The 7 unspoken rules new grads need to follow to launch their careers

Matthew Randall

As a new college grad, you’ve just landed your first, full-time job —congratulations! Now you’re embarking on an exciting new journey into the working world. Launching your career is an exciting and sometimes scary step. It’s tricky to adjust to a new culture, and not everything is written in the employee handbook. To help ease your transition, here are seven key unspoken rules to follow as you start this new chapter.

1. Take Ownership

Show you can be counted on by demonstrating responsibility. Avoid excuses when a project doesn’t come out quite right. Just like each individual class assignment in college was part of the larger whole of earning your degree, your work is part of a larger process. You’ll encounter coworkers who have “that’s not my job” syndrome and pass the buck. Don’t pick up their bad behavior. Rather, go above and beyond what your written job description states. Everything you do is tied to your name and your reputation, so do work you can be proud of and own up to any mistakes.

2. Exhibit Self-Awareness

Know your strengths and blind spots to optimize how you work and interact with others. Take meetings as an example. You’ll find conference room meetings to be an awful lot like those old group project gatherings: there are the extroverts who dive right in and the introverts who hang back. If you picked up the lesson of group projects, you’ve already learned which of the two you are and how to temper your approach. If you tend to be the first to speak, ease off to give others a chance to say their piece. If you’re one to sit quietly with your wheels turning, get in the conversation earlier and share your thoughts.

3. Add Value

Align your capabilities with the organization and know your role. My personal experience with this is a previous job working for a consulting firm. Each interaction with a client was a billable hour, so each team member had to know exactly what their responsibilities were. If you’re working on a project for a client, you must add value in some way. Take that step back to make sure you’re not wasting your—or the client’s—time. When you’re put on a new team or start a new project, ask your immediate supervisor what your role will be so your responsibilities are clear.

4. Seek Feedback

Improve your performance by seeking honest feedback from your supervisors and mentors. Don’t wait for your annual review—by then, your work is ancient history. Instead, seek informed feedback from people you trust and who are credible within the organization. Tell them you value their opinion and ask them to sit down for coffee.  Reinforce your willingness to accept feedback by listening and absorbing their insights. Accept their criticism because their telling you ways you can improve shows that they trust you. Trust is key to working efficiently as a team.

5. See the big picture

Learn how your work impacts the organization’s success. What part does your role play in the overall value chain? Imagine what the organization or individual project would look like if your position didn’t exist. Think about how an individual project or task is helping move the organization along.

6. Build Relationships

Seek out  experts within the organization to help you learn as well as to build your network. At first, you might think you need to know everything, but you’ll quickly realize that it’s better to lean on the expertise of others. They’ll be happy to help. Taking that initiative to build professional relationships will solidify your place within the organization. So show appreciation for your coworkers and actively listen to them.

7. Know When to Focus

Concentrate your energy and attention on key tasks. Just like in school, procrastination is the enemy.  Avoid multi-tasking. Manage your distractions and organize yourself for efficiency. Know what time of day you do your best work, when you can tackle bigger, more involved tasks, and when you need a little break to take care of little things like organizing your desk and catching up on non-urgent emails.

Follow these seven unspoken rules and you’ll build a solid base from which to launch a successful, lucrative career.

Matthew Randall is Executive Director of the Leadership Development Center at York College of Pennsylvania in York, Pa.