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Article: Your First Job - How to be a Success


'Your First Job - How to be a Success' gives you some tips on getting off to the best possible start in your first job, from coping well with that daunting first day to establishing a good reputation in the important first few weeks.

The article highlights things that you should be aware of, such as office politics and organisational culture, and gives advice on preparing for your first appraisal.

Your first job

You've completed the application form, wowed them at the interview, your referees didn't let you down and you're in!

What happens next - how successful you are, how much you enjoy the job and what you get out of it - depends very much on how well prepared you are and your attitude towards your work.

Your performance and the impression you make when you first start work can be crucial to your career success.

The first day

The first day at work can be very much like your first day at school: exciting but probably the cause of anxiety and a few sleepless nights before the day arrives. Here are some tips to help make the first day go smoothly and successfully:

  • Being early creates a good impression (aim to be about 10-15 minutes early), so plan your route to work and estimate the time it will take to get there (allowing time for delays). If you are late (and in reality, certain things are beyond your control), don't panic. Apologise clearly, once only, to the appropriate people and then put it out of your mind. You're going to have a lot to learn during the day, so you need to be calm and attentive.
  • Introduce yourself - not everyone will know that you're a new member of staff. Again, this will create a good impression and also help you to find out who's who.
  • Follow the dress code. When you came for the interview, you'd probably have been smart but the everyday dress code may be more relaxed. If in doubt, it's always best to be on the smart side.
  • Ask questions if you don't know how to do something or if you need to find something. Always be polite, though, and aware if you are interrupting someone's work. Don't feel inadequate by asking - it's the only way to learn.
  • Make notes. Write things down so you don't have to ask the same question twice.
  • Don't pretend you know something when you don't - it'll only come back to haunt you!
  • Don't be frustrated or disheartened if you don't actually get to do any work. In an office job, for example, you'll probably spend most of the day meeting people, doing paperwork, being shown how to fill in timesheets, learning how to use the telephone system and getting a password for your computer.

The first few weeks

If there's anything about your job that you don't understand, ask the appropriate person as soon as possible.

You may already have a written job description; if you haven't, or if the description isn't as clear as you'd like it to be, get together with your manager to discuss your role and responsibilities.

However, it's also important to show that you're willing to help other people if they ask you to - don't refuse because what they want you to do isn't in your job description.

The first few weeks at work are very important for making the right impression and laying the foundations for a successful career.

There are a few things you should develop when you start work; these will help you throughout your career.

  • Time management and organisational skills: learn how to prioritise tasks, organise your desk or work place, deal with interruptions and meet deadlines.
  • Communication skills: listening to and showing that you understand what others tell you, asking questions, explaining what you want clearly and concisely.
  • Interpersonal skills: building a good relationship with your colleagues, dealing with conflict, learning how to say no to extra work, providing good customer service.

Induction programmes and mentors

A good employer will prepare a thorough induction programme for you. The length and content of induction programmes vary but they often cover things like:

  • How your job fits in with other activities of the organisation.
  • Meeting the people you'll be working with.
  • Becoming familiar with your organisation's main products, services and/or activities.
  • Finding out who your customers are.
  • Learning how to use the computer and telephone systems.
  • Introducing your own work.

In some organisations, your manager will ask someone to act as your mentor. This will usually be an experienced member of staff who will give you support, guidance and help, often for a certain period of time, such as your first six months.

Your mentor will usually be the first person you approach to ask a question about any aspect of the organisation, although you'll need to bear in mind that they will also have their own work to do.

The culture of your organisation

Each organisation has its own 'culture', meaning a set of values, beliefs, rules and ways of doing things. Unfortunately, these things are often unspoken and you may not be able to find them written down anywhere.

As you work, you need to spend some time observing and thinking about your organisation's culture and its management style. Here are some things to find out about:

  • Openness and sharing information - is information freely available, for example, through regular team meetings or newsletters? Is the manager easily approachable to ask a question or to discuss an issue that concerns you? Can anyone suggest a new idea or contribute to solving a problem, or can only certain people do this?
  • Mistakes: do individuals get the blame for mistakes? Or is there a 'blame-free' culture, where the whole organisation shares responsibility for what goes wrong and the emphasis is on learning from mistakes and putting the new knowledge into practice?
  • Training and development: is training encouraged? Will people tell you about training opportunities and relevant qualifications you could work towards? Or will it fall to you to identify the training you need and argue your case for receiving it?
  • Equal opportunities: does the organisation have a written policy of equal opportunities for everyone (regardless of things like race, gender, sexuality, age and disability) and is it carried out in reality?

There may be things you don't like about your organisation's culture, but you have to understand it before you can make suggestions to change it.

Understanding the culture will help you make decisions, such as whether it's all right to go into the boss's office to make a suggestion about something.

Office politics

You should also be aware of 'office politics' - the real (often unspoken) way that power works within the organisation (not just in offices).

At its worst, office politics can include favouritism (when a manager promotes or praises someone for reasons other than how good they are at their job), secrecy, resentment of success, and making someone's working life difficult for them by denying them the information or equipment they need.

At best (although it can still be very annoying and harmful), it may involve gossip, rumours and squabbles between individuals or departments.

The best way to handle office politics is to acknowledge that it exists, although it shouldn't. Be as professional as possible and let the quality of your work speak for itself.

Your first appraisal

In many organisations, your performance will be formally assessed or appraised. Your first appraisal may take place at the end of a probationary period, for example, after six months. Many organisations have regular appraisals for all staff, such as once or twice a year.

Try not to be worried and defensive - an appraisal should be the opportunity for honest, positive communication between you and your manager, rather than a 'judgement' on your work.

Think of it as a discussion rather than an interview. In the appraisal, together you should:

  • Recognise your skills, abilities and achievements.
  • Overcome any difficulties: what do you think didn't go so well? Why do you think that was, and what training or equipment would help you to be more effective in the future?
  • Set challenging but realistic goals to achieve before your next appraisal.
  • Discuss your motivation and job satisfaction.

After your appraisal, ideally your manager should give you a written record of the discussion and any outcomes, such as the goals you've set and the training you'll need to achieve them.

No longer the 'new recruit'

Sometimes, the feeling of being 'new' can last quite a long time, especially if there's a lot to learn in your job.

You may not recognise that this feeling has faded until a new member of staff joins the organisation, and you find yourself answering their questions and showing them around.

Then, you may want to remember what you felt like on your first day, and use the experience to ease some of their confusion and anxiety.

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