After four years, over 120 credits, a pandemic, and dozens of interviews, you land your first “real” job. Hurray! The hard stuff is seemingly over, but now you wonder: how in the world do I navigate the workplace?
Here are 3 ways for new grads to crush that first job:
- MANAGE UP
As a brand new college graduate Emily Schaefer landed an internship at global non-profit Mercy Corps in September 2013. After months of searching, unsuccessfully, for a full-time paying gig, even an unpaid internship was an opportunity she felt she couldn’t refuse. Then when one of her young colleagues went on maternity leave, soon thereafter, she was handpicked to cover her position. That temporary position turned into a full-time job when that woman announced she was going to grad school. “I remember feeling really excited and proud of myself but also a lot of pressure to execute well and to not be ‘the intern,’” Emily told me.
As you transition into the workplace after 16 years of non-stop school, you may have difficulty differentiating yourself from a past experience as an intern or your title of new graduate. So it’s important to prove your resourcefulness and abilities early on in your new full-time position. One way to do this, explains Emily, is through something called ‘managing up’. For Emily, this was very unnatural at first. With the word “assistant” in her title, she made the mistake of playing a more reactive role and only doing whatever she was told. But after a conversation with her lovely supervisor (Andrea Koppel!!), she was able to turn it around.
Managing up involves a proactive approach to give your supervisor confidence that you are on top of your assignments and that everything is under control. For Emily, this meant “having really clear communication, being clear about timelines and having a clear idea of what needs to happen to get things done.” Managing up is essentially prioritizing and communicating. So that requires that you ask your supervisor clarifying questions, just to be extra certain you and your supervisor are on the same page. After all, you can’t read your supervisor’s mind. At least not yet! Do they like weekly meetings? Emailed updates on a daily or weekly basis? You don’t know? If in doubt, ASK! If you need to know if a task is urgent, ask for guidance and clarification, and ask how they want information presented.
Professor Peter Loge, Associate Professor and the Director of External Relations in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, spent decades working on Capitol Hill. He says properly managing up is “helping your boss succeed by figuring out what they want and what they need to hear.” You have to be observant and proactive with your assistance to prove yourself to be an invaluable resource. In your role, you should be thinking of how to make your boss look good and how to make your organization succeed. This isn’t about you anymore. “Do good work and help the organization succeed and people will want you around,” Peter told me.
2. FIND MENTORS
Without guidance from the professors we’ve grown accustomed to and advice from counselors we’ve started to cherish, the post-graduation world might seem daunting. This is why finding real world mentors is so critical especially at this stage in your career.
First, figure out what your own short and long term goals are in your career. What do you hope to learn in your first few months on the job? What skills do you need help building? Then, think about who you’d want to reach out to who is already accomplished in demonstrating those skills? Watch closely in meetings. Next, think about who in your organization – or outside of it – has a job you think you might want in coming years? Who do you know either at your company, or another organization, that has a similar identity or experience as you? After some self-reflection and research, reach out to these people for short informational interviews, or if possible, for a cup of coffee. Start casually and gradually to build those relationships – ask for specific career advice, and explain why you’re interested in learning from them.
Alex Counts, former CEO of Grameen Foundation, believes that once you reach out, express curiosity and subsequently flatter these potential mentors, it’s rare that they’ll say no. “I’m at that stage now. You want to give back,” said Counts. “You’ve learned a lot and you want to be helpful to someone who’s in the shoes you were in 10 or 20 or 30 years before, so that your insights don’t die with you.”
Prepare an elevator pitch describing your short-term professional goals and frame your ask with curiosity and a desire to learn. And most importantly, be consistent in meeting with your new mentor, and expressing appreciation, to make the most out of that relationship.
3. NETWORK AT WORK
A 2017 study of over 15,000 LinkedIn members found that about 80% of professionals consider networking to be a key factor in their career success. However, most people also struggle to make the time to maintain these relationships. As you move into your new job, don’t make the mistake of stopping your networking journey. Intentionally reserve time for networking at work and use this as an opportunity to continue to learn. Naturally, you’ll build relationships with people in your office or organization, so ask colleagues for suggestions on who you should talk to in order to build a certain skill or learn more about a specific job.
Take advantage of being the new person in your organization. Use this as a conversation starter to get to know more of your colleagues on a personal level and also share your own interests and professional aspirations with others. Early in her career, Tyronda Gibson, the Sustainable Communities Pilot Manager at Fannie Mae, set up lunches almost every week with colleagues whose jobs intrigued her, in all departments at Fannie Mae. Gibson encourages new grads or people who are new to a company to “Focus on the relationship building within your organization [because] that will take you far in terms of really building your knowledge of how the company works but also who are the people that may have those opportunities (for you) down the line.” Through her Fannie Mae networking, Gibson was able to meet hiring managers, learn about hidden opportunities, grow her professional network and even find mentors! In fact, it’s how she landed her job as Sustainable Communities Pilot Manager. Although Gibson called this an overall successful process, you might be faced with a lot of cold calling, but if they’re a person you’re intent on meeting with and sharing your story – be persistent!
As we continue to move through an uncertain world, focus on what you can control: the work you produce, the effort you put into relationships, and hopefully the rest will fall into place.
Congratulations seniors and best of luck!