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Navigate Your First Job

Career transitions are all about change. They provide a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow – developing enhanced knowledge of a particular field and expanded experience in successfully navigating work environments. Whether you have just graduated or are a mid-career professional, transitions offer the benefits and exciting challenges of new surroundings, colleagues, and responsibilities.

One of the best ways to make your transition smooth and productive is to have a firm understanding of your skills, goals, work and learning styles, and professional strengths and weaknesses. Purposeful reflection supports continuous self-awareness as well as the ability to assess and learn from past experiences. This knowledge is important in all stages of career development and especially at times of transition. It is the foundation for embracing new professional responsibilities and relationships with confidence and curiosity, and for building strong work competencies for the future.

Integrating into a New Workplace

The feeling of being the “new employee” will last only a short time; your new accomplishments and growing professional relationships will begin to integrate you fully into the organization. To support a seamless transition, take the time initially to observe workplace etiquette and norms (how business is conducted, how colleagues interact with each other, how co-workers dress, etc.); it’s important to understand and feel comfortable with the culture of your new surroundings. Maintain flexibility and a willingness to learn, collaborate, and both lead and follow. Being timely, respectful, honest, positive and discreet will demonstrate your integrity and quickly establish trust with colleagues, whether you are working independently or as part of a team.

Tips for a Successful Transition

Maximize learning

Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your colleagues and consider and embrace the value of their diverse opinions, perspectives, and approaches. Find out what has and has not worked before at the organization as you problem-solve within your own responsibilities. You might also seek formal and informal opportunities for professional training and education within and outside of your workplace; perhaps your organization offers courses, seminars or the chance to attend conferences. In addition, consider volunteering for tasks or be willing to take on new responsibilities as needed to expand your understanding of your work and make new connections within the organization.

Learn more about your industry

Join professional associations – organizations that bring together individuals with a common career interest – to meet people, share information and remain up-to-date in your field. 

Network within your field

Get to know colleagues as well as individuals in related areas to enhance your career development. Remember that you can also build mentor relationships with individuals you trust to provide guidance and direction in your work and support you as you learn. In addition, you might consider acting as a mentor for someone else!

Develop a good working relationship with your supervisor

Supervision is a critical component of any position – to receive performance feedback, check progress of new and on-going projects, and share suggestions, strategies, and information to move your work forward. Supervision is based within a professional interpersonal relationship and every supervisor has his or her own style. Take time to become familiar with your supervisor’s approach so that your interactions will be positive and constructive.

Clarify your supervisor’s expectations and discuss any support you might need. Set goals and priorities with your supervisor based on your job’s responsibilities and establish time lines that are mutually effective. Seek feedback from your supervisor and incorporate constructive criticism into your professional activities. You should also take a proactive role in helping your supervisor to work well with you by providing information about your progress, demonstrating initiative, and contributing ideas that add to the overall success of the organization. 

Adjusting to Your First Professional Position Post-College

Congratulations on your transition from student to employee! During college you developed effective skills and strategies to fulfill responsibilities in your many roles. At work, you will use or modify those skills and develop others to meet new challenges and expectations. Graduates report that they encounter the following differences when transitioning into the workplace:

  • New pace of work
  • More decision-making in managing time, priorities, and daily schedule
  • Greater mix of daily work responsibilities, including some mundane but essential tasks
  • New forms of feedback on performance and progress
  • Different time frames for vacation and free time
  • Variety of new decisions about maintaining and managing work/life balance
  • New set of demands on finances
  • Need to make changes in online presence consistent with professional norms

Alumni Spotlight: Ilyana Rosenberg '12

Ilyana graduated from Brandeis in May 2012 with a Bachelor's degree in Health: Science, Society, and Policy and a minor in Business. She is currently working as a Consulting Associate at Hayes Management Consulting in Newton, MA.

Read her blog post: "How to Effectively Transition into the Professional World."