5 Common Missteps People Make At Their First Job (And How To Avoid Them)

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A person sitting at a white table being interviewed by a woman and a man in suits, as pictured from above

Common Job Mistakes

Whenever you enter a new situation, you might feel that there’s a well of unspoken knowledge everyone else seems to know. Especially at your first real job, it may seem like everyone but you knows how things function at the company. And to some degree, this is true; each workplace has a microculture that goes beyond the basic dress code requirements.

When you start working somewhere new, the learning curve can be overwhelming at first. It may feel like you’re making mistake after mistake, about to be fired… and that’s just during the first day. But it helps to keep in mind that everyone — everyone! even your boss, even the CEO — was once in your shoes. That means the people you work with will understand if you have a lot of questions, and they likely want to help you survive and thrive in the office.

When you start your first job, you want to become acclimated as quickly as possible. The sooner you know about common missteps (again, these are common, so you’re not the only one at risk of making them), the sooner you can get into the swing of things. Here are a few to look out for from the start:

Not Asking Questions

Those questions you have? Ask them! Tell your supervisor that you’ll have a lot of questions over the first few days, even questions that might seem very simple. You don’t want to miss any information or make assumptions, so ask them to please bear with you if the questions seem elementary. 

One helpful way to start is to ask what issues are “fatal,” or too serious to fix. For example, are there software backups that you have to ensure are done? What do you absolutely have to avoid? If you miss a day of backups, for example, how bad is that? Sometimes it helps to find out what would be considered terrible mistakes first because that gives you a boundary to start working with immediately. 

If you don’t ask, you risk making those mistakes. But if you know what to avoid, your going will be that much smoother, without the fatal mistakes.

Using the Dreaded ‘Reply All’

Be very, very careful not to use Reply All as a default response mode when replying to emails. Just don’t do it. Yes, there will be times when you’ll get group emails with several people attached who do need to see the replies. But if you get an office-wide email or are simply sending a thank-you or an acknowledgment, do not use Reply All. It clutters up email inboxes and wastes people’s time, engendering irritation across the office. And you don’t need that. 

A useful option, if you want only certain recipients to see the information in your reply to an office-wide email: Access your company’s cloud storage account, set up a folder containing the pertinent information, and make it accessible only to those people who need to see it. This can be a good solution for collaborating on all kinds of team projects, in fact. And you’ll never flood people’s inboxes with useless Reply Alls again!

Working Hard Instead of Smart 

First-timers don’t always know that they can delegate or share tasks, and they consequently end up taking on too much. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed! Set a precedent of asking for help when you need it, and offering help when you have extra bandwidth. Learning to delegate work, far from being lazy, can help maximize efficiency in your job and on your team.

No one knows that you need help if you never tell them. If your workload becomes too confusing, crowded, or heavy, that’s your time to speak up. Your supervisor needs to know. You won’t be able to work effectively if you are unable to finish everything or if you don’t understand the priorities. Too much work can lead to problems with psychological stress, too. 

Your supervisor should be able to redistribute some work or change your deadlines (or even help you figure out why you may feel overwhelmed when no one else seems that way). If your supervisor can’t or won’t help, talk to other co-workers and ask how they manage their time. 

Letting the Personal Outweigh the Professional

When you’re new on a job, it’s easy to miss the boundaries between life and work — but failing to keep the two separate can make for an uncomfortable workplace. For example, personal worries like getting calls from debt collectors or having to reconnect suspended utilities almost invariably will spill over into the headspace of your workday. Personal finance troubles can cost you both time and money, so make sure you monitor your credit and stick to your budget.

Another common first-job issue is oversharing about your personal life is not only inappropriate and unprofessional but also potentially hazardous. Especially in more conservative settings, co-workers may hold it against you. You don’t know who the office gossips are, or how they might use that information in the future.

Being Passive

It’s natural to hang back when you don’t know the lay of the land, and of course, it takes some time to figure out the learning curve in a new position. But before long, you should feel comfortable enough to start taking initiative within at least your own little domain. Impress your co-workers by getting on board with promoting the company, for example. Find out if you can keep some branded promotional items handy to present for appropriate networking occasions. 

Alternatively, you can ask around to find out how your team likes to receive feedback, then use that knowledge to make suggestions for refinements to processes or systems. Done judiciously, this tactic can seem like you’re interested and adding value to group endeavors, instead of criticizing out of turn.

Another proactive approach is to ask your supervisor if you can meet occasionally so you can receive and integrate feedback before your regular workplace evaluation. Tell them you’d like to be sure you’re on the right track and would appreciate any suggestions they might have. This will afford you a chance to adjust your work methods as you learn, which can make your transition into the workplace easier.

– Ann Lloyd and I’m a newly enrolled MBA grad student. She is getting her degree online and working as a marketing intern on the side. In her spare time, she is hard at work on the Student Savings Guide, her blog about living a budget-conscious life. The guide caters to students and recent grads, but anyone can use the tips to get by.

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