13 First Job Tips To Make the Most of Your Time (Infographic)

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A recent study revealed that 71 percent of recent grads stay at their first job for a year or less. Despite the quick churn, your first job in the workforce is one of the most important. It can help you decide on your career path and can give you opportunities to take chances, ask questions, and make mistakes. Your first job is likely temporary, so be sure to absorb every learning opportunity that you can. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. employee has 12 jobs throughout the course of their career. When you land that entry-level position, here are a few first job tips that will help you make the most of it from the start. You can also jump to the infographic for a quick summary.

1. Practice Negotiating Your Salary

As a first-time employee, you may not have the experience or skills to argue your offer, but getting into the habit of humbly discussing your starting salary may pay dividends in future negotiations. Additionally, a recent study revealed that 49 percent of job candidates never attempt to negotiate their initial job offers, causing them to potentially miss out on $500k to $1 million in earnings in their lifetimes.

This makes negotiating your first salary a career-altering decision, especially for women, who as of 2019 still make only $0.79 for every dollar men make. So when you receive your first offer letter, celebrate the fact that you landed your first job and use your experience, skills, and knowledge of the industry to negotiate a salary that you deserve.

2. Show Up Early

One of the initial first job tips you should perfect is the art of showing up on time. As a recent college or high-school grad, switching from a student schedule to an employee schedule can be a challenge. Showing up on time will show your employer that you are dependable and motivated. To ensure you develop this skill, nail down your morning routine so that you will be at your desk on time every day—maybe even a few minutes early.

3. Find a Mentor

One of the most valuable first job tips is to seek out advice from your supervisors and co-workers that have more experience than you. Once you find someone who you trust, ask them to mentor you. A mentor can help you navigate the first few years of your career and hopefully avoid the mistakes they made. Mentors can also provide feedback and constructive criticism in a safe setting. George Lucas famously said, "Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults that we would like. It's the only way we grow."

4. Dress for the Job You Want

A new study by Indeed revealed that in the last five years companies that have a casual dress code policy have increased from 32 to 50 percent, and nearly two-thirds of companies allow at least one casual dress day per week. When you land your first job, familiarize yourself with the company dress code. If you aren’t sure how fancy you need to be, keep a tie or jacket in your car to quickly boost your outfit.

  • Casual dress code: This dress code allows employees to wear jeans and casual shirts. Take care to avoid wearing inappropriate clothing that is frayed, dirty, or features offensive text or imagery.
  • Business casual dress code: This policy is one step up from a casual dress, where employees are encouraged to wear slacks or skirts with nice shirts or blouses. Jeans, t-shirts, and tank tops are typically not allowed in these companies.
  • Business formal dress code: Companies in the banking, consulting, and law industries still require a formal dress code at work. Employees may wear suits, dress shirts, ties, and professional dresses.

5. Contribute to Your 401(k)

After watching taxes, social security, and insurance premiums come out of your first paycheck, the last thing you want to do is reduce the amount of money in your bank account. However, if you work for a company that matches your 401(k) contributions, the first thing you need to do is contribute at least the amount that your company matches. If you don’t opt in to your 401(k) or choose to not to contribute the full amount your employer will match, you’ll miss out on a portion of your salary.

6. Be Receptive to Criticism 

In your first job, it’s almost a guarantee that you will mess up and receive corrective criticism on ways to avoid making mistakes in the future. Receiving tough feedback in a constructive manner is a skill, and the quicker you learn it, the faster you can grow in your career. Some way to improve are:

  • Step off the defense: It’s natural to be defensive when someone points out your shortcomings. Intentionally uncross your arms, soften your expression, and keep your mind open to feedback.
  • Acknowledge feedback: After you take the time to listen to your critic, acknowledge their points and think of ways to improve. Additionally, if you feel their critique was inaccurate, don’t be afraid to correct them if their information is wrong.
  • Don’t take it personally: When you receive feedback, even if it’s harsh, understand what is being critiqued and focus on ways to improve that area. This will help you avoid taking the criticism to heart.

7. Tackle Time Management

A recent study from Cengage Learning revealed that nine percent of college students say that they always struggle with time management and 78 percent say they sometimes struggle with it. Those students then enter the workforce and have to quickly adapt to positions where time management is a key part of their job. Ask your mentor or supervisor which time management tools they use and nail down this skill that you will carry for the rest of your career.

8. Track Your Performance

As an entry-level employee, your performance in month one will be completely different than your performance in month 10. It can be helpful to track your monthly successes and challenges so you can look back and see which areas you are excelling in and which could use some work. An easy way to keep track of your day-to-day performance is to build a short 10-minute self-reflection time into your schedule. Use this time to write down something you did well that day and something you could work on.

9. Ask for Feedback

Asking for feedback on your work can be a scary thing to do. You could receive a list of things you did wrong or suggestions on how they would do it better. Arizona State University psychology professor, Robert Cialdini, encourages employees to choose the words in their request for feedback carefully. Try saying, “Can I get your advice on this?” rather than, “Can I get your opinion on this?” This simple word swap can make the person you’re talking to feel that you’re more competent and, in turn, offer more helpful feedback, rather than nonconstructive criticism.

10. Use Your Career Development Budget

According to the Association of Talent Development, employers spend an average of $1,273 on learning and development per employee. If your company offers a budget for your professional development, it means they value learning and growing and you shouldn’t hesitate to use it. Spend some time thinking of ways you would like to improve as an employee and find ways to use your budget to work toward that goal. Here are some ways to use your budget:

  • Industry-specific training courses
  • Leadership training courses
  • Technology that will help performance and efficiency
  • Industry conferences and networking events

11. Discover Your Management Style

In your first job, you will likely have one or more supervisors and they may have different management styles. Observe things that you appreciate about different management styles and note things that are not as helpful. This will help you develop as an employee and as a future supervisor for others. The six basic management styles defined by Hay/McBer are:

  1. Directive or autocratic: This is a top-down or “do as I say” decision-making process, where the person or manager at the top makes a decision, and all of the direct reports below are expected to follow direction with no input.
  2. Authoritative or visionary: This style is acted out by a manager who provides a long-term vision for employees to follow. Employees have the freedom to act out their responsibilities as they wish as long as they are aligned with the vision.
  3. Affiliative: This style values the people in the workplace more than their individual job functions and most of the effort is placed on establishing a harmonious relationship in the workplace instead of performance.
  4. Participative or democratic: This style goes one step further from the affiliative style and encourages employees to engage in company decisions, which builds trust as a result.
  5. Pacesetting: The manager sets the pace of this management style as they work towards company goals day-to-day. In this environment, managers will often do many things themselves in order to set examples for their direct reports.
  6. Coaching: A manager using this style is committed to the long-term personal and professional development of their direct report. This looks like a manager motivating employees to take on opportunities to grow and succeed.

12. Network At Work

Networking is often associated with conferences or local events, but networking in the workplace is equally important, if not more. Networking will help you find mentors, join projects, and can even lead to faster promotions. Use company events, lunch breaks, social media, and good old-fashioned email to build connections with your co-workers that can last a lifetime.

13. Practice Positivity

Office Pulse recently drafted their study on gossip in the workplace and the results revealed that 55 percent of men and 79 percent of women admit to gossiping in the office. While not all office gossip is negative, the study revealed that 71 percent of gossip was about "that one coworker,” 44 percent was about company executives, and 34 percent was about their boss. This type of communication can decrease team morale and land you in a hot spot with your boss. In your first job, make an effort to swap tearing down others with encouragement.


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