New graduates just starting out in their first jobs have a huge opportunity in front of them, as well as some challenges. Their energy and fresh perspective on things will allow them to potentially make a very valuable contribution to their new employer, while their lack of experience combined regrettably often with an over-confidence can easily get in their way. Not recognising that they are on a new playing field now is the biggest mistake that they can make. Yes, they have been accepted to this job and they’ve worked hard to get there; but corporate life is a whole different ball game.
Here are some of the most common mistakes that new graduates make in their first job:
1. They don’t ask enough questions
The best way to learn is to ask questions, and the first few weeks and months present the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s completely natural that a new hire fresh out of university doesn’t know everything. However, the only way they’ll fill those gaps is by asking. The reasons why new hires tend not to ask questions include either worrying that they will look stupid, or simply being too arrogant to ask for help when they need it… but it’s much better to bite the bullet now than to risk not knowing later down the line, by which time they really should know the answers.
2. They don’t ask for feedback
Another way of learning is to ask for feedback. Ideally the manager and possibly senior colleagues should be giving this to a new hire, but that may or may not be the case. They need to be taking responsibility for their own development, asking for feedback on an on-going basis and especially after a big presentation or project. Again, new hires are often either too confident about their own work to ask for feedback, or else ignorant of the fact that they’ll improve faster if they do so.
3. They work too late
It’s a biological fact that most young graduates have more energy, and often fewer responsibilities at home, than older employees. This unfortunately means that they are more likely to be staying late and working well into the night, thinking this is necessary or even commendable. In fact, staying late all the time is a sign that they’re not making efficient use of your time. There may, of course, be times when they have to stay late for a deadline but it really shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence.
4. They don’t take care of themselves
Okay, this is maybe a more general lifestyle point and, again, the reality is that you are able to survive on more stress, more alcohol and less sleep when you’re younger. Of course you’re going to have, and you should have, fun – work hard, play hard, right? – but it’s a mistake not to take care of your health. Failing to eat well, not doing any exercise and not getting enough sleep will not only have an effect on a young professional’s health but will also reflect poorly on them in the office and their image will likely suffer, as will their performance.
5. They don’t clarify expectations
Staying too late in the office on a regular basis may in fact be the result of not having clarified what the expectations are with the boss. Sometimes a task warrants hours of research and labouring over a long PowerPoint presentation, while other times it simply requires a quick-and-dirty analysis based on ballpark figures and assumptions. Another reason why it’s a mistake not to clarify expectations upfront is that it’s going to be impossible to exceed those expectations if you don’t know what they are!
6. They try to reinvent the wheel
Another reason why they might be working more than they need to be is that they’re working on the assumption that they need to do 100% original work. The truth is that there are plenty of lessons to be learned from other companies, other brands, other projects. It’s a mistake not to look at these examples and reapply the insights they can learn from them. This will allow them to make better assumptions and more robust decisions than if they’re trying to create everything from scratch.
7. They don’t push back
This is a tricky one: as a new graduate they should be accepting the work that is given to them, not picking and choosing the most interesting projects. However, it is a mistake to take on more than you can handle, and a mistake to assume responsibility for other people’s work plans. Sometimes you are justified in pushing back against unreasonable deadlines, or you may want to argue against a particular course of action because of knowledge you have being closer to a specific project. As long as you have good reason to do so, pushing back has a time and a place.
8. They don’t flag issues
Whether it’s due to arrogance, or a false sense of having to take on full responsibility for everything, new graduates often fail to raise the alarm when there’s an issue. Staying quiet prevents your boss from helping you or in turn flagging the issue to his or her management. Problems can arise and there may or may not be reason to assign blame, but it’s always better to recognise that a problem exists and take responsibility for trying to find a solution, rather than trying to ignore it or solve it on your own.
9. They overcomplicate things
They say the simplest solutions are often the best, but new hires tend to get lost in the details. They try to incorporate every possible fact and cover all the different scenarios, producing long PowerPoint decks or paragraphs of text that merely confuse the audience. Learning to filter out the noise, to highlight the key points, and to put those points forward in a clear and succinct way is a skill that comes with experience. If you find yourself getting lost, it’s helpful to talk it through with someone who has that experience, to help you sort through all the data and identify what’s really important.
10. They don’t see the larger context
New graduates take their work very seriously, and it can be easy for them to get caught up in their own projects, thinking that this is all that matters. The symptoms of this include harassing other team members to deliver on the specific project, or disregarding broader organisational factors that may have an impact. Understanding the larger context will help you to get the support of other people and make sure that you are not blind to the environment in which you’re operating.
Join our email community and get started with accelerating your success in your first job with our 5 essential rules
Stop trying to figure it out by yourself and take the easier road instead, by learning from people who have been in your place and discovered what it takes to build a successful career.
Get instant access to these 5 essential rules that will accelerate your career.
No BS, guaranteed.