You’re Hired… Now What? 5 Things You Can Do to Make a Good Impression at Your First “Career” Job

And you thought landing the job was the hard part.

For a lot of us, we're entering our first “career” job. Thanks to either graduating college or simply moving up a ladder, most of us have made the jump from more hourly positions we had in high school like retail, food, and service industries, to more management and office positions in fields that we could ideally stay in for the rest of our lives. In the past, these fields would have been labelled as “blue-collar” and “white-collar,” although those terms are considered old-fashioned now that technology has started to blur the lines between them.

While the terms may change, one thing stays the same: There is a noticeable difference between the two work environments. Atmosphere, expectations, relationships, all are different now, and they can be a shock if you aren't prepared. While a large amount of it is learned simply through trial-and-error, there are a few ideas to make a good impression if your starting a new job:

Try coming in early and leaving late

While this might be seen as the hallmark of the nerdy, ladder-climbing suckup, I only suggest it because, frankly, there is a lot in it for you as well beyond just making a good impression. If simply being able to avoid the worst of rush-hour traffic wasn't enough (it is for me,) Tim Ferris mentioned in his book The Four Hour Workweek that he was able to get the majority of the day's work done in his first hour. Not only by being more productive without the typical office distractions, but because, since most secretaries work on a 9-to-5 schedule, by contacting people before the “gatekeepers” came into work for the day, he was able to bypass them and speak directly to the people in charge.

Work a little outside your station (cautiously)

This might simply be a pet peeve from by own bad experience as opposed to a common thing, but when I was paying my dues chained to a cash register, I noticed that any time an employee or customer attempted to talk to one of our managers, it was pretty common for them to simply say “not my problem” and walk in the other direction.

I realized much later that I simply had a rogues gallery of horrible bosses, but the lesson I learned stuck with me. Be willing to work outside your sphere. Eagerness is important, and the more skills you show, even if they don't directly apply to your job description, make people in charge more reluctant to let you go. I impressed one interviewer by helping to fix his printer (apparently, everybody else in the office would simply wait for IT to come deal with it.) Every workplace has a few jobs that no one really likes doing, but if you just take a deep breath and jump in, you can get them done and score some major points with the people in charge at the same time.

There is a major caveat to this however. There is a fine line between “being helpful” and “being taken advantage of.” It's a personal judgement call where that line is being drawn, but it's usually a good idea to occasionally reflect and see if you've gone from being eager to being the office flunky. Because of that, it's important to…

Learn to Say No Diplomatically

While volunteering to do the occasional bit of work outside your station is good, times will arise when you simply can't or shouldn't. In many cases, the person asking doesn't know something is outside of your skill set, so simply saying “no” can come across as rude. Learn to always give a reason if you plan to refuse something, and it's usually a good idea to offer to help them find another solution, even if it's just suggesting someone who's better able to help them.

Socialize with everybody

Quite a few business leaders, when asked for advice, will usually say something to the extent of “never eat lunch alone.” Networking is vitally important. Whether it's  making new connections or simply encouraging the ones you have, strengthening your roots in your workplace and in your industry is essential. However, a lot of people develop the habit of only socializing within their own circle. People acquainted with more working-class jobs are used to a more “top-down” heirarchy, where the boss makes the rules, you follow them, and you don't question him. However, the higher up the ladder you move, the more egalitarian the system becomes.

I first noticed this in college. Despite our professors posting office hours and repeatedly saying “Our door is open, come by anytime,” quite a few of us, myself included, were reluctant to take them up on the offer, mostly out of nerves because professors were “the boss,” and you didn't mess with them. Classmates who grew up in different upbringings usually had no problem talking to professors, and were better off for it. Try to break the ice with your bosses, sooner rather than later.

Keep Calm

When you're at your first job, you aren't able to gauge the severity of your mistakes. Is something like missing a deadline a situation where heads will roll? Or it is something that's frowned upon, but understood as inevitable? Because of this, it's easy to get high-strung about everything. You'll make a good impression if you're able to keep your cool, even when emotions are high and you might be the only calm person in the room. Not to mention being level-headed is a desirable trait in a team leader, which can bode well for your future.

Many people have stumbled on the first few steps in their chosen career path. If you've started a new job in the last little while, you've probably been a little surprised by the change in culture. However, one thing that's universal is first impressions are vitally important. Try to make a good one, and things will go much easier.

