What to expect in your first graduate job

Walking into your first graduate job after university can be just as daunting as it is exciting. What to wear? Who to ask questions? We’ve got the lowdown!

So you’ve aced your CV, beasted that covering letter, got through that dreaded interview process (double whammy if the first step was a Skype interview) and managed to land your first job as a graduate – well done!

Starting your first professional job can feel like a big leap into the real world. Regular hours, always having to look presentable and having no time for an afternoon nap will be hard to adapt to, but you’ll get there!

With the lifestyle change comes other concerns. How should you act at work? How formal should you be with co-workers? How should you dress ‘appropriately’? How many questions can you ask without getting on someone’s nerves?

The transition from uni into employment isn’t as hard as you might think. We’re here to calm your nerves and answer some of those baffling questions!

What to expect on your first day at a new job

It’s understandable to be nervous on your first day, but the most important thing is to act confident. Be enthusiastic and don’t be afraid to ask questions – it shows you’re keen.

It goes without saying that you’ll need to turn up on time and dress appropriately – we’ve got a whole guide on how to buy work clothes on a budget.

When it comes to figuring out new things – whether it’s a complicated operating system or just the photocopier – use your initiative but don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Your colleagues will be more than willing to show you the way, but likely won’t have time to spoon-feed you everything.

Your boss is the person to turn to for bigger questions, while your colleagues are most suitable for questions about day-to-day tasks.

Put yourself forward to take on work and projects, even if they’re not expected of you. Show that you’re happy to rise to a challenge and not just stick to what’s in front of you.

And remember to keep away from your phone, even if your colleagues are using theirs! You might be desperate to post a photo of your new desk on Insta, but it won’t impress your boss this early in the game.

What to bring to work on your first day

There will likely be a fair bit of admin stuff to get through on your first day, so make sure you come prepared. To get yourself on the company payroll you might need some official documents and ID.

You’ll probably receive an email prior to starting letting you know what to bring, or you can ask your boss over email if you’re unsure. Either way, here’s a checklist of common stuff you’ll need:

We’d recommend not bringing lunch on your first day, as your boss might treat you to a lunch or your colleagues might invite you somewhere. If not, you’ll easily be able to pop to the shop and buy something.

How to tackle imposter symdrome

Imposter syndrome is a really common experience among graduates in their first ‘proper’ job after university. It’s a term used to describe feeling like you’re not good enough to do the job you’ve been given – that you’re a fraud and you’re waiting for someone to find out that you’re not as talented as they think you are.

It’s certainly not rare to feel like this – everyone from Emma Watson to Kate Winslet has opened up about their experiences with imposter syndrome.

If you’ve been chosen for a job role, there will be a reason for that: the company clearly thinks you’re up to the part. But that doesn’t stop you from feeling like you’re not. There are no easy answers, but here are a few of our suggestions for tackling imposter syndrome:

  1. Fake it ’til you make it On the inside you might feel like you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing, but no one else knows that. Use your inner confidence to blag your way through, and eventually you’ll come to realise you’re no longer blagging – you actually do know what you’re doing. It’ll take time but you’ll get there
  2. Ask for help when you need to – Just because you’re given a task doesn’t mean your boss expects you to know exactly how to do it. They probably expect you to draw on the resources around you to learn, and top of your list of resources should be your colleagues. There’s no shame in asking questions, and their answers will help you feel more confident
  3. Don’t dwell on mistakes – You’re bound to slip up and make a few mistakes in your first few weeks. That’s fine and will provide a good learning experience, but don’t obsess over them or let them make you think you’re not good enough for the job. And certainly don’t let them stop you from taking on new challenges
  4. Talk to your friends and colleagues – If you talk to your friends (either at work or home) about the way you’re feeling, you’re guaranteed to be met with at least one “OMG, me too!” This will make you feel much better about yourself, believe us. Plus, you can discuss ways of overcoming imposter syndrome together, so you’re not going it alone.

Navigating office politics

Office politics can be a bit of a minefield when you’re not used to it.

Our first piece of advice is to be perceptive. Listen and pay attention to how people in the office interact with each other, so you can gauge different power dynamics.

Once you work out who’s got the most power and authority, make an effort to become visible to these people, as this will put yourself in a strong position for extra responsibilities and promotions.

You can easily build strong relationships with your colleagues without dragging others down in the process. Avoid any bitching and unnecessary gossiping as it’ll only come back to bite you. If your colleagues try to lure you into saying things about others that you’re not comfortable with, remain polite but don’t get involved.

Make sure you don’t take all the credit for something if other people were involved, and give out credit when it’s due – this will stop you from annoying anyone and making enemies.

Stay sincere and genuine in your interactions with others and you should come out of the office politics cauldron unscathed.

How to speak confidently in meetings

Meetings are kind of like university seminars – but they can be a lot more daunting if you’re sat around a table with people more senior than you are, and potentially your boss too.

If you find yourself struggling to speak up in meetings, and lacking confidence to share your ideas, here are our top tips:

  1. Do your pre-meeting research If you know the topic of the meeting in advance, you can do some solid research around the subject and come up with interesting ideas and suggestions. If it’s a more general ‘touch base’ meeting, think of two or three points you want to raise. Have some notes in front of you, and you’ll feel a lot more self-assured
  2. Ask questions – If sharing your own thoughts and ideas still feels daunting, try just responding to others. Listen carefully to what other people say, and think of some questions to ask. This will get you into the habit of speaking so you can build up to contributing your own ideas. Showing interest and engagement will also impress your boss
  3. Set goals before you go in Think about your performance in the last meeting and how you want to improve this time. Perhaps you want to speak at least three times, or put yourself forward for at least one task. Setting a goal beforehand will help push you out of your comfort zone to achieve it when you’re in there
  4. Don’t overthink It’s common to think of something to say, then spend 10 minutes picking it apart in your mind before you decide it’s a stupid idea (only for someone else to say the exact same thing minutes later). Obviously don’t just blurt out any random thought that pops into your head, but stop overthinking and try to speak without hesitation.

