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15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My First Job

Emily Hanson
Emily Hanson
7 min read

So it’s finally time. Perhaps you’ve just left college, or you’ve graduated. You’ve got the job offer, HR have you all signed up, and your first day is next week. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, and you’re pretty sure you’re ready. 

One thing - though. You’ve never actually had one of these job things before. Perhaps you have a bunch of questions on how to behave, or maybe you’re not quite sure of the etiquette of work. Don’t fret - we’ve got you covered.

Here are 15 things we wish we’d known when we first joined the big old world of work, to save you the energy, or maybe even embarrassment! Good luck!

1. Familiarise yourself with your job role and expectations

While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s worth getting an overall gauge of what you’re going to be doing in your new role. You are likely to be gradually introduced to your responsibilities, but it’s good to have an overall view of your job expectations from the off. This will be particularly helpful when you’re introducing yourself to new colleagues! 

2. You would have been sent a welcome email - read it!

Depending on the size of your new employer, it’s likely that you will have been sent a bulk of HR information. This will include your contract, as well as anything you need to prep for your first day. It’s really easy to scan over this, but read it carefully! Nothing feels worse than arriving at your desk to find out you were supposed to bring your passport, a DBS check and a recent photo of yourself.

3. On that note, make sure you read your contract.

Ah contracts. They might seem like dull reading, but contracts are incredibly important. They don’t just outline the more exciting parts, like your annual leave entitlement and salary, but they also stipulate things like your working hours, how you go about getting overtime, and your sickness arrangements. This is important stuff that you don’t want to miss out on. Equally, reading a contract before you accept a role can alert you to important red flags. If you’re unsure about your rights, or something in your contract feels a little unusual, you can access free advice from ACAS: https://www.acas.org.uk/advice. 

4. Protect your data

And your IP - even for things you do outside of work. If you’re working on a work laptop or server, know that there is every chance your employer will own what you create. An employer writes their contract in a specific way to protect themselves - so even if you're not doing something for them, if it’s done during work hours or on their premises, they may own the intellectual property for it!

5. Be careful about discussing your work, even within your own company

While it might seem like a no-brainer to share what you’re up to at work, think carefully. Company actions aren’t always public knowledge, and this is especially true if you're working on an important project and have signed an NDA. Disclosing important information outside the company (or sometimes even within it) could put your job at risk. If you’re unsure, don’t share it.

6. The company values and guidelines are there for a reason.

Remember that random link at the end of your welcome email? Click on it - it’s probably taking you to a page outlining your company’s values. These are likely to be fairly standard, and don’t worry, every company has a legal requirement to ascribe to the Equality Act (2010), so there’s nothing to be concerned about. Saying this, your company may have particular connections to other organisations, unions, or political parties — so make sure you’re familiar with them. It’ll save you accidental slip-ups in the long run!

7. Plan out a really brief summary of who you are, and what has brought you to the role.

Chances are, you’re going to meet a lot of new people when you first start. They’ll likely want to know a bit about you, how you got into the role, and where you’ve been previously. It can be a bit overwhelming facing these questions when you’re new, so it might help to have a roughly planned outline of yourself. This way, you’re nicely prepared!

8. Don’t be scared of making mistakes

If you make a mistake - take control of solving it and how you'll improve next time. Remember it's not about the mistake, it's how you react to a mistake that matters. Your manager or the people around you may be focused on the mistake in the short term, but the key questions you need to walk away with are: 1) How could I avoid this in the future and 2) What could I help others with to ensure this mistake is minimised rather than: Who can I blame?

9. Write down the names of people you meet, and their role

On this note, you’ll likely meet a *lot* of people when you first start working. While it might feel like a wave of endless faces, you may well need to contact these folk at some point. When you get a chance, take a note of the new names and faces, as well as their role. It’ll help with your memory when the time comes, as trying to hold all the new info in at once is hard to do. This will also help you with networking and connecting across departments in the future. Keep looking for ways to connect the dots around you. What does someone else do? What do other teams do? If you see silos, how could you bring them together on a small project? Know what other teams do - better than anyone else around you.

10. Prepare yourself for emergency tax

Oh, emergency tax. You’ve worked out your take-home pay, prepped for that cheeky Domino's at the end of the month, and then wham. Emergency tax. If you’re new to the work of work, this can sometimes happen, and is simply a result of you not having a previous tax code for the accounting department to work off —- and while it’s very common and will be sorted out in the following pay slip, it can be very annoying indeed. So be prepared to potentially receive a little less than expected in that first month.

11. Your role is not your *only* role

Your role is NOT your only option within your company. If comfortable, keep looking for ways to take on more responsibility, learning, growing, and making yourself more valuable. This is especially great if it helps the company - ask for forgiveness not permission when it comes to this. 

12. Get to know your manager’s manager

Always, ALWAYS (did I mention always?) create a relationship with your manager's manager - to get advice, discuss your career, or even get some mentoring... It can make a huge difference to how you understand the company and also how different people think about where the company is going.

13. Organise your workspace 

You might find balance in the chaos, but having an unorganised workspace in a shared office or workshop won’t go down too well. Whether you’re software engineering or working in healthcare, keeping your work tidy and well organised helps others, and shows that you’re considerate of everyone around you.

14. Polish up your LinkedIn and/or social media accounts  

You heard us. While you have every right to an online presence, it might be worth thinking carefully about what you share online, particularly if it has the potential to offend an employer. Your new manager might not appreciate seeing your TikTok videos that share your love for Tesco as the most supreme supermarket if you’re off to start a grad scheme at Asda. If you wouldn’t want a manager to see it, it’s probably best to set your accounts to private, or better yet, not to share controversial stuff in the first place. 

15. Don’t trash talk your previous employer or place of education, if you have one

Oh boy, is it tempting to share your relief to be somewhere new, especially if you weren’t happy where you were before. You may even be asked by new colleagues what your previous employer was like. Just remember, though: one day, this employer will become your previous employer — and managers or senior staff may get a little bit of a red flag if you have very negative things to say about your last job. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing negative experiences in confidence with managers, for example, previous workplace bullying or harassment,  just make sure you do so sensitively — probably not one for the break room.

Getting to grips with a new role can be overwhelming, but remember, everyone has been the new person before. So, embrace the newness, and remember, check you’re not drinking from someone else’s personalised mug! 

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