How New Grads Can Impress at Work

You've settled in. Now it's time to shine.

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Alison Green
With spring graduations several months behind us, many new grads are settling into new jobs and learning to navigate office life—and finding it more challenging than they expected.

Here are eight tips for impressing when you're new on the job:

1. First and foremost, have your act together. Stay on top of things, be responsive, don't let things fall through the cracks, and do what you say you're going to do. It sounds simple, but paying attention to the basics is the foundation of making a good impression. If you don't do this, nothing else will matter.

2. Pay attention to how things work around you. Even if your own job is relatively limited, take the opportunity to absorb more information about your field and the business world in general. If you pay attention to things even if they don't directly involve you—such as meetings that might otherwise be boring—you'll increase your knowledge and, eventually, your value.

3. Get really clear on your priorities. Know what you'd need to accomplish to have a successful week, month, or year, and put your biggest focus on those items. Don't fall into the trap of getting sidetracked by less important items because they're easy or fun. This can be the difference between achieving a lot, or having a track record that's merely mediocre.

4. Pay attention to mistakes—yours and other people's. Mistakes can be huge learning opportunities. Don't just correct them and move on; instead, if you figure out where they came from and how they could be avoided, you'll equip yourself to do better work in the future.

5. Pay attention to what kinds of questions your boss asks. By watching for patterns in what your manager asks or seems worried about, you can often draw larger messages about the sorts of things that she'll care about in the future. And if you learn to anticipate those things in advance and address them before she has to ask, your value as an employee will go way up.

6. Ask for feedback. Proactively seek out feedback from your manager about where you're doing well and what you could do better. And while it might sting at times, remember to value the critical feedback the most, because that's what will help you improve.

7. Pay attention to the people you respect and try to figure out why you respect them. Is it their expertise, their diplomacy, their ability to deliver difficult news? Watch how they do it, so that you can do it too. And when you don't respect someone, try to figure out why that is as well. Doing this will teach you a ton about how you want to operate in the workplace yourself.

8. Find a mentor in your office. This doesn't have to be a formal relationship with an official "mentor" label; it can simply be a more experienced co-worker who you click with naturally. Regularly talking with someone more experienced can give you a broader perspective on office life, help you navigate tricky situations, and succeed faster.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.