How to Avoid the 5 Common First Job Mistakes Recent Grads Make

Superhero talking on cell phone at office desk
Superhero talking on cell phone at office desk

In the spring before my freshman year of college, I attended Harvard's Prefrosh Weekend for recently admitted students. My cousin, a second-semester freshman at the time, ripped the welcome folder from my hands the moment she saw me: "You don't need this. Never bring this out again." As I started walking around with her and her friends, looking at the clusters of newly admitted students, painfully distinguishable by the bright, crimson folders they clutched to their chests, the message became clear: I may have been a rookie, but I didn't have to act like one.

The same idea translates in the professional world. While no one expects you to be a prodigy in your first job out of college, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of what not to do when you start a new job. You can easily see success on your first job by setting yourself apart from the squad of newbies and avoiding the 5 common first job mistakes below.

1. Failing to ask questions
It's easy to feel like you're irritating your new coworkers or your boss by asking a ton of questions, so you may try to sit at your computer with your head down, silently wondering what the heck you should be doing.

You're not expected to know everything right off the bat, so you should ask as many questions as possible in order to learn quickly. This will help you to get to a point where you can do your job, for the most part, on your own. It will also show your boss that you want to get every detail right so that you can turn in great work.

2. Waiting for assignments to be handed to you
There will be lulls in the work day during your first job, but if you're waiting for someone to hand you your next assignment, you're losing valuable time that you could be using to make your mark on the company.

Be proactive. Get up, walk across the hall, and ask your boss if there's anything he or she needs help with. If you're not being useful in your first job, then you'll have trouble establishing yourself as an indispensable member of your team.

3. Acting like the mistake you just made didn't happen
It's ok to make mistakes, but one mistake you should never make is failing to own up when you fumble. Ask yourself what looks better: cowering at your desk until someone confronts you about your error or going up to your boss and saying that you made a mistake and you'll do everything you can to fix it?

Always, always take ownership of your actions and be prepared to work as hard as you can to minimize the consequences of your mistake.

4. Leaving early when there's work to be done
The bare minimum isn't going to cut it when you're first starting off. If your hours are 9-5, stay until 5:30 or later if you haven't finished everything you want to accomplish for the day. Establish yourself as someone who is a hard worker dedicated to a job well done -- even if it means putting in extra time to finish.

5. Failing to get to know your coworkers
Because you are part of a team, you should make an effort to get to know your coworkers: how do they contribute to the company's growth, and how can your role support their own? These are going to be the people with whom you'll be spending 40+ hours a week, so it's important to start off on the right foot and build a positive and supportive network with your team.

Take time your first week to schedule 15-minute coffee catchups with members of your team. Be prepared to ask them about their role, their experience with the company, and how they see the company moving forward in the future. This will allow you to build valuable connections early on and maybe even make a few friends (or at the very least, people who can show you the ropes!).

Hit the ground running in your first entry-level job by avoiding these common first job mistakes. There will be growing pains even if you do everything you can to be the best at your job, but it's important to be resilient and have a positive attitude. That way, you'll exceed both your boss's and your coworker's expectations and you'll make it a lot easier for yourself as you navigate the ins and outs of your new role.