Brandon Stanfill is a freelance writer and accomplished nerd. Born and raised in the mountains of East Tennessee, he obtained his English degree in 2010 and has since been putting it to good use.


  • Reply March 21, 2013

    Gaurav P.

    I think the biggest adjustment for most graduates is the concept of having a set routine. During my university years, I did not have a routine. Bed times oscillated between 1 am – 3 am, and wake up times were rarely before 10 AM (due to later classes). I went to to the gym whenever it was convenient, and ate when it was convenient. Granted, not everyone was like this, but a lot of students were.

    For me, this resulted in a staggered start in my first official job, as it was really difficult to adjust to a set routine after having lived the last 4-5 years essentially free as a bird.

    One thing I would recommend would be, starting from the job search process, or even during the final semester, for new grads to develop routines, especially if they’re not a routine-y person.

    I graduated about a year ago, and am only now getting used to the routine of sleeping at a certain time (before 12 am) and waking up in time to make breakfast and get ready while fitting in whatever else I need to do.

    • Reply March 21, 2013


      wow. you just described my 20’s. started an 8-5 job back in december. in the weeks leading up to it, i fell into a terrible sleep pattern that looked something like 4-1. once i started the job, i got back to getting to bed around 2. now that i’m in the swing, 12 is late, and 11 is ideal.

      • Reply March 22, 2013

        Gaurav P.

        Yeah. I dialed back from sleeping at 1:30 – 2 AM to sleeping at midnight or so, and it was a hard process. I think, especially in the Internet age, we have so many things to keep us going that its hard to break out of that habit.

        For me, the problem was surfing the web and reading information, or maybe watching a show longer than I should have, etc. I had to literally block those distractions (used a software to block sites, deleted the shows, etc.) in order to force myself to get to bed earlier.

        I’ve been employed for a while now, and I’m STILL not used to it. It’s a process, especially if your sleeping habits during university were erratic.

  • Reply March 21, 2013

    Christopher Nordone

    As a manager I definitely disagree with the first point about coming in early and staying late, if I see an employee doing that it screams out to me that this person has a problem with their work/life balance, is not productive enough to get the job done within the time frame given and probably has a problem with stress or lacks confidence in their job security. A better option would be to arrange a flex schedule with your manager where your days start an hour earlier or an hour later which enables the employee to still maintain a work life balance while also working during a time that is quieter and has fewer distractions so they can be more productive.

    • Reply March 21, 2013


      It sounds like you’re a flexible and understanding manager, which is awesome! Unfortunately I think you’re in the minority.

    • Reply March 21, 2013


      I disagree. It’s about making first impressions. You spend 6 months working extra hard, and you’re known as the hard worker.

      • Reply March 28, 2013


        Hardwork is nice, but effective work is what we want…

    • Reply March 21, 2013


      two of my co-workers routinely stay later. i have the same position, but in my 3 months i still have not had a day where the work load required me to stay later.
      but the part where you mention a quieter atmosphere definitely appeals to the part of me that doesn’t like doing certain tasks when people are around. like phoning.
      so thanks for bringing this up, because it definitely gives me something to think about.

    • Reply March 22, 2013

      Joe Nichols

      I think it just depends on the job. There is a time and a place where both Brandon’s example of show up early, leave late would make a good impression, and there are other examples where it is better to arrange a flex schedule. There are quite a few jobs where the work literally never ends and when you leave there are other people there to pick up and keep it going. If you are coming in early and staying late in that instance it has nothing to do with you not being productive enough and everything to do with you being the guy who wants to be there to help out when it’s needed.

    • Reply August 19, 2013


      I have to agree. I’m a co-founder of my start-up and even though we’re a very non-traditional employer (not entirely for the industry, but compared to other fields) I feel it’s important to set a good example and not come in early or leave late.

      Encouraging an employee to think about the company first and themselves second is a terrible thing and the reason why many people leave to start their own companies. Your own life should always come first. The responsibility is simply to get your week’s work done and communicate properly with co-workers so that you don’t hold them up. It doesn’t matter when or how you get work done, the only important thing is that you do it well.

      Like others have mentioned I’m happier to see someone who only comes in to the office once or twice a week, works for a few hours, and still turns in excellent work than someone who slaves away as the first one in and the last to leave. That strikes me as someone with poor work habits, an inability to focus, or just a misplaced desire to impress through appearance rather than quality.

  • Reply March 21, 2013


    says the freelance writer..

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