8 Job Tips for New Graduates

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This is a guest post by Anna Ivey, more on her at the end of this article.

The working world is a completely different beast from the college world, and the transition can be a bumpy one. There’s been a lot of talk about how Gen Yers demand meaningful responsibility on the job, and I’m all in favor of internships and starter jobs that offer opportunities for challenge and increased responsibility. However, you have to earn those things, and prove you can handle them.

I’ve also noticed a fundamental lack of respect by many twenty-somethings for the people they work for. That lack of respect can manifest itself in something as small as addressing an email or consistently refusing to follow — or even acknowledge — instructions. (And even if your boss is a drooling idiot, it’s in your interest not to reveal your contempt.)

The following eight tips might seem completely obvious to some people, but I’ve seen this behavior often enough that I’ll list the most common issues here, as simply and bluntly as I can.

1. Respect the English language.

If you can’t be bothered to spell properly when you’re writing to your boss or a customer, what does that say about you? We all fall victim to typos, and there are certainly different standards for text messages or wiki postings (or blog postings!) and more formal kinds of communications. But… ignoring the “shift” key altogether, when you’re writing to someone you’re supposed to impress? Not good. Same goes for proper grammar and precise vocabulary. Language is power. Don’t believe me? Read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (“the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts”).

2. Banish “hey.”

Banish “hey” from your written communications (and spoken communications, for that matter).

Your colleagues are not your BFF’s (“hey dwight”), or even your MySpace/Facebook friends. They might turn into friends, but don’t impose that casual familiarity unless and until the relationship warrants it. Posting a message on someone’s Facebook wall and writing an email to your boss are two completely different things. (I remember calling someone a few years back to offer him a job, and thinking how badly I wanted to retract the offer when he told me how “stoked” he was. Argh.)

3. Follow directions, and don’t make your boss ask twice.

If your boss asks you to put the customer name in a header for all of your project documents, don’t send him a document without the customer name in the header. Simple, right? And if your boss has to remind you, don’t make him remind you again.

4. Don’t ask for clarification of perfectly unambiguous instructions.

If you’re asked to get the TPS reports on your boss’s desk by the afternoon, don’t ask him, “When do I need to get you those reports?” Or if you’re asked to restrict your report to 5 pages, don’t send him an email asking, “Is that a hard limit?” Your boss’s time has value, and stupid questions tend to waste his time. (Contrary to the brainwashing you’ve received in school, there is such a thing as a stupid question.)

5. Just OK is not enough.

Every day that you show up at work is another day you need to justify your employment. If you’re not doing your best, why should they keep you? Your job is not pass/fail, and the job interview never really ends. Don’t wait until your first performance review to shape up.

6. Tell your parents to butt out.

Don’t ever — EVER — let your parents contact your employers. If you want to be respected as a mature, independent professional, act like one and leave mommy and daddy out of it. Expecting your employers to deal with your parents is beyond lame. They hired you — not your parents — and it’s not a package deal.

7. Get used to grunt work.

I don’t care how smart or “entrepreneurial” you are, or how impressed you are with yourself, or how great your parents think you are. When you’re starting out in the working world, you’re going to do a lot of grunt work. It’s the only way to learn the ropes, and nobody is above it. Nobody. If you think you deserve to be entrusted with matters of importance in a starter job, you have delusions of grandeur. Plus, true entrepreneurial types do plenty of grunt work, and they don’t complain about it, because they know it needs to get done if the overall project or venture is going to succeed.

8. Understand your role.

As long as you’re reporting to someone, understand that your job is to make her life easier, not the other way around.

Anna Ivey, a recovering lawyer, decided the fates of thousands of applicants as former dean of admissions at a top-ten law school and now works with high school students and twenty-somethings to help them make smart choices in school, at work, and in life. Anna has appeared on CNN and Fox News Channel, and has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Business Journal,, Smart Money, and Marie Claire. Anna speaks at colleges around the country and publishes The Ivey Files, a blog for twenty-somethings, the parents who love them, and the bosses who manage them. Learn more about Anna at

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “8 Job Tips for New Graduates”

  1. Anonymous says:

    number 1 is definitely important. People need to learn how to write (ok, so i didn’t use the shift key), especially if they do not have daily interface with the person who does your evals.

  2. Anna,

    I really enjoyed this post. I especially agree with point 1 because imprecise communication wastes lots of time. I once uncovered a modeling error that traced back to an email where the author omitted a crucial comma.

    I also agree with many of the other points, but I have a small criticism of point 7. I think it is the employer that is failing at motivating new employees. Yes, young people are arrogant, but I think employers do not communicate how grunt work is more of a “test” to gain trust. When you start your own business, it is very clear why the grunt work has to be done and motivation is not an issue.

