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Jobs & Careers

What to expect in your first graduate job

The first day of a new graduate job can feel as daunting as it is exciting. What to wear? Who to ask for help? How many questions are too many? Don't worry – here's everything you need to know.

Woman wearing drawn graduate cap writing on post it notes

Credit: Africa Studio – Shutterstock

Starting your first professional job can feel like a big leap into the real world, and can take a bit of getting used to.

Regular hours, having to dress 'appropriately' for work and having no time for an afternoon nap will be hard to adapt to, but you'll get there (we promise).

The transition from uni into employment isn't as hard as you might think. We're here to calm your nerves and give you a rundown of what to expect in your first job.

What to expect on your first day at a new job

It's completely natural to feel a bit nervous on your first day, but the most important thing is to act confident. Be enthusiastic and don't be afraid to ask questions. It shows you're keen.

It goes without saying that you'll need to turn up on time and dress appropriately.

When it comes to figuring out new things, whether it's a complicated operating system or just the photocopier, use your initiative but don't be afraid to ask for help either. Your colleagues will be more than willing to show you the way, but likely won't have time to spoon-feed you everything.

Your boss is the person to turn to for bigger questions, while your colleagues are most suitable for questions about day-to-day tasks.

Put yourself forward to take on work and projects, even if they're not expected of you. Show that you're happy to rise to a challenge and not just stick to what's in front of you.

And remember to keep away from your phone, even if your colleagues are using theirs. You might be desperate to post a photo of your new desk on Instagram, but it won't impress your boss this early on in the game.

What to bring to work on your first day

person packing laptop in bag

Credit: By LStockStudio – Shutterstock

There will likely be a fair bit of admin stuff to get through on your first day, so make sure you come prepared. To get yourself on the company payroll you might need some official documents and ID.

You'll probably receive an email ahead of your first day to let you know what to bring, or you can ask your boss over email if you're unsure. Either way, here's a checklist of common stuff you'll need:

  • Passport
  • National Insurance number/card
  • UK visa (if applicable)
  • P45 (if moving from another job)
  • Pen
  • Notepad.

We'd recommend not bringing lunch on your first day, as your boss might treat you to lunch, or your colleagues might invite you out somewhere. If not, you'll easily be able to pop to the shop and buy some food.

If you haven't already, check out our guide to the gender pay gap to find out more about it and how it might affect you.

How to tackle imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is really common for graduates in their first 'proper' job after university.

It's a term used to describe a feeling of not being good enough to do the job you've been given, that you're a fraud and you're waiting for someone to find out that you're not as talented as they think you are.

It's certainly not rare to feel like this. Everyone from Emma Watson to Kate Winslet has opened up about their experiences with imposter syndrome.

If you've been chosen for a job role, there will be a reason for that. The company clearly thinks you're up to the part. But that doesn't necessarily stop you from feeling like you're not.

Here are our top tips for tackling imposter syndrome:

  1. Ask for help when you need to – If your boss gives you a new task, it's unlikely they'll expect you to know how to do it immediately. They probably expect you to draw on the resources around you to learn, and your colleagues should be at the top of your list of resources.
  2. Don't dwell on mistakes – You're bound to slip up and make a few mistakes in your first few weeks. That's fine. It will provide a good learning experience. Try not to fret over them too much, and certainly don't let them stop you from taking on new challenges.
  3. Talk to your friends and colleagues – Talking to your friends (either at work or home) about the way you're feeling will almost definitely be met with an "OMG, me too!" from someone. This will make you feel much better about yourself, believe us, and you can discuss ways of overcoming imposter syndrome together.
  4. Fake it 'til you make it If all else fails and you still feel like you haven't got a clue – simply do your best. Once you've settled into your role and got used to the work, you'll realise you're no longer blagging, you actually do know what you're doing. It can take time but you'll get there.
Check out the list of universities with the highest graduate salaries. Where does your uni place?

Tips for navigating office politics

people dressed professionally
Office politics can feel pretty complicated at first.

Our first piece of advice is to be perceptive. Listen and pay attention to how people in the office interact with each other, so you can gauge the different dynamics between them.

