So much of what we do in our careers centers around expectations, attitude, mindset, and perspective. And all this rises right to the top when you’re starting an entry level job. But while you’ll need patience, strategy, and determination to succeed, they’re not always the first things that come to mind. Not even close!
Whether you’re new to the job scene or starting a fresh career, you want to be recognized for who you really are. And not for the menial tasks (or so they often feel) you’ll need to handle. But that can take time. And you need to know how to approach things in the meantime.
Mistakes I made in my first entry level job
When starting an entry level job, the last thing you want to be is reactive and caught up in feeling undervalued and underutilized. Yet that’s how most entry level jobs feel to most people. At least some of the time. And that was very much how it felt to me.
Now I knew you had to pay your dues. And I made an effort to be positive and shine in whatever task I worked on. But after a few months, I got antsy. I was already feeling the need for something different. And by the time I reached 6 months after starting an entry level job, I was itching for more. More recognition. More interesting work. And many more chances to shine!
But jobs and careers are built on a very different timeline than the one I had in mind. And it took me more years than I care to admit to truly understand those career helpers I mentioned earlier: expectations, attitude, mindset, and perspective. Truthfully, I still work on those things now and then.
15 tips for starting an entry level job
1. Start slow and take it all in. This isn’t the time to push too hard, even though you want to make a good impression. Sometimes if you move too fast and go for broke — even (especially) if you are a smashing success — you wind up leaving bad feelings in the wake of your triumphant beginning. Or you make enemies quickly and have no foundation of support to turn to.
2. Build a strong work foundation. Yes. You have many talents they haven’t yet seen. Probably many even you don’t yet know about. But let this evolve organically as you learn and connect and grow in your job. And as others see you as someone they can rely on to get the job done. Definitely dig hard and strive for your best … but it doesn’t have to happen all in one day.
3. Build two-way relationships slowly & create a solid support system. The most important thing you can do in any job — and in your career as a whole — is build allies. You don’t need to make friends with everyone. But each true 2-way (they help you; you help them) work relationship you make will be there to support you in your current job if needed. And it’s also the beginning of your future professional networking community.
Although this may sound obvious, this includes building a solid relationship with your boss. Many people starting an entry level job feel shy about approaching their boss. But you can certainly make a point of saying hello and occasionally filling them in on what you’re up to. How they react will help you gauge how much your boss welcomes a true back-and-forth, open relationship.
With coworkers or boss, best not to overdo at first. Once again, just let time and their reactions help you grow the relationships. Years later, some of these people may be there for you when you’re looking for a new job — and you may even wind up hiring one of them. I’ve had it happen.
4. Listen carefully and respectfully to what coworkers say. You’ll learn a lot by listening more than by speaking. Even if you see that some coworkers are less-respected or seem out of the loop, don’t jump to conclusions and join in. You never know who has the boss’s ear or who might be helpful to you — in the moment or down the road.
And you can still connect to others without stepping on people along the way — even if you think it might help you fit in. Remember that people who don’t respect others may very well treat you the same way at some point.
5. Check in often with your own expectations, attitude, mindset, and perspective. So much of what gets in our way happens in our heads. Not to say that real events / interactions aren’t causing your reactions to things. But the more awareness you bring to your reactions, the more you can learn to keep them from getting in the way of you succeeding.
6. Understand you are a piece of the whole. Even if your piece doesn’t seem major or get you what feels like enough accolades — especially at first. Sometimes we get caught up in how things affect us, and we miss the bigger picture. How we contribute to the whole. And why it matters so much — not just now, but how this becomes pieces of all you have to offer down the road.
7. Do your job well … even the most boring aspects. This is not the time to find ways around less exciting tasks. Do your job with full determination — and with pride. I added this bit of advice because I was good at skipping over things I felt weren’t necessary. Not only can this come back to bite your results in unexpected ways, but you may find you’ve missed out on key info you need.