Making friends at work

Going into a brand new workplace where you don’t know anyone can be scary, and you might be desperate to make friends straight away. Just remember not to force it. You’ll be working with these people every day for months if not years, so don’t panic if you don’t find your work BFF on day one.

Try to find common interests with the people you work with. Even if they’re a few years older than you, it doesn’t mean they don’t watch Game of Thrones or enjoy a cheeky Nandos at the weekend.

Find common struggles, too. For example, if there’s a piece of software that’s a total nightmare to use, see if any of your colleagues feel the same – there’s no better way to bond than with a good old moan.

But don’t go overboard. It won’t go down well with senior management if they hear you loudly complaining in the office everyday. If you have any serious issues, bring them up with your boss in a meeting.

Be careful about oversharing, too. You can talk about what you did at the weekend, but don’t mention any drunken shenanigans, and certainly no swearing or offensive jokes; keep it professional. And don’t forget that anything you share over email or Slack can be screenshotted or forwarded to others, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t be happy with your boss seeing.

Also, make sure to go along to after-work socials when they happen – and if they don’t happen, why not organise them yourself?

Should you add your colleagues on Facebook?

Different workplaces will have different approaches to this. We’d advise only accepting friend requests, not sending them – and getting rid of any old drunk photos you have on there, so you have a professional online profile. Adding your colleagues on LinkedIn is probably the most appropriate course of action.

If you do decide to connect with colleagues on Facebook, only do so with those on the same level of seniority as you (or those more junior). Basically, adding the company CEO on Facebook is a bad idea.

Communicating with your boss

If you’ve never had a boss before, it can be quite an intimidating experience. This person is in charge of you and will be a major factor in your future progression at the company, but there’s no need to freak out. Remember they’re just a normal person at the end of the day.

Make sure you nail obvious stuff like turning up on time and dressing appropriately. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but it could annoy your boss and get you off on the wrong foot.

Developing a good relationship with your boss is not only essential for climbing that career ladder, but will help you personally thrive at work and get the most out of your role. Here are our top tips for cultivating good communication with your manager or boss:

  1. They’re human too – This means they’ll have good days and bad days, so try not to take it personally if they’re being more grumpy than usual. It also means you shouldn’t be afraid to ask them how their weekend was, and generally chat to them as a friend – doing so will help you form a stronger relationship in the long run
  2. Learn their communication style Every boss will have a different way of communicating, so it’s up to you to figure this out and adapt to it. They might be quite direct and blunt, in which case you’ll have to learn not to take things personally. Or they might be more introverted and quiet, meaning you might have to prompt them for certain bits of feedback and direction
  3. Don’t be afraid to disagree All the best leaders know to listen to advice, so if your boss suggests something that you disagree with, don’t be afraid to say so and explain why. Don’t get into a full blown argument with them, and respect that their say is final, but they’ll likely respect you more for having an opinion than just blindly going along with everything they say
  4. Tell them your goals A job isn’t just about what you can do for the company, it’s also about what the company can do for you. Let your boss know what you’re hoping to achieve while you work with them, and they’ll be able to help you get there
  5. Show off your successes – Your boss might not notice everything you do well, so if you have achieve any successes you’re particularly proud of, pass it on to them! For example, if you receive some praise over email forward it to your boss, or if you help secure a big sale, let them know about it in your next meeting
  6. Motivation works both ways – Your boss is there to encourage and motivate you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same for them! If they’ve achieved any big successes, or particularly helped you out on something, don’t be afraid to show your appreciation and congratulate them (but not too much, you don’t want to become a teacher’s pet!)
  7. Be yourself They’re only human and they’ll want to work with a human too! It can be difficult, but try not to act like a robot around them. Show them who you are and they’ll appreciate you for it.

Getting a promotion

Once you’ve been at the company a little while, you might want to start thinking about climbing that career ladder and gunning for a promotion. You might think it’s just a case of waiting for it to happen, but there’s some stuff you should be doing to make sure you’re in the running and not being overlooked:

  1. You’ll need to earn it – Promotions don’t happen overnight, and you’ll need to prove your dedication and work ethic over a long period of time, so have patience
  2. Make yourself visible to senior management – If you follow our tips on having a good relationship with your boss you should already be well on your way with this. But you should also identify other key players and make sure they know who you are and what projects you’re working on
  3. Ask your boss how to progress – There’s no need to beat around the bush, simply ask your boss what you’ll need to do to progress within the company. They should identify key skills you’ll need to demonstrate or achievements you’ll need to make before you can expect a promotion – this will help manage your own expectations too
  4. Ask for it – If it reaches the stage where you think you deserve a promotion but it’s not happening, don’t be afraid to ask for it. But make a case for it first! List all your achievements and outline what you hope to achieve in the new role. Keep the focus on the company and how it will benefit them.

How long do graduates stay in their first job?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, and it can vary massively depending on you individual situation. Some sources say that 12-18 months is the minimum duration a graduate spends at their first job, and that’s a decent amount of time to get to know a company and learn new skills.

However, you shouldn’t feel pressured to stay in a job if you feel like it’s not right for you, or if it’s negatively affecting your mental health. Similarly, if you feel happy and comfortable in a place of work, you can stay there for many years.

What’s the scariest thing about starting your first graduate job? Let us know in the comments!