By Elisa Mala
Every job comes with its ups, downs, and growing pains. And however confident the girl in the cubicle next to you seems, trust us: She didn't know everything right out of the gate either. College can only take you so far in the getting-ready-for-the-work-world department, and once you're gainfully employed, there's a lot you're expected to pick up on the fly. Why not get a head start? Here, we've broken down seven newbie career lessons—and gone ahead and given you the really juicy stuff. You can thank us later!
Dress to impress—your boss, not Lady Gaga. What they tell you: Dress for the job you want. What they don't: Appearance isn't everything, but it can definitely tip the scale in one way or another. If you're already the star on your team, being well dressed is just another thing that makes you great. It's the most visible way to prove to your boss that you get it. But if you're going way over the top (or way under the radar), you'll seem out of sync. Not good!
Timing is everything. What they tell you: Ask questions! What they don't: Make sure it's a good time—especially if the issue can wait. Say you're not a morning person. How would you feel if you awoke to your boss standing over your bed, barraging you with complicated questions before you could even fully open your eyes? That's how it can feel to a superior when you walk into her office trying to get information when she's swamped, or asking for answers you could have gotten from someone more junior. Most folks want to help, but if you wait until, say, after they've gotten off the conference call with the London office, they'll have more time and attention to provide the answers you need.
There is a cone of social silence. What they tell you: From LinkedIn profiles to attention-grabbing blogs, internet presence can help you land a job or climb the ladder at the one you already have. What they don't: Keep private company issues away from social media. Even if you don't name names, discussing workplace politics on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit can get you fired. Save any venting for in-person gatherings with friends—a great reason for a coffee date!
"No" is also an answer. What they tell you: Go the extra mile! What they don't: Sometimes saying "yes" to everything your boss throws your way will get you in more trouble than in good graces. While she's busy doing her own work and thinking you're handling what she gave you, you're busy drowning in things you can't possibly get done. The key: You have to realize that she can't know what you're physically unable to finish until you tell her. So pipe up! It is absolutely OK to answer "oh, can you also..." with "I would love to, but with X, Y, and Z on my list, I'm afraid I won't be able to get to it until tomorrow."
Don't make the same mistake twice. What they tell you: Whether you forgot to add pickles or booked the wrong flight for a colleague, mistakes happen to everyone. What they don't: Sweeping them under the rug (or sulking with your tail between your legs) can make a bad situation worse. The best way to manage goof-ups? Own up, correct the problem as quickly as possible, and most important, try not to let the same thing happen the next time around.
Good bosses are like coaches. What they tell you: Seek mentors. What they don't: A mentor is not (always) a cheerleader: The best ones offer constructive criticism in order to make you the best you can be. And just as in sports, the right one can mean the difference between being mediocre and being legendary. Before Gabby Douglas became the first African-American in history to win Olympic gold for the all-around individual competition in gymnastics, she specifically sought out the coach who had nurtured fellow gymnast Shawn Johnson to victory. And during all those years of back-breaking practices, you can bet he didn't stand there applauding every little move.
Your first job won't be your last. What they tell you: Stay in your current position, no matter how you feel about it. What they don't: If a job truly is a terrible fit, there's nothing wrong with wanting out—just be sure to have a back-up plan. No one expects you to endure an unhealthy environment or slog away at a job you realize has nothing to do with your dream career. And luckily for you, there's nowhere to go but up.
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