Career

How To Survive Your First Job: A Guide For Newbies

Working nine to five, what a way to make a living. But taking your first steps into the full-time world can be a little uncomfortable, so we share some tips for making your first full-time gig go smoothly.

It’s no lie that your first full-time job is a big life step; the dramatic change to your regular routine and the fact it’s unchartered territory can leave you feeling easily overwhelmed. You’re dealing with spreadsheets, online chat channels, ‘KPIs’, a constant stream of incoming mail, meetings, ‘process’, an impending coffee addiction and, most frighteningly, making friends as an adult.

The good news is there are some easy ways to stay sane and pull you through those first intense, possibly awkward months. For those of you who might be struggling, we promise things get easier.

Stay calm and ask questions

Starting any new job is a veritable storm of new information – you’re not only expected to learn the technicalities of your role, but the systems that your workplace uses; your way around the office; and the name of the nice yet boring lady in payroll.

Giving yourself the time to take notes is important – trying to remember everything might be asking too much of your frazzled little brain. Notes will allow you to have a reference point to jog your memory. A good practice is to write quick notes during demonstrations, and then flesh them out when you’ve got some time later or at the end of the day. This has the dual benefit of also helping reinforce your memory.

While most workplaces actually want you to learn how to do your job as quickly and efficiently as possible, the onus is on you to get the information necessary to make that happen. The people who are teaching you are often the person you’re replacing – they might be fantastic at handover or might have already mentally left the building. Regardless of the quality of teaching you’re getting, you have to be confident enough to ask questions and fill in gaps. Too many questions do run the risk of annoying people, but it’s worse to make an easily rectified mistake.

Stay professional

Most full-time jobs will employ you on a probationary period, meaning that for three months you can be fired with a weeks’ notice (or whatever company policy is). And because you’re the newbie in the office, you may feel as if you’re under some pretty intense scrutiny. While in some offices that might be the case, generally people are pretty forgiving for your first couple of months while you’re getting the hang of things, especially if they see you’re keen to learn and improve your skills.

How to convey that message? Start paying some attention: listen to what people are saying (don’t try to interrupt people, talk too much in meetings, or be combative just to assert your existence). Being genuinely engaged will allow you to ask informed questions that a) benefit your learning process and b) impress your manager or colleagues.

Professionalism is also established through the details – make sure you’re not rushing out the door at 5pm on the dot or wandering in late in the morning. Don’t bitch, engage in office gossip or get involved in office politics. You’ll be figuring out where you stand for the first little while anyway, don’t rush the process and let relationships unfold organically. Be friendly, be open and be socially savvy.

If it all gets too much and you’re feeling upset, remove yourself by either going to the bathroom or for a walk outside to calm down. It also goes without saying to look well presented – even in casual offices it’s worth avoiding the top with the stains on it. You know the one.

Stay focused

Having to stay with the tasks at hand for the first few months of a new job can feel like training for a marathon. Your brain is not used to maintaining an attention span so large.

This is completely normal. The good news is it gets easier. But you can do a few little things to eliminate distractions like clearing and organising your work station, turning off notifications on your phone, and most importantly – making a daily list of to-do’s (not too long though!) and prioritising it. Giving yourself allocated timeframes to achieve certain tasks (like 11am to 12pm for e-mailing) can help retrain your brain to respond based on a set schedule rather than spontaneous cues, i.e. an alert or notification. This will have your productivity through the roof.

Stay balanced

Considering your first job launches you into a period of change and recalibration, it’s bound to get stressful. You suddenly have this thing that takes up most of your day, and there’s a period of adjustment as you work out how to maintain balance. So while you’re busy staying professional, learning the ropes and getting the job done, make sure you’re spending an equal amount of time looking after yourself.

Take your lunch breaks – it may seem like you don’t have time to get through everything, but you’ll remain more focused and energetic if you go for a walk; sit in the sunshine (especially important during winter) which is a good mood booster; you could even do this move somewhere private if you find your muscles getting stiff from sitting all the time. And a little food prep on a Sunday means easy, healthy lunches during the week (which saves you money, bonus).

Make sure you’re using your weekends wisely, too. Depending on what kind of personality you have, this could mean making sure you do something social or adventurous so you feel like you used it well. Or it could be about taking time to really relax and have you time, so you’re well-rested and fresh for the coming week. Either way, a nice symptom of weekend plans is the fact they incentivise you to get through the working week.

Stay money-savvy

For a lot of people, your first job is probably the first time you experience the headiness of a regular paycheque – it can be simultaneously delicious and overwhelming. Know this: just because you’re receiving regular money, doesn’t mean you should go full crazy pants. This is literally a perfect time to form some new healthy financial habits, and move on from any toxic ones.

Increased financial independence will no doubt eventually lead to an increase in responsibilities – rent, bills and things like gigs and eating out. It can be easy to lose track of all the comings and goings of your hard-earned cash, especially if you’re one of the unlucky people who gets paid monthly. The answer? Make friends with a budget (which also happens to be one of the healthy money habits we mentioned above).

But if all you want to do is have some fun and make it rain, at least get a separate high-interest savings account and funnel a little of the pie into that. Why? They usually work on a compound interest system, meaning you earn interest on your accrued interest – and the sooner you start one the more money you can earn. This account is could be your emergency fund or ticket for travel.

Travel is a priceless life experience, ironically facilitated by full time work; Australians have a pretty generous paid leave system at a month and are usually open minded about employees taking a little unpaid leave, too.

Plus, knowing your hard-earned money is being put to use across multiple areas – all which benefit you – makes all the difference.


Patrick Lenton is a writer and digital marketer. He runs Town Crier, a social media and marketing consultancy for authors.