Regardless of people's positions in the company, treat everyone with respect. Particularly when chatting to senior members of staff, don't get intimidated by their power. Being as approachable and friendly with them as you would with anyone else could put you in a great position for promotions.

It's never okay to drag people down in an attempt to get closer to others. Avoid any bitching and unnecessary gossiping as it'll only come back to bite you. If your colleagues try to lure you into saying things about others that you're not comfortable with, remain polite but don't get involved.

Make sure you don't take all the credit for something if other people were involved and give out credit when it's due. Doing so will prevent you from stepping on people's toes.

Stay sincere and genuine in your interactions with others and you should come out of the office-politics minefield unscathed.

How to speak confidently in meetings

Meetings are kind of like university seminars. Only, they can feel a tad more daunting when everyone else around the table is more senior than you.

If you find yourself struggling to speak up and share your ideas, here are our top tips:

  1. Do your pre-meeting research If you know the meeting's topic in advance, do some research and think of ideas to raise. If it's a more general 'touch base' meeting, think of two or three points you'd like to discuss. Bringing notes in with you can help you relax.
  2. Ask questions – If sharing your own thoughts and ideas still feels daunting, try just responding to others. Listen carefully to what other people say, and think of some questions to ask. This will get you into the habit of speaking so you can build up to contributing your own ideas. Showing interest and engagement will also impress your boss.
  3. Set goals before you go in Think about your performance in the last meeting and how you want to improve this time. Perhaps you want to speak at least three times or put yourself forward for more tasks. Setting a goal beforehand will help push you out of your comfort zone to achieve it when you're in there.
  4. Don't overthink things It's common to think of something to say, then spend 10 minutes picking it apart in your mind before you decide it's a stupid idea (only for someone else to say the exact same thing minutes later). Obviously, don't just blurt out any random thought that pops into your head, but stop overthinking and try to speak without hesitation.
If you're after a big salary, you'll want to be doing one of the highest-paying graduate jobs.

Tips for making friends at work

team of business people

Going into a brand new workplace where you don't know anyone can be scary, and you might be desperate to make friends straight away. But just remember not to force it.

You'll be working with these people every day for months, if not years, so don't panic if you don't find your work BFF on day one.

Try to find common interests with the people you work with. Even if they're a few years older than you, it doesn't mean they don't watch Love Island or enjoy a cheeky Nandos at the weekend.

Find common struggles, too. For example, if there's a piece of software that's a total nightmare to use, see if any of your colleagues feel the same. There's no better way to bond than with a good old moan.

Don't go overboard, though. It won't go down well with senior management if they hear you loudly complaining in the office every day. If you have any serious issues, bring them up with your boss in a meeting.

Be careful about oversharing, too. You can talk about what you did at the weekend, but don't mention any drunken shenanigans, and certainly no swearing or offensive jokes; keep it professional.

And don't forget that anything you share over email or Slack can be screenshotted or forwarded to others, so don't say anything you wouldn't be happy with your boss seeing.

Also, make sure to go along to after-work socials when they happen. And if they don't happen, why not organise them yourself?

Should you add your colleagues on Facebook?

Different workplaces will have different approaches to this. We'd advise only accepting friend requests, not sending them. It's probably also best to get rid of any old drunk photos you have on there, so you have a professional online profile. The most appropriate course of action is to add your colleagues on LinkedIn.

If you do decide to connect with colleagues on Facebook, only do so with those on the same level of seniority as you (or those more junior). Adding the company CEO on Facebook is not the smartest move.

Best ways to communicate with your boss

If you've never had a boss before, it can be quite an intimidating experience. This person is in charge of you and will be a major factor in your future progression at the company, but there's no need to freak out. Remember they're just a normal person at the end of the day.

Make sure you nail obvious stuff like turning up on time and dressing appropriately. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but it could annoy your boss and get you off on the wrong foot.

Developing a good relationship with your boss is not only essential for climbing that career ladder but will help you personally thrive at work and get the most out of your role.

