Succeeding At Work

By Sharon Naylor

July 21, 2014 5 min read

Congratulations! You've just walked into the office at your first real job, been shown to your desk, and you're ready to impress. As "the new person," you have much to learn about the corporate culture, lunch norms and even the location of the copier. Once you've mastered these essentials, you'll be off and running, accomplishing and achieving, impressing the bosses and clients and making a name for yourself. You're going to stand out until you have the corner office and one of the biggest paychecks in the building. Or you might see this job as a means to learn all you can and then move upward in another position at a different company.

Whatever your career vision, it's this first job that can supply you with skills, accomplishments and a stellar reputation to open doors for your future success. Here are five ways to make the most of your first real job, so that it pays off for you for years to come:

1) Ask for feedback. Show your supervisors that you are ready to learn and are open to constructive criticism. Joel Peterson, chairman of Jet Blue Airways, says that your rate of learning will depend on feedback from your superiors, so ask for it to be as specifically as possible. Start small, asking for feedback on a brief or project outline, something that's not too time-consuming for the superior. However, don't ask for feedback on every little thing accomplished. Occasional requests for feedback are welcome; overdoing it can make superiors think you're trying to get them to make you look good.

2) Instead, make them look good. Peterson says, "You were hired to make others look good." Your boss, your managers, your supervisors ... they look good to clients and board members when you do your job well. And when they see that you're invested in making the company -- and them -- look good, you'll be given additional responsibilities and praise. If you hog the limelight, failing to credit your team members and superiors, you'll alienate the very people who can advance your career. Be a good team player. Your colleagues may be ringing their own bells, and it may seem to be paying off for them in the short run, but being a quality employee who reflects well on bosses goes further in the long run.

3) Get credit for your contributions, as well. Perhaps you've led a team through a project, but in a staff meeting a colleague takes credit for your ideas and work. Career coach Marty Nemko says, "If you have a great idea, don't just tell your boss. Bring it up at a meeting. Have you created a draft you're proud of? Consider sending it to respected colleagues for feedback ... and to show them that you're hot stuff. At evaluation time, ask, 'I've kept a list of some work efforts I feel good about. Would you like to see it?'" Keep a folder filled with your large and small contributions and innovations to present during performance reviews. Managers and bosses are busy, and perhaps it slipped their minds that you were instrumental in landing that big account for the company or when you found some research on a new client. There's a difference between ringing your own bell and shining a light rightfully on your biggest accomplishments. Learn now, early in your career, to get comfortable showing your strengths.

4) Solve problems. Peterson advises developing skills that make you stand out as the person who excels at solving problems. You'll become essential to the company, and perhaps guard your position during downsizing. You'll soon be picked for key assignments. When you demonstrate an ability to foresee and prevent problems, it will be noted on your employee reviews and perhaps speed up promotions and pay raises.

5) Be drama-free. Every workplace has divas and Negative Nancys, the people who notoriously seek attention by gossiping about colleagues and stirring up trouble. At times, it may be infuriating to see such people get ahead through devious means, but it's very wise to not join their ranks. Be cordial, but steer clear. And even if you're having a bad day, or are frustrated, don't give in to gossip. They'll want to bring you down to their level, and the superiors who have admired your work ethic may lose respect for you and withhold key assignments. It can be hard to regain their trust and authority. And, in addition to gossip, don't use your workday hours to complain about your personal life; your bosses will frown upon your dating life travails and your landlord troubles, too. Keep the drama out of the office, and you will excel.

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