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Starting a New Job or Internship? Here Are 10 Important Dos and Don’ts

Now that spring semesters are wrapped up and graduation ceremonies have commenced, it’s time for students (and grads) to flex their knowledge and skills in the professional world.

Whether you landed an internship or traded your diploma for a full-time job and a 401k, you’ve got a big summer ahead of you.

At College Info Geek, we devote plenty of articles, podcasts, and videos to helping you prepare for and earn a job or internship. Now, we want to address how to handle yourself once you step through the doorway at your new gig.

In this article, I’ll break down five dos and five don’ts for new hires that will help you transition from student, to intern, to professional.

5 Things to Do When You Start a New Job

Let’s start with the dos:

1. Take Initiative

During my internship following my junior year of college, I was given a weekly list of assignments to complete. I had no problem meeting expectations, but I knew I wouldn’t stand out unless I went above and beyond what was required.

So, I volunteered to write blog posts, handle our agency’s newsletter, and bring new ideas to the table — all of which were out of my scope of work.

However, I knew that taking initiative for three months was an investment in my long-term relationship with the company. When it came time for my boss to decide whether to hire me after the summer, it was a no-brainer.

Bottom line: Avoid the mental trap of, “It’s not my job.”

2. Ask Questions

When you start a new job or internship, it’s easy to get distracted by checking the boxes and making sure you don’t slip up. But I’ve found that taking a step back to ask your supervisor or coworkers questions is an incredibly useful tool to grow quickly.

Here are five important questions to ask — and keep asking — when you enter a new position:

1. How can I make the most of my time here?

Without clear direction, it’s difficult to tell if you’re actually making an impact in your new job or internship. To clarify things, simply ask what the best use of your time will be. You don’t want to be in a position of wondering if you’re wasting your employer’s time or money.

2. Who should I reach out to for support?

You’re not going to be able to do everything alone. Having a support system is critical early in anyone’s career, and it’s in your best interest to define that system as soon as you can.

3. What are some mistakes previous employees have made?

This question tends to impress high-level employees because it demonstrates that you want to outperform your predecessors. Even if it’s something as simple as “Suzy never used proper grammar in her emails,” you get a leg up because you’ll know what to look out for.

4. Where do I have room for improvement?

Having strengths is great, but you can’t hide behind them forever. Once you’ve settled into your new job, take some time (a month or so) to determine what your weaknesses are and work on bringing them up to speed with your strengths.

If you have trouble identifying weaknesses on your own, you can always ask your boss where you have room for improvement. Just make sure they’re somewhat familiar with your work. It’s uncomfortable at first, but it pays off in the long run.

5. What are some important lessons you’ve learned here?

This question kills two birds with one stone: it flatters the recipient because people love to share advice (especially if it makes them feel wise), and you get free knowledge from somebody that’s already been in your shoes.

3. Calm Down

I’ve been in your shoes before. You’re excited, tense, and probably anxious. You want to make a good impression and avoid slipping up or embarrassing yourself at all costs.

These tendencies lead a lot of new hires to panic, become perfectionists, or work at hyper-speed to impress coworkers. But the last thing you want to do is squander your limited energy by worrying.

It might seem like you’re on center stage with the spotlight shining brightly on you, but that’s just an illusion. Everyone else is so preoccupied with their own tasks and deadlines that they don’t have time to scrutinize your every move.

So, take a deep breath and relax. None of the mistakes you make (and you will make a few) are permanent — they’re opportunities to learn.

4. Research the Company Culture Ahead of Time

We recently interviewed a candidate for a relatively high-profile position at my office, and he showed up in a suit. Under certain circumstances, that would have been expected.

However, people at our office wear jeans. As you can imagine, this created an awkward scenario for both parties. Had he simply browsed our website or social media profiles, he could have avoided this situation altogether.

It baffles me that even highly-experienced professionals don’t take a minute or two to research their future work environments ahead of an interview or starting a new job.

Whenever you’re starting a new job, there are several ways to glean valuable information about your future workspace and avoid awkward encounters:

  • Do a deep dive into the company’s website
  • Read the company’s blog posts
  • Review the social media profiles of the company and its employees
  • See what current or previous employees have written on sites like Glassdoor
  • Send an email to a current employee and ask what the culture, dress code, and general environment are like

5. Have a Career Strategy

After a few weeks of work, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with your day-to-day tasks. You get so obsessed with checking the boxes and meeting deadlines that you don’t have time to lift your gaze to the future. The last thing you want is to get three months in and wonder, What am I doing with my life?

