are ready for the next assignment.

  11. Ask questions, even if it makes you look dumb. In many jobs, you get a free pass in the first 6-12 months to ask, “How do I do this/that?” questions. It’s WAAAAAY better to ask for clarifications on how to do something, or to fully grasp your tasking, than to nod and “go figure it out.” You can save hours or days. Sometimes they truly want you to go figure it out. That’s ok too.

  12. Stay out of the cliques. It’s OK and encouraged to make friends at work. It makes work much more fun to have people to eat lunch with or to grab a drink with after work. Be careful for the first few weeks who you pal around with. I have a friend who joined an accounting firm and was adopted by a collection of burnouts. These cats were all divorced, and had an assortment of addictions, from coke to strippers to gambling. They quickly showed him all kinds of bad work practices that took him years to come back from.

  13. Be a considerate neighbor. Hopefully by now you have learned how to be a considerate roommate. The same rules apply in the office – don’t take others food, don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink, wear headphones if you are listing to music or watching videos. Never, ever nuke anything smelly, like fish. Don’t be afraid to bring food to share. A box of doughnuts or a bowl of fruit in the breakroom after the first couple of weeks will help you shed your “new guy” label quickly.

  14. Show up ready for work. One of the most difficult transitions between college and work is the change in schedules and social routines, especially if your friends are still working service/retail jobs. They might have the day off and think hitting Penny Pitcher Night is a good idea – but rolling into your new job hungover and on three hours sleep is not a good formula for long-term success. If doing your job well means telling your friends you cannot go out, so be it. Save it for the weekend.

  15. Stay Sober. Speaking of hungover, it’s ok to drink at company functions when appropriate, but not to get hammered. If you really want to get wrecked, plan on going out afterwards with friends. Plan ahead and take an Uber/Lyft – alcohol is one of the quickest ways to torpedo your career.

  16. Don’t Date Co-Workers. The other quickest way to torpedo your career is to date people at work. If the relationship goes south, you’ll still have to see them every day or get a new job. Work relationships do happen and can work out sometimes (like Jim & Pam on The Office). If you do find yourself dating a co-worker, avoid trouble by not dating in your chain of command (boss or subordinates) or transfer to a different group.

  17. Find Mentors. Find people in your company or field that are great at your job function or were like you at the beginning of their career and have had a great career since. Learning from them can be a game-changer for you.

  18. Be Patient. A common complaint is that new employees are looking to be promoted before they’ve gotten any good at their current job. One of the best managers I’ve recruited for put it this way: “The first year, I pay for all their mistakes. The second year, they start to know how to do their job well. The third year, I make money off how good they have become. The fourth year it’s time to move them into a new role.” Plan on learning as much as you can and spending 2-3 years figuring out your job. Even it is figuring out you should be doing something else.

  19. Ask why a lot. Ask people why the company does it that way. Most of the time there is a good reason and you can learn from it. Sometimes there is not a good answer, and there might be an opportunity for improvement. There is a fine line between showing them a better way of doing things (for example, maybe you used a software tool in school they don’t have) and telling them they are all jacked up with your fifteen minutes worth of experience.

  20. Work to be great at what you do. It might not be your dream job, or your forever job. That’s OK. But do it well and try to have fun. Many of the experienced candidates we work with know that there is more to a great job than the title or how much they make. You can learn from them. Get your hands dirty. Volunteer for extra assignments or projects. If what really needs to get done is to pick up a broom, or run a box out to a customer, pick up the broom or jump in the car.

This list is not by any means comprehensive. Getting your degree is a great accomplishment – it’s a key that will open doors for you – but now the real fun starts.

In a couple of years, if you find yourself ready for a new job in a let us know how we can help.

If you are struggling to land that first job and don't know what to do, we can help - just let us know and we can help you along the way.

We wish you all the best of success in this next phase of your life and career!

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