8. Make sure people know when you’ve done something well. Often we forget that work we do is not always seen. And that can cause you to feel resentment. Plus, you’re not getting credit for your work. So, while I’m not suggesting you brag about it or throw all your successes in coworkers’ faces, you can make sure to share things that go well. Even with your boss. Pleasantly and making sure to mention how others helped always a good approach.
9. Wait and learn and THEN look for opportunities to job morph. But it takes a while to lay a solid foundation of who you are. So make sure you give it time before looking to change things for yourself. First do the work and get known. And that takes more than a few months in most cases.
Then AFTER you’ve established that you’re someone people can trust and rely on to do a good job, think about how to add things you’d like to do. There are ways to change your job from the inside. And also add skills / experiences that may lead you toward the career future you truly want.
10. Don’t be part of the gossip squad. I think that pretty much says it all. Gossip is another thing that can hurt others … and come back to bite you. Even if it feels good in the moment — and helps you feel part of the gang — it’s not a smart move. And if you want to know more, here are some posts to help:
11. If you’re a problem finder bring a solution. I remember early on, when I was sill struggling with expectations bigger than what comes with the reality of starting an entry level job, I started seeing all the problems with my jobs. And I got detracted from the simple, steady idea of “just do your work and build relationships.”
Soon all the things wrong became my job picture. And I’d have been much better off looking for what was right. Even if what was right was that I was building work experience and credibility. BUT … if you do spot problems, try to come up with solutions. Perhaps it’s simply a solution for how you handle or look at things.
But if the solution is something others might benefit from, by all means good solutions are usually welcome. As long as you voice it as a helpful suggestion and not a criticism or complaint. Things like ways to save money or improve a work process are usually safe to suggest. Especially if voiced privately to your boss, where they can guide you away if, for any reason, you’re treading on sacred territory. (Such as they developed the process.)
12. Keep your personal life (mostly) away from the office. Again, this may sound obvious to some of you. But many people forget to separate the two. And with younger generations used to sharing so much of their lives online, the office might seem like a natural place to continue that sharing.
But not having sufficient boundaries between work and home life can hurt your job performance. And how others see you. Of course, you can talk about basics. Like partners or children or even some common interests (like favorite restaurants or sports). Although none of that is required.
Just don’t make your work persona about all the problems you’re having. Or your many doctor visits. Or the hobby that consumes you day and night. You want to be seen for your work and work attitude — the rest just adds a little extra. It shouldn’t make up most of your workday conversation.
13. Stay off social media unless it’s your job. While it’s easy to get caught up in a quick texting exchange or breaking news or even your (ahem) blog, you can’t connect to your job well if your brain is living elsewhere. Some offices actually have rules about this.
Also, if the job is so boring you need to be distracted all day, then:
- You may be missing something by not putting your full efforts into the job itself — like finding ways to actually like your job better.
- Or maybe you’ll need to think about another job soon. But first you still have to get a good recommendation. And some solid work experience.
So either way, keep your mind on the job and ways to make it feel better. (With occasional breaks if needed to stay sane.) And build workplace relationships. Maybe even research skills and areas related to the job that might help you do a better job. Or get a new job that fits you better. And you can do that AFTER hours.
14. Even if you’re shy, participate in team functions / events. For some, the group lunches or after-hour events are things they look forward to. But for introverts (like me) or shy people (not the same btw), these can feel painful. I avoided them early on. And then I wondered why I never felt part of the team.
So I suggest joining in, at least once in a while. You don’t have to say much if that’s uncomfortable. An occasional “hi” or comment on the food / location / weather along with a smile is fine. Or find a coworker you can hang around with some of the time. You may even learn something interesting by just listening.
15. Don’t think you can do it all alone. While you shouldn’t go running for help for every little thing, there are times to look for advice or help. You’re not expected to know everything. And good questions are a sign of intelligence, not stupidity. People enjoy sharing their knowledge, especially if you approach them in a pleasant way. Oh … and be ready to actually listen.
Afterward, maybe send them a brief thank you note. Or just let them know how their advice / suggestions helped. And, of course, be ready to return the favor to them or any coworker. We all can use a little help now and then. (And, while not the immediate goal, this is also how networking relationships can be born.)
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