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Five Traps to Avoid on Your First Job

If you recently landed your first real job after military service, you're probably on a high right now. But your challenge is just beginning, because getting that first job is one thing, and thriving at it is quite another.

How can you succeed in your new position? By avoiding first-job traps like these:


It's practically impossible to avoid office gossip, but you don't have to take part in it. Indeed, becoming a participant is almost guaranteed to backfire on you. Listen to the office gossip if you must. Just be sure you don't generate any of it, especially when you're new on the job.

Political Battles

In practically every organization, there are certain people who don't get along with each other. In some cases, these damaged relationships go back for years and have become very bitter. As a new person on the job, it probably won't take long to figure out who doesn't like whom. And it likely won't be much longer before both sides try to recruit you to their camp. If you sense that a couple of people who hate each other are both trying to turn you against their foe, stay out of the war. Simply tell each person, individually, that while you understand he dislikes the other person, you don't want to be in the middle. In doing so, you'll clearly signal to both parties that you won't be conned into choosing one side over the other.

Trying to Revolutionize Your Job

If you bring the head supervisor a list of things that ought to be changed at work two days into your new job, you probably won't be praised for your initiative. Instead, you'll be seen as naive and perhaps conceited, because the supervisor will wonder how you can propose significant changes when you've worked been with the organization for such a short time.

You're far better off observing and learning when you begin your job. