I still remember how I felt on my first day at my first job.

Excited? Yes. Nervous? Definitely!

Most of us are full of excitement as we start working. We long to do some “real work” after studying and preparing for the working world for so many years. But we are also anxious about what it takes to succeed in a corporate environment.   

Management theories learnt in the classroom sound good but we struggle with translating them into practical advice for the question: “What should I do tomorrow?”

While there are no one-size-fits-all answers on how to make a good start as a new hire, the following five key points, based on my personal experience and reflection, are worth sharing:

You need different skills for success in corporate life

As a fresh graduate, you may think that just doing more of what made you successful as a student will be enough to do well in your career.

But step back and ask yourself: “What are the key skills I need to succeed in my job and how are they different from my student life?

Many skills that are crucial for corporate success are not critical for academic success.

For example, doing well in school is primarily driven by your performance in examinations. Your interpersonal skills to lead a team or to create visibility for your projects does not matter much in determining your grades.

But in the corporate context (to cite a well-known “PIE” model), while performance (P) continues to matter, you also need to master skills to manage your image (I) and create exposure (E) for your projects and yourself to succeed on a sustained basis.

First impressions are important

It is like dating. Appearance is not everything when you are looking for the love of your life, but being sloppy or boastful on your first date is definitely not the best way to start impressing someone.

Similarly, when you join a company, your work habits and initial performance form first impressions, which tend to last.

For example, when you attend your first meeting with a team of people or with your boss, coming across as unprepared, arriving late, missing deadlines for projects and complaining about work and colleagues can create negative vibes that you can very well do without.

Why set yourself back by a few hundred meters even before the marathon has started? 

Seek your boss’s goodwill

Whether you like it or not, your boss is your window to the organisation in terms of representing you in key conversations concerning your performance and career.

Even if you think that you are very good but your boss does not think so, you will have a difficult time proving your ability to the rest of the organisation.

Of course, it is not impossible to succeed despite your boss, but why pick an unnecessary handicap for yourself?

In terms of what it takes to manage your boss well, two things stand out.

First, understand that your job is to help your boss succeed.

This means that you need to focus on areas which link back to deliverables on which your boss is measured. If you do not know what your boss’s deliverables are, go ahead and ask him. You will be glad you did.

Second, pro-actively understand the working style of your boss, then adjust your style to it.

Working style includes a preference for reading versus writing; face-to-face communication versus e-mail or telephone; and meeting informally at any time versus a fixed scheduled appointment.

And don’t expect your boss to change his working style to suit yours.

Start with hard work and the right attitude

There is a lot of truth in the “10,000-hour rule” mentioned in Outliers: The Story Of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

There is no substitute for immersing yourself in your work for the time needed to acquire a certain level of expertise. But while hard work is a base requirement, your attitude will give you that “extra edge”.

Your attitude can help you avoid the easiest trap for a new hire: “I am a new hire and need to be told what I am supposed to do.”

While some supervisors will clearly define the role and contributions expected from subordinates, others will not.

You are better off pro-actively thinking about what contribution you can make to help the business grow, and propose it to your manager.

Even if you are wrong, at least you will know it and change your focus.

If you were sinking your own money into the business, I bet you would not sit around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. You would dive in and figure it out.

Your assignment is what you define it to be

When you describe an assignment, do you focus on all the things it does not let you do?

Or do you focus on all the opportunities it offers and the further potential to establish a new standard?

If you are driven and have a healthy sense of self-worth, you would focus on the opportunities that any new assignment brings. You would seek to define your personal standard of performance excellence that should exceed the company’s expectations of you.

A simple but powerful question to ask yourself is: “How would I act if this were my own business?”

You will still have to find your own answers to that question but, at least, you are starting with the right attitude.