Dear first time job seeker,

I’ve had the privilege and challenge of working with many people right out of school, and I want to share some things your future employer wants you to know, but won’t tell you.

1. “On time” is late.  

Seriously, the days of slinking into your chair right as the professor starts talking are over.  If you’re due to work at 8:30, and you’re constantly skidding into the office at 8:29, you’re being judged, and it’s not pretty.  We get it, but we’re thinking you don’t really care about your work.  Same is true for meetings.  Get to work 10-15 minutes early, and get to meetings 5 minutes early.  Sure, you may be a little bored waiting for others to show up, but I guarantee it will help your career in the long run.

2. “What you’re asked to do” vs “what you should be doing” are two vastly different things.

Recently, I’ve had two employees in their 20s.  One did EXACTLY what was asked of her, no more and no less.  The other took it upon herself to organize things that were disorganized, prepare me for things that were coming down the pike, and identify things that needed to be done, not just what I asked of her.  Guess who got a better recommendation from me for her next job?  So, once a week at least, sit down and think about things you can do to make your boss’s life easier and your job more organized.

3. You will no longer get constant feedback, but you’ll constantly be graded.

I remember the toughest part of being a recent grad was going from to getting a grade and feedback on each assignment, to being in the workplace where you’re lucky if you get a meeting once a week.   The best employees learn to check in and ask for feedback on their work without being a pest.  How?  Routinely say (or append to your emails to your boss), “let me know if there’s any feedback or anything you’d like to see differently in the future.”  Bosses are only human, and they HAVE feedback about you- but some won’t share it unless you make it comfortable for them to do so.

4.  We want your ideas, but you need to be patient if we can’t implement them right away.

As a recent grad coming into the workplace, I remember being full of optimism and ideas.  I  saw through fresh eyes all the things the organization could be doing with its systems and processes to be more efficient.  Here’s what I didn’t see:  the budget; the competing priorities; the entrenched political dynamics that embraced the status quo.  So, I was frustrated at the seemingly ridiculously slow pace of change (although the pace of work itself was demanding).  Eventually, I learned to get my projects through, but first, I had to learn the political skills I’d need for the rest of my career.

5.  There’s the work, and there are the politics.  You have to learn both.

You can be very, very good at the actual work you’re hired to do, but if you don’t learn organizational politics, you’re in for a long and frustrating career.  Watch and learn how people *actually* get things done at the workplace.  That guy who always seems like he’s wandering between the executives’ offices?  He’s probably the center of the organization’s political life.  Get to know that guy.  The woman who is heading up the company’s major initiative?  Make sure to introduce yourself and say you think the project is really cool.  Watch how other people manage politics, and learn how to get things done.  Work is NOT a meritocracy; it’s a political game, and the sooner you learn how to play it well, the happier you’ll be in the long run.

So, first time job seeker, you are the future of your organization and your industry, and your employer needs your creativity to remain fresh.  At the same time, you need to adjust to its pace, its politics, and its processes.  I hope you know that your contribution is valued, even if your employer doesn’t tell you that as often as it should.


An employer who really, really wants you to succeed