  3. Money Socket says:

    I completely agree with number 7. I’m graduating from college in two months and I get the notion among my peers that they think life is going to be sweet immediately after college. Supposedly they are brilliant people, which they might be, but that doesn’t necessarily attract a stress free, high paying dream job. I know a person who graduated last year and she said she told another friend, who works as a bank teller, that she would never work at a bank and the only way she would “settle” for a bank job was if she was a branch manager. Half a year went by and now she’s asking if there are any openings at that branch.

    Needless to say, I feel too much entitlement mentalities among people my age. No one wants to sweat it out the old fashion way. Everyone wants to spring to the top and I believe this is related to our problem with consumerism and people purchasing things before they can afford it.

    Confidence is great, but no one likes a cocky newbie at the workplace. No matter how bright you are and even if you become the next Bill Gates, you better be humble and put in the work. Otherwise what they are saying in the news will be true, that Americans are slipping and employees overseas are becoming harder working, more successful, and more desirable.

  4. saladdin says:

    To number 3.

    I carry a notepad and pen at all times and write down everything. My boss likes long complicated reports/analysis and often forgets what all he asks for until he sees my work. I have pages of notes from 3 years ago.


  5. Great advice! I always walked around with a notepad and a pen to scribble everything down. Also, I was naive to think everyone was going to be nice and like me from the get go. I found out the hard way you have to prove yourself before people treat you with respect. Also, avoid hanging out by the water cooler or the cubicles directly in front of the bosses’s office. (Unless, you’re one of the unfortunate few who sit in those cubicles…like me!)

  6. Jason H says:

    Another tip is to ask for more work. I know that sounds contrary to a lot of graduates (I can’t tell you how many I failed for not doing the required work when I was teaching), but it is a great way to show your employer that you are motivated and a great asset to the company. Of course, that comes with the caviat that you finish your required work first. I can cite examples from my own career where the company was just going to hire someone else, but my asking for more work netted me the job and a big pay raise .

  7. I would most certainly agree with everything that Anne has said, although some of the tips seemed to be one of her pet peeves as well and came from personal experience (which is fine, of course). I also liked Jason H.’s suggestion to ask for more work, that is definitely very important. It kind of goes along #5, that you can’t just do the bare minimum and expect recognition, promotion, or even to keep your job. To strive in a workplace you have to not only do more than what is asked from you, but also demonstrate initiative in learning new tasks or taking a lead on a project that nobody knew was important until you started working on it.

    In a nutshell, three keywords define successful individuals: Enthusiasm, Initiative, and Hard Work.

  8. guinness416 says:

    Weird tone to this article. I agree with much of it (I manage a number entry-level people and interns), but it’s oddly aggressive. Item number one really is item number one, very important if you want to be taken in any way seriously. As regards item 8, certainly I expect my direct reports to be there for me, but I consider mentorship very important too, as do my bosses.

  9. MoneyMind says:

    Th whole article was very informative. I’m a student & I learnt a lot from this article.Thanks for the good post.

    I agree with all the points except the 6th one. I don’t think any grown up would behave in such a kiddish manner(asking their parents to contact the employer..)

  10. Lo says:

    These are very informative tips but I agree that the tone is a bit off and with what MoneyMind responded. I don’t believe anyone would knowingly ask his/her parents to contact the employer unless it were an emergency (e.g. got into an accident), but coming from an Asian family, I can’t very well easily to tell my parents to “butt out” just like that. It happens and although it gets annoying, I think people should be more understanding about it.

  11. George says:

    I’ll add one:

    Avoid Taking Sick Days During Your First Half Year (especially Fridays and Mondays)

    – OR –

    Sick days are not Extra Vacation (i.e. You Don’t Need to take Them All)


  12. Jorge says:

    I completely agree with all of the advise that is listed. I am a college student and served previously in the military. I feel that it takes more than just a professional attitude to succeed in an work environment; it also requires a professional etiquette.

  13. Tyler says:

    Being a manager, I can’t agree with the advice. I have seen a lot of ‘college’ hot-shots come and go here recently. I don’t understand why people think that just becasue they got out of college they are going to make 40K+ a year. I mean, a few positions maybe, but if all you have if life guarding as experience on your resume I can tell you, don’t expect more than 32K. College is actually the norm now, where as 20 years ago, I don’t believe it was.

    Also, #8… Who says you are reporting to a ‘her’… I like how you ‘knowingly’ threw that in there…

  14. adam carolla fan says:

    i thought of printing this and posting it on my classroom wall, but it’d probably spur a mutiny. but great article!

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