For someone new to the workforce, there are few times more daunting and more formative than the first six months of your first job out of college. It’s a period of significant learning and growth, and it will set the tone for future career success.
The problem is that it’s easy to get so caught up in the novelty of it all that you forget to set and work toward concrete goals for yourself. Aside from making smart financial moves and setting up a savings plan, there are a number of key things you should ideally achieve soon after starting your new position in order to lay the groundwork for prosperity.
A handy tip: Write down everything you accomplish during the first six months of a new job and beyond in a career journal. That way you can keep track of the skills you’re developing and the value you’re adding, and you’ll have plenty of material to refer to when you’re preparing for your midyear performance review or updating your résumé.
Solidify your reputation as a standout employee
You clearly impressed during the interview process, but now it’s time to prove your worth—to build your brand as a star performer. First impressions count, so start on day one and work hard to demonstrate that you have the strengths you claimed you did in your résumé. Go above and beyond what’s required on all projects allocated to you during the first six months of a new job. Remember to pay attention to the little things too: dress professionally, arrive at the office a few minutes early, leave a few minutes late, smile often, greet your coworkers, and show lots of enthusiasm. It goes a long way toward establishing a great professional reputation, which will ideally follow you forever.
Flesh out and refine your job description
It’s not uncommon for new employees to start in a position and find that things don’t quite operate like they thought they would. Job descriptions don’t always align with the reality of the work. If you don’t make the effort to figure out exactly where you fit in and what’s expected of you in the beginning, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
In your first week on the job, schedule a meeting with your manager to thoroughly discuss what your responsibilities are (and aren’t), what you’re expected to accomplish daily and in the long term, and which metrics your performance will ultimately be evaluated against. During this conversation, try to establish the pertinence of your role in the context of the business’s broader vision, and learn what your boss’s concerns and objectives are so you can assist appropriately.
Get familiar with internal processes, programs, and dynamics
Whether the company takes you through a formal onboarding process or not, you’ll still have to actively integrate yourself into the system. During the first six months of a new job, consume as much information as you can and be open to asking questions. Learn about the company culture and its founding philosophy, devour market research, read up on the business’s product offerings, shadow colleagues while they complete tasks, and take note of working styles, people dynamics, and internal procedures. You should also get familiar with the software and online programs your coworkers use to communicate, manage workflows, and get the job done. Remember, every new tool you master is another skill you can add to your résumé.
Build a solid network
Your coworkers won’t just be a great support system on bad days, but also potential tickets to future opportunities and jobs. For career success, your network is everything, so even if you’re an introvert, make an effort to develop connections with your colleagues as well as those outside your immediate office circle. Shake hands with people when you meet them, memorize names, offer assistance where it’s needed, eat lunch with your team, and show interest in coworkers’ lives outside of work.
You might also want to identify a mentor who can guide you, and you’ll definitely want to invest in a good relationship with your boss too. Finally, avoid gossip and internal politics; getting involved will only damage your network.
Develop a routine that maximizes productivity
It can take some time after starting a new job to get into a work-life rhythm that feels right. Be proactive about figuring out a routine, at home and at work, that boosts productivity and improves your output.
How much exercise and sleep do you need to be the best version of yourself in the office? What’s the best time to leave for work in the morning? What motivates you? Which tasks do you perform best earlier in the day? Where could you be saving time? By the end of the first six months of a new job, you should have the answers to these types of questions.
Solve a problem that your team faces
There’s room for improvement in every company. Look out for flaws in procedures, take note of processes that could be more efficient, and identify challenges facing your coworkers. Brainstorm immediate solutions, however simple, and bring these ideas to your manager. Even if you’re just helping to close the smallest gap, you’ll still be establishing yourself as an invaluable part of the team, and your boss will no doubt appreciate that you’ve taken initiative and thought outside the box. It’s these sort of acts that could quickly line you up for a raise or promotion in future.
Beyond the first six months
Once the first six months of a new job are done, you can focus on the following in the next six months:
- Take on a new responsibility outside the scope of your original job description.
- Get involved in a larger project that will enable you to have a more significant impact on the company’s objectives.
- Schedule time with your manager or a human resources representative to discuss your career goals and the possibility of a raise or promotion.
- Reflect on your current situation and job satisfaction levels, and scope out positions in other departments to assess whether you would be a better fit there.
- Note highlights from your first year on the job and update your LinkedIn profile.
Find more workplace advice in our Internships and Careers section.