This is a guest post by Vicky Oliver
new jobA new study found that 2014 college grads face a challenging job market–and may end up having to take a low-quality job to start with. (Here’s the link.) But whether your starter job will put you on the path to your dream job or not, there are some basic, informal rules of behavior that every new employee needs to learn.
Here are some classic mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Acting like a “temp” worker.

You have a BA in Marketing and Communications, but the only job you could find was assistant manager in a retail clothing store at the mall. Is this your dream job? Absolutely not, and you let your coworkers (but not your supervisor) know how you feel. The classic rookie mistake here is doing exactly what you’re asked to do but nothing more, with little curiosity or intellectual investment.

If you truly believe you have nothing to learn from this job, then you’re going to have a really hard time when you do find a job that’s more aligned with your career goals. Tap into your expertise, and learn about this company’s marketing and advertising. Step outside your comfort zone, and ask about floor design, customer satisfaction metrics, or employee retention. Show your supervisor that you’re interested in the business, and see what kinds of challenging tasks or interesting industry information pop up. There’s no such thing as a “worthless job.”


Mistake #2: Forgetting the 4Cs of etiquette.

You don’t live in a dorm anymore, and the workplace isn’t an extension of your social network. Millennials at a starter job tend to forget that a job, even if it’s fun or casual, is still a place where there are unspoken norms of behavior and decorum.

A quick way to make a good impression is to follow my 4Cs of etiquette: Courtesy, Consideration, Camaraderie, and Class. Be extremely polite; use “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Excuse me.” Don’t interrupt others, and try to listen more than talk. Keep your voice low and your cell phone on vibrate. Do everything you can to assist coworkers. And be a model of good hygiene and classy dress.


Mistake #3: Ignoring the people part of the job.

You were hired for your computer skills, not your people skills, you figure. So you go to work each day and do what’s asked of you in the best, most efficient way you know how. That’s great, but do you know the name of all the senior people in the business, and who works under them? Come to think of it, do you even know the names and jobs of all the people working next to you?

Find out who runs each department, and learn the names and titles of everyone at the workplace. As a new employee, this will save you potential embarrassment when discussing work-related issues with both your higher-ups and colleagues. Learn who the “go-to” person is on each team. (Often this has little to do with his or her title.) Once you figure out who’s who in your office, do your due diligence on the client side as well. This will make you a more effective and efficient employee.


Mistake #4: Being too passive and mousy.

You’re in the real world now and, frankly, it feels intimidating. Everyone seems to know more than you do. The stuff you learned in college doesn’t help much with the tasks your manager expects you to perform. So you suffer in silence. You feel shy. You don’t speak up in meetings. And you try to figure things out on your own, lest others realize how uptight you feel. The office bully seems to be eyeing you–you have a target on your back!

Guess what? Almost everyone at your job felt just like you did when you started. No one expected you to know everything. In fact, your boss and coworkers are waiting for you to ask questions. This shows that you are curious and want to learn. There’s no shame in saying, “Hey, I’m a bit lost. Would you mind explaining this concept a bit more so I can understand?” The smartest people in your company are those who know they have a lot to learn.


Mistake #5: Trying too hard to be liked.

At school, you were known as the funniest guy in the room–famous for your pranks, jokes, and general good cheer. So the first month of your job you make it a point to go out to the local pub with everyone in your department at least once. You bring boxes of donuts in every Friday. You make irreverent jokes to get people to not be so serious.

It’s great to be popular, but it’s better to be respected in a work situation. Especially at new jobs, oversocializing and too much people pleasing can really backfire. You don’t know enough about office politics–who’s shaping the culture, which people gossip, who has the most informal power and influence, and who might feel envious or competitive with you. It’s better to be observant and quietly charming in the beginning. That way, you won’t find yourself allied with the wrong people, pigeon-holed as a party animal, or disliked by key coworkers.


About the Guest Post Author:
Vicky Oliver ( is a Manhattan-based job interview consultant, and the bestselling author of five career development books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions. She’s been featured and interviewed widely in the business media, including Fox News, Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Forbes, Fortune, CareerBuilder, and many others. Learn more career and workplace tips at

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