Millennials: 6 Tips No One Tells You At Your 1st Job

Millennials: 6 Tips No One Tells You At Your 1st Job

By Carter Severns

First off, I am a millennial. I graduated from college about 3 years ago, and have worked in exceedingly different work environments. Below are some of the lessons that I learned through taking these steps myself, and this post exists to help you learn the unspoken expectations of a new college grad coming into their first job. These are things they don’t tell you in college, and that your manager most likely won’t say to you out loud, either.

However, in my experience, I feel that these tips transcend just the starting of your first job. I believe it holds true for starting any new job.

To put things into perspective a bit more, I’ll define the different work environments I have been exposed to in order to give an understanding of how I’ve come up with these guidelines.

Agency Life

If you know anything about advertising/marketing agency life you know that it is fast-paced, four letter words & a work-hard-play-hard environment. Your workload can drastically change with one quick email from a client. You get taken to all night drinking events with vendors and still show up at 9 AM with a double espresso from the local coffee shop where the barista knows you by name.

You get to wear a t-shirt and a hat to work, but in exchange you might be walking out the door at 10 PM on some nights. It is just the nature of this job, and most people know that when they walk through the door.

Corporate Life

This is the more mainstream type of company in a similar space but employs mostly people from my parents generation, the baby boomers. Compared to the agency life, this job is everything opposite. It is slow moving, laid back & family-oriented.

Don’t get me wrong, this type of company is extremely successful, they just go about their business in a different way. You dress business casual, but you leave at 5 everyday and typically never feel the stress of a major data report asked for at 4pm.

By working in both of these environments, I have learned the expected (but unspoken) behavior of a college grad/new hire from both older management and younger management. There are a few things you need to know that you might not pick up on until you’ve already ticked off your co-workers:

1. Keep Your Mouth Shut

First and foremost, no one likes the new guy that wants to correct everyone. I don’t think I need to explain that any further.

But beyond that, this also applies from a social perspective. Don’t share your extreme political opinions and keep your sense of humor to yourself. Odds are, people haven’t figured out your sense of humor yet. You don’t want to offend your co-workers by spouting a bunch of your personal beliefs that they may not agree with. I’m not saying to abandon what you believe in or support, but here is the real point:

Unlike other situations in life, this is one place where you don’t have the luxury of choosing to surround yourself with people who have similar beliefs as you. You don’t want to alienate someone you have to sit by for 8 hours a day. Being that you’re a newbie, you’ll probably need their help to get up to speed. Which leads me to #2.

2. Ask Questions

Everyone was new to their job at some point, and everyone had to ask questions to learn. Your manager or co-workers should expect you to ask questions. In fact, if you aren’t asking questions they will probably suspect that you are doing things wrong or that you don’t care enough to ask.

Once you accept that you have to ask questions, there is right way and a wrong way to go about it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t ask the same question multiple times, ask once and remember the answer. If you have to ask the same question again, find someone else to ask.
  • Don’t just mindlessly spout out a question every time you get stumped. Try to solve it yourself first before going to ask. A good manager will immediately ask what you think the answer is instead of just giving it you. So, when your manager asks what you think the solution is, you better have thought it through first.
  • Don’t relentlessly ask back-to-back questions. Write them all down, then ask your manager or co-worker when they have a few minutes to go through them with you. No one likes being interrupted twice an hour to answer questions.

3. Say Yes

This applies to pretty much any situation you can think of, well sort of, but we won’t go there. Whether work-related or purely social, say yes. From a work perspective: say yes to taking on new projects, attending optional training & staying late to help meet a deadline. Doing these things will show your flexibility & commitment to the job.

From a social perspective: say yes to going out for drinks after work, going to lunch with the team or attending a housewarming party. Even if this is outside your comfort zone, you want to create a bond with your team. In my experience, the best bonding moments will always happen outside the office.

4. Proofread EVERYTHING

This goes beyond proofreading your emails, proofread your email recipients too. I learned this one the hard way.

I was creating a music playlist for an upcoming office event and wanted to get feedback from some people who were planning the event. My client and one of the event planners have the same first name. I sent a link to the playlist to the wrong Amanda. Of course, this could have been way worse, as my client just laughed and jokingly said she “Couldn’t wait to check it out!”

Again, this could have been much worse. I have heard plenty of horror stories of this happening with much more sensitive email content.

5. Get Feedback

This is a big one. I’ve written blogs before about the importance of feedback and how I believe it is essential for positive, forward movement and growth. Here are 2 ways to get the feedback you need:

  • Find a mentor.
    Meaning anyone who has been at the company longer than you and is willing to assume this role. But most importantly, someone who will be brutally honest in their feedback. And as is a continuing trend within this post, ask for job performance feedback as well as social feedback. It is easy to not pick up on social cues when you first start a job. This person should be willing to share these insights with you.
  • Have a career conversation with your manager.
    Tell them what you want to accomplish within a certain timeframe. That can be a promotion, learning/training goals, presentation skills, etc. Then work together to create a list of smaller, short-term goals that will position you to meet your larger goals. Follow this up with regular check-ins with your manager to assess your performance.

6. Observe Behavior

This is the best way to figure out how you should act in your office. Read emails that you are copied on but aren’t being sent specifically to you. For example, if your manager sends an email to a client or another internal supervisor and you are copied on the thread, pay attention to how they communicate. The same goes for face-to-face communication around the office or on conference calls.

In addition to these main 6, here is a list of quick tips that I also felt the need to include:

  • NEVER bring any kind of seafood to the office. You will smell up the whole place and your co-workers will probably go to HR over it.
  • Don’t chew gum if there is any chance you will be talking/presenting.
  • Keep napkins at your desk. You will inevitably spill something sooner or later. If you have napkins on hand, you might be able to clean it up before everyone sees it.
  • You are going to get volun-told to take on projects either way, so if one comes up that you are actually interested in just go ahead and volunteer for it. You’re gonna get stuck with something either way, why not do something that at least interests you.
  • Spend some of your time to make sure you keep learning. Find podcasts, blogs or articles about your industry and dedicate a little of your week to staying up to date.
  • Ask your mentor/manager what the unspoken policy is on the ‘reply all’ button in your emails. Some teams like to be copied on conversations in the event that someone is out of the office. Other teams pull their hair out when they constantly are copied on emails that don’t directly concern them.
  • If you are sitting down when meeting a new person, stand up to shake their hand. This is one that I noticed by watching others, and it is just a sign of respect. Plus sitting down while shaking someone’s hand is just poor body language.
  • Always reply to emails that are specifically to you, even if it doesn’t technically require a response. This lets the sender know that you received the email.


Have more to add? Feel free to leave it in the comments.


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