Your first job

Your first graduate job brings new challenges, from workplace etiquette to dress code. These tips will help you make the transition to working life.

Even though you may have had summer jobs and worked at weekends, nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of your first ‘proper’ job. We’ve come up with some hints to help you adapt.

Starting a new job

It’s not quite the same as your first day at school, but nerves can feature strongly at the start of a new job. You may feel worried that you’ll not know what to do, make mistakes or feel out of your depth. These concerns are natural when you’re facing any major life change but it’s important to remember that the others in your intake will be equally apprehensive. Your employer will be used to this and is likely to have plans to ease you into working life, with an induction period and plenty of working and social opportunities for you to meet people and learn about your job and the company.

Many graduates speak of the culture shock between the more relaxed atmosphere of student life compared to holding down a full-time job. The most difficult aspects to adjust to include early-morning starts, the nine-to-five working day and the same weekday routine. Accept that this aspect of transition will take a little time to become accustomed to, but you will get there.

Use your experience

You may already have some experience of working life when you take up your first graduate job. In fact, most graduates will find that they do have skills related to the workplace, whether it’s time management or understanding workplace etiquette. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that your first graduate job is just a longer version of your summer job or work placement. Previous work experience gives you a head start, but it’s only a beginning.

Workplace culture

How do you make the transition from student life to the demands of the workplace? It probably helps to appreciate that all organisations are different, so your first workplace is going to have a particular work culture. Most organisations in Ireland now have a distinctly informal code but it is useful to check before making any assumptions (for example, do people use first names?).

Companies have different dress codes – sometimes these are explicit and sometimes they are less openly stated. Irish companies tend to be fairly informal but this doesn’t mean you should turn up to work in jeans on your first day… unless of course you know that is how people dress. Try to find out beforehand what is expected in your workplace. If you’re not sure, then attend on your first day in ‘safe’ – ie conservative – clothes. You can always dress down more the next day.

Learning and development

The big difference between your previous jobs and your first job as a graduate is that your overall performance is likely to be reviewed quite systematically. This review will cover your motivation, your capacity to handle the professional demands of your role, and how well you integrate with your colleagues.

This is serious stuff and involves handling a range of different agendas at the same time. Use the support offered within your organisation, whether a formal appraisal or informal mentoring. It has cost a lot to recruit you and people want to see you do well.

Most organisations now have a clearly defined ongoing learning culture. Using the resources available to develop your skills can bring long-term benefit to your career. You should look at your first few years following graduation as continuing the education agenda that typified your career to date. This focus does not radically change when earning begins: there is a growing realisation that ongoing development, both professional and personal, is important in the graduate workforce. This is supported by the recognition that a highly educated workforce is a key factor in national and social development, both within industry and in the wider society.

Top tips for starting your first job

Ask questions

No employer is going to expect you to know everything from day one. That’s why many have formal training schemes. During your training period – and beyond – make sure you ask questions, as this shows an interest not only in the organisation but also in what it does and what your role is in it. If anything isn’t clear, then say; there is no shame in asking for clarification.

Stand out

Many employers say that the graduate recruits who impress them most are those who throw themselves into work and show enthusiasm, commitment and a desire to learn at every opportunity – even if that means manning the photocopier for a while! They get stuck in and don’t believe they are too clever or good for a certain role just because they have a degree, which also shows a great attitude to team working.

Learn from another

Finally, many organisations will allocate you a mentor or ‘buddy’ when you start your training: they are the person to turn to if you have any worries or concerns.