5 Rookie Mistakes People Make at Their First Job

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Recent graduates looking for their first job are facing intense competition—not only from each other but also from older, more experienced candidates who may have been downsized or changing careers. Vicky Oliver, a New York City-based job interview consultant and the author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, gives us a look at five common rookie mistakes and how to avoid them.

Acting like a “temp” worker. “Beware of feeling entitled,” cautions Oliver. “I think sometimes you’re in college and in a bubble and immune to the ways of the working world and then you get out and you sort of feel like certain jobs are beneath you. And sometimes they are, but if you act that way, it really hurts you.” Instead of an attitude that can lead to losing a job, Oliver recommends looking at the first job as a stepping stone and taking advantage of every opportunity to learn while in a professional environment.

Forgetting your etiquette. With the ubiquity of social media, the line between your professional life and personal life has become blurred and will likely continue to do so. “Be super careful to keep it professional. Don’t complain about your boss on social media because it will get back to that person,” warns Oliver. “If you’re in social media you feel like you’re in a bubble and you can say anything, but in the real world, you’re not. You have to keep it courteous and be open to getting feedback.” She also recommends becoming team-oriented and less competitive and observing the workplace rules of dress.

Ignoring the people part of the job. In every organization there’s a structure and it’s not always reflected with titles. “Someone can have a fairly low-level title but may have been there for 15 years and everyone listens to them. So it’s trying to figure out the system of alliances that exist in a company and who the players are,” says Oliver. She advises finding out who runs each department, and learning the names and titles of everyone both at the workplace and on the client side. “Let’s say you have clients, then there’s a whole other structure so when you go over there you need to understand who in the room is actually making the decisions.”

Being too passive and mousy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. “While it may not be good to ask your direct supervisor 20 questions on the first day, it’s how you learn,” says Oliver. “It’s better to find some colleagues that you can ask and if you really still don’t understand, then write them down and arrange a time to sit down with your boss.” On the other hand, she also cautions against trying to reinvent the wheel and shake things up while new to the job. Rather, she advises working within the structure to accomplish your goals. 

Trying too hard to be liked. To some extent, it is sort of a popularity contest and it’s good to be popular. It’s more important to show you can do your job well and then secondarily, you want to show that you can be liked and work well with others. “On social media, I think it’s a good idea to friend the people you work with. But I recommend having the request come from them rather than it coming from you,” advises Oliver. She also recommends accepting a friend request on Facebook from a supervisor. “Because if you don’t, probably everyone else on staff is going to and then he or she is thinking why not.”

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