10 Tricks to Look Like a Pro When You Start Your First Job

As a young professional starting a new job, you will have a lot to learn and your bosses and colleagues will expect that. However, there are some tactics that you can use to stand out right away. Follow these 10 tricks and I guarantee that you will impress your superiors and quickly get a good reputation around the office.

10. Ask questions, don’t be a know-it-all

This is your first job. Everyone else knows that you don’t know it all.  Make sure you know that, too; otherwise you’ll turn people off.  Show them you’re embracing the learning process. Always ask questions upfront, make sure you fully understand instructions, and graciously accept advice and guidance. No one will ever fault you for asking questions and it will probably save you from making a mistake later on.

9.  When you do make a mistake…

Own it. Right away. It sucks and is hard to “fess up,” but the sooner you notify the right people of the mistake, the easier it will be to fix it.  Apologize that it happened (sincerely, but confidently) and propose your best solution. You will make a big mistake at some point, especially as a newbie, but if you handle it gracefully, you may actually leave people impressed with you…even if it was your fault.

8. Be positive and enthusiastic – consistently

Frankly, being positive all the time is hard for a lot of people. Do it anyway. When your bosses know that they can rely on you to eagerly take on tasks, you will go a long way. Whenever you have legitimate concerns about something (reaching a lofty goal, for example) make sure you express them with a can-do attitude and specific proposed solutions.

7.  Always have a pen and pad

If you’re going to a big meeting or if someone calls you into their office, come with a pen and pad every time. It shows that you consistently bring your A-game and are always ready. If you don’t end up needing it, no big deal. If you do need it, and have to run back to your desk to grab it…minus one point. This is the easiest one on the list, so there’s really no reason not to do it!

6.  Ask about deadlines, how to prioritize

When given a new task, make sure you understand how urgent it is (or isn’t), if your boss hasn’t made that clear. Ask them if it should be your top priority or if you should finish your other tasks first or if there is a specific date it is needed by. If someone other than your direct boss gives you work, too, just make sure your boss is aware of that.

5.  Be proactive

In school, one gets used to being assigned things. At work, the key to standing out is being proactive. If you finish a project or have a slow day ahead of you, let your boss know that you’re ready to take on more work, rather than waiting for further instruction. Keep a list of medium-priority tasks you can work on between the high priority ones. Or maybe you have some time to help your colleagues with something. The day goes by much faster when you’re busy anyway.

4.  First one in, last one out

It’s hard coming in early, especially when you just graduated and are still on college time. But when you’re consistently one of the first ones in the office and one of the last to leave, you will look good. Don’t do it every day just to do it (because you will get burnt out), but show that you aren’t afraid to “burn the midnight oil” during particularly hectic times for your department/company (busy season, major project due, etc.).

3.  Don’t be “the drunk one” at the company party

It’s not uncommon for parties to get out of hand, even when it’s a bunch of “professionals.” Inappropriate flirtation, throwing up, bizarre dance moves, loud sh*t-talking…it all happens. Whether it’s a company event, holiday party, conference or work trip, if there is an open bar, someone will make the mistake of getting too drunk and embarrassing themselves. Never be that someone.

2.  Know your industry

Whatever that industry is. Be aware of things like: your company’s competitors, potential partnership opportunities, key companies that go public (IPO) and other relevant news. You can stay informed by reading industry-specific publications, listening to podcasts, subscribing to news email lists, taking a class, attending industry meet-ups and networking events—the list goes on. Give your boss regular updates on the most notable stories.

1.  Be able to sum up what the hell you do all day

Always assume the CEO or another executive could walk into your office (let’s be honest: cubicle) at any moment and ask you what you’re working on. Have a summary highlighting the most important things ready in your head. Employees often get thrown off by unexpected drop-ins or elevator rides and blank on everything they’re doing while nervously stammering through an answer. The exec will be impressed by your self-assured, straightforward response and, if nothing else, will remember you as someone who adds value to the company.

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Emily Finkelstein

Emily graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism & Mass Communication with honors. During college, Emily wrote and edited for a national magazine, interned at a marketing agency and worked in production on an MTV series. Her education and work experience allowed her to become a highly sought-after waitress upon graduation. For the last four years, she helped launch a tech startup in DC but recently left to write, travel and make slideshows.

  • doug

    Haha #1 cracks me up!

  • Laura

    My faves are 8 and 7!!

  • JFJ

    Excellent perspective.