First Job: 10 Tips for Success

October 7, 2020

Think you are ready to start your first job? Entering the workforce for the first time – or even re-entering the workforce after an extended absence – is exciting, but can be nerve-wracking, too. Your first day on the job can be even more challenging when you may not even be able to meet your new co-workers in person due to the pandemic. Keep these tips in mind to set yourself up for success – virtually or in person.

Get clear expectations from your supervisor. Talk to your supervisor to get a clear idea of what will be expected of you. Determine exactly what your job responsibilities and priorities will be in your position. Find out if the organization has an expected time frame for responding to emails, texts, phone calls, etc. Do you know what time you should be in the office or, if working remotely, “online” and available? When your break will be? Discuss with your supervisor the method and how often he/she would like to get status updates on your activities – do they prefer to receive that in person or by videoconference, by email or text, or with a status chart? What does the timing of that look like – should the updates be in real time, at the beginning or end of each day, or weekly? In short, know what is expected of you in your role.

When you get a request, state it back to the person requesting so that you are clear on the task and the time frame. For example, “Let me confirm:  you need X by the end of the day today.” Also discuss how your supervisor prefers you to handle questions you may have during the project and what kind of updates they would like, especially if the timeline is very far out or you are working remotely.

Manners matter. Professionalism is expected in the workplace, regardless of the setting. Keep these tips in mind, whether you are working face-to-face with colleagues or meeting via videoconference:

  • Be respectful to everyone, no matter their job.
  • Say hello. . . to everyone. Don’t let the first time you talk to someone during the day be when you need something from them or when you have a problem. If working virtually, there are many ways to do this, including a group text or email.
  • Learn everyone’s name and use it.
  • Learn something about your coworkers so you can build relationships. Do they have kids? What’s their favorite sports team or TV show? Where are they from or where did they go to school?
  • If attending a videoconference meeting, join the meeting a few minutes early for an opportunity to casually chat with new coworkers.


Better to overdress for the job than underdress. This is especially true on your first day. Whether you are working in an office/onsite or meeting via videoconference, you can observe your coworkers and get a better idea of the appropriate dress code. Dressing appropriately also applies to working remotely – have a professional shirt or blouse close by your workspace for unexpected video calls. Always wear professional dress when on a videoconference. And, of course, if in doubt, ask! Also, remember that messes happen, so keep an extra shirt in your car or at the work site.

Put your outstanding work ethic on display. Every supervisor appreciates a dependable and contributing team member. As a supervisor, I always prefer a team member with an enthusiastic attitude and strong work ethic over someone who is talented, but lazy. How can you demonstrate this?

  • Be on time – “five minutes early is on time and on time is late” – and mindful of breaks. Same rule applies to virtual commitments.
  • Always deliver – be timely with task completion and do quality work. If you’re not sure, ask a coworker to look over your work and give you feedback before you submit it, if you have time. Or submit a draft/outline and get feedback to see if you’re on the right track.
  • Be flexible, offer to help, and pitch in wherever and whenever needed.
  • You are the company you keep. Be supportive of others and enthusiastic. Don’t gripe or complain to coworkers.
  • Check in with your boss, either in person or by email or text, before you leave for the day. A simple “Need anything before I go?” or “See you in the morning” is appreciated.


Plan the work and work the plan. Keep a “To-do” list or task chart for the day, week, and month with deadlines. There may be things you need to do every morning, every day at 2 p.m., or every evening before you leave. In a fast-paced environment, you may get requests from multiple people throughout the day. A simple list or chart itemizing each Task, Due Date, and Status will help you stay on track and get things done.

Always carry a pen and paper and take notes. You are new to the job, new to the company, and new to the industry. Take notes during meetings or when you get an assignment so that you have context and remember the details. And if you forget paper and pen? Remember technology – you can always make a quick note on your tablet or phone.

Listen. Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Most people listen to respond, not to understand. Knowledge is different than understanding. Remember to listen to your supervisor and your coworkers. Treat the people doing the job as the experts. You are there to learn from them.

Speak up. Yes, you have a lot to learn, but you also have a lot of offer. Share your ideas and opinions, but also make sure that you first know the lay of the land. And, of course, if you see something wrong or unsafe, say something, but do so professionally.

If you don’t know how to do something, ask. But before you ask, first try to figure out what you should do. Supervisors have problems brought to them all day long. When you do bring forth a problem or have a question, have a few options for how it can be tackled. This develops your critical thinking skills and confidence, so you can figure it out yourself next time.

If you make a mistake, admit it. Use your problem-solving skills to figure out why it happened and how to keep it from happening again. Then admit it, correct it, and move forward.

Some of these tips may seem like common sense, while others will be new to you. Hopefully, they help you get a good start as a valued member of your new team.

Does your company need assistance developing a workforce with these necessary skills? Foundations’ hallmark solution is training, both live and virtual. Contact us to assist with this or any of your other Human Resources needs.

-Jan Czochara, Consultant

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