Before you start your job or internship, it’s important to establish a career roadmap. Where do you want to be at this time next year? How can you use the next few months to get you there? What do you need to accomplish? What do you need to avoid?

It helps to have weekly check-ins to assess your progress and make sure you’re not veering away from the destination you set. These check-ins can be with a mentor, friend, coworker, or yourself (if you’re accountable enough).

There’s no need for anything too formal here. For example, I meet with my boss every Monday for 30 minutes to discuss my current projects along with any new ideas or issues. These meetings keep my long-term and short-term priorities in check.

I know that was a lot to digest, but I promise if you apply those lessons, they’ll pay off quickly.

5 Things NOT to Do When You Start a New Job

Group of people working on laptops at a table

Taking action is important, but sometimes it’s what you avoid that makes the most difference. Let’s take a look at what not to do as a new hire:

1. Don’t Get Involved With Drama or Politics

If you thought drama and gossip ended after high school and college, think again. The professional world is rife with conflicts and quarrels, whether people admit it or not.

As a new employee, your best bet is to steer clear of controversy. There’s no advantage to making enemies. You might feel guilty for not getting involved in the latest office drama, but you’ll save yourself priceless time and mental energy in the long run.

For example, if someone says to you, “John totally messed up my day. He’s such a loser, isn’t he?” You might be tempted to agree, simply to fit in.

But in my experience, the best response is something along the lines of, “Sorry to hear about that, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. And let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

2. Don’t Isolate Yourself

I recently heard a funny yet problematic story about a previous intern at our office — I’ll call him Sam. Sam was an incredibly productive member of the analytics team, but rarely took out his headphones or looked up from his monitor.

When it came time for the office holiday party three months after Sam started, the founder of the company looked over and asked, “Who’s that guy?” “That’s Sam, our intern,” someone responded.

The owner had no idea Sam worked there.

I get it: You’re busy, and if you’re an introvert, you probably don’t want to be best friends with all of your coworkers. But isolating yourself is a surefire way to become irrelevant in a work environment. I’m not saying you have to prance around the office all day every day, but being invisible won’t get you anywhere.

“Isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from — it cuts you off from valuable information,” says the author Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power. “Better to circulate among people, find allies and mingle.”

When you’re constantly working alone, it’s easy to lose contact with the people and the culture around you, both of which are essential for growth.

3. Don’t Offend the Wrong Person

We’ve all been in a situation where we have either accidentally, or intentionally, deceived or hurt someone. Sometimes there are severe consequences, other times it’s no big deal and the person forgives you. But as a new employee, you can’t afford to take gambles.

The key early on is to know who you’re dealing with. Figure out who the important people are — the ones who can influence your future — and resist any temptation to take action that can land you on their bad side. Of course, you should be helpful and kind to everyone, but there are a few that deserve special consideration.

4. Don’t Talk Just to be Heard

Previously in this article, I emphasized asking questions and taking initiative. However, there’s a fine line between those types of talking (which are useful) and useless chatter (which usually doesn’t solve anything). You need to participate, but you also need to add value. Ask yourself:

Am I saying this because I just want to be heard or am I saying this because it needs to be said?

When you’re new, it’s usually the former. Here are a few examples:

  1. “Did you watch the latest episode of XYZ? I loved it.”
  2. “I’m wondering what I should do for lunch today.”
  3. “I got a new dog! Who wants to see pictures?”

5. Don’t Complain

Almost every work environment has complainers — the last thing your boss needs is another one. Remember, you’re supposed to make operations run smooth, not slow them down or complicate them with useless whining.

If you’re going to point out problems, at least be prepared to offer solutions as well. Here’s an example of unhelpful complaining:

“Our process is hopeless. Nobody ever knows what the rest of the team is doing and I always end up with the majority of the workload.”

And here’s an example of how you can point out problems while also offering solutions:

“There’s a lot of room for improvement in our process, and I think we should create a dedicated Slack channel as well as a shared status doc to keep track of everything.”

Ignore the Dos and Don’ts at Your Own Risk

Some of this advice saved me from unnecessary stress and conflict, and some of it I had to learn the hard way. Regardless, all of it is yours to use when starting a new job or internship.

The best part about these dos and don’ts is that they’re universally applicable. It doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant, copywriter, nurse, or teacher — anybody starting a new job can benefit from them.

Image Credits: featured, coworkers