Here are the best ways to get along with your manager or boss:

  1. Remember they're human too – This means they'll have good days and bad days, so try not to take it personally if they're being more grumpy than usual. It also means you shouldn't be afraid to ask them how their weekend was, and generally chat with them as a friend. Doing so will help you form a stronger relationship in the long run.
  2. Learn their communication style Every boss will have a different way of communicating, so it's up to you to figure this out and adapt to it. They might be quite direct and blunt, in which case you'll have to learn not to take things personally. Or they might be more introverted and quiet, meaning you'll sometimes need to prompt them for verbal feedback and direction.
  3. Don't be afraid to disagree All the best leaders know to listen to advice. If your boss suggests something that you disagree with, don't be afraid to say so and explain why. Don't get into a full-blown argument with them, and respect that their say is final, but they'll likely respect you more for having an opinion and knowing your own mind.
  4. Tell them your goals A job isn't just about what you can do for the company, it's also about what the company can do for you. Let your boss know what you're hoping to achieve while you work with them, and they can help you get there.
  5. Show off your successes – Your boss might not notice everything you do well, so if you achieve any successes that you're particularly proud of, let them know. For instance, if you receive some praise over email, forward it to your boss, or if you help secure a big sale, tell them about it in your next meeting.
  6. Motivation works both ways Your boss is there to encourage and motivate you, but that doesn't mean you can't do the same for them. If they achieve any big successes themselves, show your appreciation and congratulate them (but not too much, you don't want to become a teacher's pet).
  7. Be yourself They're only human and they'll want to work with a human too. It can be difficult, but try to relax and be your (professional) self around them. Show them who you are and they'll appreciate you for it.

How to get a promotion

baby success meme

Source: KnowYourMeme

Once you've been at the company for a little while, you might feel ready for a promotion. It won't just be a case of waiting for it to happen, though. There are some things you should be doing to make sure you're in the running and not getting overlooked:

  1. You'll need to earn it Promotions don't happen overnight, and you'll need to prove your dedication and work ethic over a long period of time, so have patience.
  2. Make yourself visible to senior management If you follow our tips on having a good relationship with your boss, you should already be well on your way with this. But you should also identify other key players and make sure they know who you are and what projects you're working on.
  3. Ask your boss how to develop There's no need to beat around the bush. Simply ask your boss what you'll need to do to progress within the company. They should identify key skills you'll need to demonstrate or achievements you'll need to make before you can expect a promotion. This info will help manage your own expectations too.
  4. Explicitly ask for a promotion If it reaches the stage where you think you deserve a promotion but it's not happening, don't be afraid to ask for it. But make a case for it first! List all your achievements and outline what you hope to achieve in the new role. Keep the focus on the company and how it will benefit them.

How long do graduates stay in their first job?

There's no right or wrong answer here, and it can vary massively depending on your individual situation. Some people recommend 12–18 months as a minimum duration to spend in your first job, and that's a decent amount of time to get to know a company and learn new skills.

However, you shouldn't feel pressured to stay in a job if you feel like it's not right for you, or if it's negatively affecting your mental health.

These are the main reasons you might want to find a new job:

  • You're unhappy at work No job is sunshine and rainbows all of the time, but if the office environment or actual work gets you down and you can't see it improving, it's okay to leave. Think about the reasons the job wasn't right so that you know what to look for in a new job.
  • Other companies offer more money – If your responsibilities at work start to push past your salary level, but your employers are reluctant to increase your pay, it could be worth researching other companies that pay more.
  • You're ready for a fresh start – Sometimes, you simply want new tasks, different surroundings and a healthy push outside of your comfort zone to feel more driven at work.
  • Career progression is limited – It can be a bittersweet reason to leave, but if your ambitions can't be achieved in your current workplace or you feel like you've progressed as far as you can there, you may be ready for more responsibility and challenges in a new job.

Ultimately, you'll know in your gut if you're ready to apply for new jobs. But, if you feel happy, comfortable and motivated in your workplace (which we hope you will be!), you can stay there for however long you wish.

Are you happy with the salary you've been offered in your first job? Find out what the average graduate salary is for your degree.

Jessica Murray

WRITTEN BY Jessica Murray

As an Editor of Save the Student, Jessica Murray has written extensively on student money news and money-saving tips. She was co-host of our podcast, No More Beans, and is now a journalist at the Guardian. Her tips and insights range from fun guides for freshers, to information for graduates entering the workplace.
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