If you’ve just graduated, you’re preparing for a whole new life adjustment: an adventure of a lifetime that’s both exciting and scary. New norms and expectations may seem foreign, and if you don’t have someone helping you — like a parent or a mentor — a journey into the unknown is even more daunting.
I coach recent graduates regularly, particularly those in STEM fields and who have graduate degrees, and I see a lot of anxiety surrounding this new chapter. Newly minted grads worry about not fitting in at the office, coming across as incapable, and having their opinions get lost in the shuffle.
These concerns are valid for anyone starting a new job, regardless of age or experience. That’s why “imposter syndrome” is a term we hear so often. This manifests as thoughts such as “Do I really belong here?” and “What if my colleagues find out that I don’t?” Everyone faces worries from time to time — even your new boss. But here’s the important thing: By shifting your thinking and actions, you can make a lasting impression as you begin delivering real value.
Putting Your Worst Work-Related Fears to Bed
Mastering work ethic means recognizing and meeting — or better yet, flying above — expectations. That said, understanding what your new boss expects is key to making the best impression. And believe it or not, your boss shares similar worries: She, too, hopes you’re going to fit in, perform well, and be heard.
Below are the top four concerns I see among employers and young employees — as well as ways to address them:
Concern No. 1: Professionalism
Employers expect you to be on time, dressed in proper attire, and communicate as if you’re in an office (not out with your friends on the weekend). Before your first day, research the company dress code to ensure your attire makes the cut. Every person you meet will develop an impression of you in literally seconds, so appearances are important.
Of course, professional behavior matters just as much. For meetings, plan on arriving early — not just on time — and come prepared with a notepad and a well-thought-out agenda. Some teams use laptops or tablets during meetings, so pay attention and match behavior. But remember, laptops in meetings are for working on those issues, so refrain from checking social media or answering messages. You want to be focused and engaged, so ask intelligent questions and offer solutions.
Concern No. 2: Work Management
Time is money, and deadlines aren’t negotiable like they were in college. When you’re assigned a project, ask for both an ideal and absolute deadline. Then, write those dates down and use your calendar — it’s not anyone’s job to follow up on them. Plan to-do lists for the day and a list of weekly goals to keep you on track, and provide a status update for your boss before she asks for one. Otherwise, she may think you haven’t worked on it at all.
And remind yourself that asking for help is OK! Tell co-workers or managers what you’ve tried, and they’ll advise from there.
Concern No. 3: Communication
An office runs on solid communication, but every office will have its own nuances of how information gets shared. Ask what the norms are: Do people prefer phone calls, emails, or texts? Keep written communication brief and proofread everything before sending.
Also, make sure you can differentiate between a subject that warrants in-person conversation and one that warrants an email. Sensitive or important topics are best said verbally. And yes, you will have to pick up the phone sometimes, so if that makes you nervous, start practicing with friends now.
Concern No. 4: Initiative
Your new boss wants to see you go the extra mile. She doesn’t want to request things that should naturally be part of your role. The solution here is simple: Be proactive. Identify tasks that require completion or processes that could use improvements. Then, ask if you can help make a difference.
Make it a priority to meet others outside your department to collaborate on projects. You can even ask your boss who’s important to know. And if you want to really blow away your team and boss, ask for feedback on how to improve.
New situations are always scary, and this one takes the cake. But you’ve worked hard for this moment, and with a little work, you’ll be more than prepared. Seek out and meet your manager’s expectations, step outside your comfort zone, and be intentional in all that you do. Strong work ethic will quickly develop.
About the Guest Post Author:
Loriana Sekarski is founder and president of BONSAI, a consulting company that transforms leaders (and businesses) into the best versions of themselves. As a leadership coach, Loriana teaches leaders how to hone soft skills, spur workplace engagement, and achieve untapped levels of potential. Outside of BONSAI, Loriana serves as an adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis’ graduate student program. Additionally, she’s fine-tuning her passion project, TakeFlight, a program that addresses domestic abuse within the Christian community.