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8 tips to succeed in your first job out of college

Published March 21, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    You've succeeded in securing your college degree and have just landed your first post-college job. Now, the question is, how do you successfully transition from college to a career?

    Spoiler: The strategies and skills needed to succeed in college aren’t necessarily the same for succeeding in the working world. You may need to pivot your thinking about what it takes to do well in your first real job.

    As you prepare to enter the working world — and your first post-college job — consider the following tips to best set yourself up for success.

    1. Prepare for the first day (it’s your first impression)!

    You may want to prepare the day before starting a new job to ensure a smooth first day. If you’ll be working from an office, that could look like setting an alarm and packing your work bag with a notebook and an I.D. like a passport or driver’s license (items you may need to provide on your first day). Review how you’ll be traveling to the office to ensure that you’ll arrive on time and maybe even a little early.

    If you’ll be working remotely or on a hybrid schedule and your first day at your new job will be at home, make sure your Wi-Fi and all the technology you’ll need for your first day is working. Follow any available instructions that may have been provided before your first day to log in to any computer systems, so you're prepared to hit the ground running.

    Regardless of whether you’ll be working in an office or remotely, you may want to consider having your manager’s contact information saved and readily available in case unforeseen circumstances arise on your first day so you can easily let them know.

    2. Set clear goals and expectations with your manager

    One of the best ways to succeed at your first job out of college is to exceed your manager's expectations. Exceeding expectations will allow you to show that you're a valuable contributor to the team and set you up for success at your company in the long term. This may be easier said than done, though.

    To do this, you may want to familiarize yourself with the baseline goals of the team and organization. From there, consider setting up one-on-one time with your manager to learn about their expectations for you. In a new role, it can be helpful to think about expectations on various timelines, so gather information from your manager about what success at the one-month, three-month, and one-year mark looks like.

    Beyond gathering your manager's expectations, you may want to start envisioning a career game plan for yourself. While it may seem too soon to have all the answers in the early days of your first job, as you immerse yourself in your work environment, you may start to realize where you'd like to direct your career. And that kind of thinking can help push your growth — even in your first job.

    For instance, you may realize you want to become a people manager eventually. Or you may find a particular part of the business that excites you, and it’s your goal to eventually work in that part of the business. Starting to communicate longer-term goals to your manager once you know what they are (even very early in a job) can be helpful as they can advise you on the necessary steps to reach those goals.

    3. Ask a lot of questions

    It can be tempting to show overconfidence in your first job. After all, you want your manager and team to think they’ve hired the right person for the job. Here’s the thing: this is your first job out of college; you can’t possibly have all the answers. Which is why asking smart questions can be so important.

    John Coleman advised on this in Harvard Business Review writing: “No one expects you to know everything in your first job, and you learn and grow faster when you seek real understanding, ask questions, and petition for help. Rather than faking it, make it by acknowledging the skills and experience of your colleagues at work and using your first job or internship as a learning experience.”

    4. Start building a work network

    It regularly gets emphasized that you need to build a solid network to get a job, but networking is something to think about doing when you have a job, too. As the old corporate adage goes, it isn’t always what you know but who you know.

    Building a network at a new job can be highly valuable for a number of reasons. According to a multi-year study from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg whether a person networks within their organization is strongly correlated to their salary growth. 

    Now, how can you go about starting to establish relationships at work? One way to establish rapport with your team members is to schedule brief virtual or in-person introductory conversations. Some professionals refer to these as "coffee chats."

    In these coffee chats, you can get to know who your team members are and, most importantly, what their roles are. This can contribute to establishing a level of trust between you and your team members that you can start to carry forward.

    5. Strive to be a team player

    While pop culture often portrays the corporate world as competitive, you don't have to compete with your teammates to succeed during your first job. Some managers will reward employees who exceed expectations on assigned tasks and can work well with other team members.

    So, how do you ensure you're a team player? One way is to consult your teammates to gather their expertise when completing projects. Another way is to give credit where it's due during team meetings. Let's say you're working on a task, and a team member helps you. In the next team huddle, why not give them a shoutout? Lastly, don’t shy away from offering a helping hand to teammates on items that fall outside of your purview if you can spare the time. Chances are your helping hand will be remembered.

    6. Ask for feedback

    While there's no golden rule for how often you should ask for feedback from your manager, analytics firm Gallup found that employees who receive meaningful weekly feedback at their job are the most engaged.

    Asking for regular feedback — especially in a new job — may be a win-win for both you and your employer. You may feel more engaged in your tasks as you receive constructive feedback, and you’ll hopefully start to develop a clear understanding of how to succeed in your role. Conversely, your manager will likely appreciate your desire to deliver on the team's business goals.

    If you need a forum to ask for feedback, consider setting up one-on-one time with your manager, like a weekly or bi-weekly catch-up.

    7. Keep track of your accomplishments

    Unlike college, where your performance often speaks for itself because it’s quite literally graded, you may find that it’s important to become your own advocate in the working world. You may need to be the one to promote your accomplishments to your manager, team, and senior leaders at your company.

    What does this look like in practice? Consider keeping track of your accomplishments, both big and small. By doing this, when it's time for performance reviews, you can reference the qualitative and quantitative ways you helped your team achieve its goals.

    8. Take advantage of company resources

    If you want to succeed during your first job out of college, consider finding a mentor at your company. This can be an individual who's several steps ahead of you in their career and may have helpful suggestions for you. It can also be someone who can introduce you to other connections and opportunities within your company and beyond.

    Beyond mentors, some companies offer internal business resource groups, usually voluntary, employee-led organizations where employees with common interests or goals come together for meetups, discussions, and events. Check your company's online resource portal — if they have one — to find these groups, or ask your manager or coworkers if any groups like this exist at your company.

    Another way to take advantage of resources at your new job is to look for upskilling opportunities your company may offer. Consider joining training courses that may be available to boost your skill set or see if your company offers reimbursement for externally led classes or training.

    Final thoughts

    Although starting your first job out of college may seem daunting, by following some of the tips above — like asking for feedback, finding a mentor, and setting clear expectations — you’ll hopefully start to set yourself up for success and career growth.