How to Nail Your First 90 Days on a Job and Be a Great Hire

Barry Lenson

Career AdviceThe good news is, you just got your first job after college. The bad news is, you might not have it for long.

Over just the last few weeks, I have heard these stories . . .

  • “I got a job, but it turns out to be more of a screening thing than a promise of long-term employment,”  says a 2012 college grad who is now working at an investment bank. “The bank told us flat out that only about half of our `class’ of eight hires will be retained after next summer. So we’re all scrapping and working endless hours and weekends so we can be among the chosen few.”
  • “My son got a job at the bank where he interned last summer, he got excited, and then he got fired after two weeks,” says a mother of another 2012 college grad. “Now he’s living in an apartment with four other guys and tending bar.”

Stories like those tell me that more and more companies are not hiring in good faith.  It seems funny, since some companies invest a lot of money to train interns, then show them the door. I don’t know exactly why that is the case. Perhaps they believe that it is less expensive to fire people quickly than it is to keep the “wrong” hires on the payroll for several years.

But the question for today is, how can you hang onto that first job you get after you finish college? Here are some strategies to use . . .

  • Put away your digital devices. All your buds are texting you about their new jobs. (“OMG my boss is such a DWEEB”) Although it’s tempting to hide your smartphone under your desk and join in the stream of messages, DON’T.  Nothing is invisible and your new supervisors are going to know what you are up to. If you want to blow off steam, meet your friends after work and gripe all you want. But don’t try to sneak in messaging during working hours.
  • Endure dumb training without a whimper. Although you could be exposed to some good learning materials and training during your first weeks and months, you can also expect to encounter some really dumb stuff. You might be looking fondly back on your college years when your instructors, course materials, and classes were a whole lot better. You have to suck it up, look enthusiastic, and do your best.
  • Listen five times more than you talk.  The same skills that your professors adored when you were in class – your eagerness to raise your hand, your ability to come up with that “great idea,” your way of getting a laugh from the class – will kill you fast. In the “real world,” the people who are training and supervising you want to give you the answers, not the other way around. So keep your mouth shut and listen. If you a have great idea to make the company work a lot better bide your time, because chances are that hundreds of people have tried it already. If you try to “wow” people during your first days in a job, your new bosses are going to say, “Wow, why did we hire this kid?”
  • Don’t complain about dumb assignments. You wrote a senior thesis about the Industrial Revolution in Latvia and graduated first in your department? And now you got your first job in merchandising and you are ferrying boxes of shoes to a warehouse in Secaucus. Well, welcome to the real world. It’s frustrating, but just get the job done and show your great work ethic. Don’t roll your eyes, gripe to other new hires, or slump in your chair to show how horribly you are being underutilized. Remember, nothing you say or do is ever hidden.
  • Don’t let them see you sweat. Your new job could mean going home at 2:00 A.M. after a 16-hour work day. If that happens, your job is to sleep, shower, and then show up the next day looking fresher than everybody else. Only the tough will survive the first year. How can looking exhausted possibly help you?
  • Get your clothes cleaned and pressed.  With a tight budget, you probably can't invest a lot of money in a big wardrobe or spend hundreds of dollars a month on dry cleaning. But you can iron clothes before you head off to work. Arriving at work in a skirt or slacks that looks like a washboard won't add to your image.
  • Watch what you eat. If you have to work until the wee hours – like, every day – the company will often bring in food or give you a dinner allowance.  If food is brought in, don’t descend on it like a wolverine. Take a small plate back to your desk and keep working. If you and your team head out to dinner on the company tab, order a healthy entrée like a salad or a lean piece of fish. What you eat is part of your professional image. If you have steak stuffed with Gorgonzola followed by chocolate mousse cake with whip cream on it, word will get around. Gaining 25 pounds in your fist year on the job is a no-no too.
  • If you’re a smoker, quit now.  Don’t ever be one of those employees who stand in front of the company entrance sending up a noxious cloud of tobacco vapors. Don’t smoke in the parking garage and imagine that nobody is going to smell the cigarettes on you when you get back to your floor – people will be on to you.  If you smoke, your new job offers you an incentive to quit today, cold turkey.
  • Nix the romantic urges. Chances are that you are going to encounter some attractive new people on the job. (Then again, maybe not . . . ) But if you do, remember that the “rules of romantic engagement” are different in a company than they were on campus. In college you could flirt more, walk up to somebody and try to take it all to the next level, without incurring crippling damage from it. At work, forget it. The best strategy? Keep romance part of your personal life, if you have any time for a personal life that is. Do everything you can to keep it away from your place of employment. 

In Summary . . . 

Some of the advice we’ve dished out here today is a bit hard to take. We’re sorry if we “roughed you up” with it.  But if you take even a little of it and put it to good use, we’re willing to predict that in 12 months, or 18, or more, you are still going to have that new job that you worked so hard to get.

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