New Internship or Career? Ace the First Few Weeks

Robin Reshwan

New-to-career professionals often find themselves unprepared for their first job. How can you set yourself up for success and differentiate yourself professionally as an intern or new-to-career hire? Here are some career-accelerating strategies for a new role.

After the offer is accepted, but before starting, ask about the orientation process, so you can be prepared. It is also helpful to ask ahead of time if there are any aspects of orientation you can take on before your actual start date. For example, you may be able to start paperwork, training videos, tutorials on customer relationship management systems or setting up voicemail. If you can tackle these items before your first day, you can be productive sooner.

For the first couple of days, it is all about the simple stuff that can make for a smooth transition. Drink your coffee at home and pack a refillable water bottle, pen, notebook, phone charger and a couple of easy to eat (but filling) snacks. Also, make sure your mom, friends and thousands of Instagram followers know you will be unavailable during the day now. You want to be as accessible and focused as possible to make sure that you can take advantage of every opportunity to learn.

Some companies have a very organized (and thoughtful) on-boarding process that includes being escorted to your clean and organized desk, having coffee with the team and going out for lunch with your assigned mentor. However, most companies are not those companies. Often, employees are hired because there is a staff shortage and work surplus. If you are entering this type of environment, be prepared to be flexible regarding supplies, coffee breaks, lunch procedures and just plain time to catch your breath.

I am sure that you are very smart and everyone you know can attest to your brilliance. However, I can guarantee you that you will not remember everything that is told to you while acclimating to a professional career. Please don't take that as a personal challenge -- but as a statement of fact. For the first week, write things down. In fact, you should probably continue to do this longer than just the first week -- but do it for a week, at the very least.

A new job has lots of new things to think about and do. Each time your manager, mentor or colleague explains a new process, procedure or request, write down the key components. Also, make sure you clarify what is being asked and the timeline for completion. It is also helpful to ask what you should do if something does not go as planned. Most managers agree that one of the worst things a new employee can do is to sit idle while making no progress on a work responsibility. It is unproductive for the business and very frustrating for the stuck employee. Make sure you know the troubleshooting or escalation process for each aspect of your role.

Pay attention to office nuances in culture and behavior. Most work environments have an unspoken but well-established protocol regarding who speaks first in meetings, what "open-door policy" really means and who should be included on emails regarding your ideas for firm-wide improvements. As a new employee, you will acclimate more quickly and be more effective if you work within the existing culture instead of doing whatever feels right for you.

Mind your communication. Speaking too soon, guessing on an answer that you haven't researched and sending messages with typos are career-limiting moves at work. Depending on the severity, frequency and audience, they could be career ending. Slow down and approach communication as you would a test. Think through your approach. Assess what the audience will think about what you are about to say and write. Even venture a guess as to what could possibly go wrong if the message is misinterpreted. Now, revise your approach, check your word choice and spelling if it is written, then deliver the message. On some items, you may want to check with a trusted colleague to get their insight. In short, take written and verbal communication very seriously.

On that same page, it is pretty hard to make up for the email you accidentally sent to your boss complaining about work that you meant to send to your colleague. So, don't write that email. Never use company resources for personal gain or write negative things about the company that is employing you. And don't just avoid these traps on work email -- avoid doing it on social media as well. The world is small and filled with people who are willing to throw you under the bus if it means saving themselves. While you are taking a paycheck from a business, be positive and use the time for which you are paid and the resources you are provided to do the job for which you were hired.

Succeeding at work doesn't have to be difficult. It does, however, require some planning, effort and ethics. If you actively strive to do a good job with a high level of integrity, you will be amazed at how valued you can be at work. The world's successful leaders and visionaries will often point to key relationships that enabled them to rise to new heights. Long-term professional success requires a network of connections that believe in you and are advocates. Your first roles are the ideal time to begin to build this network. Good luck in making a great first impression that will last throughout your career.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.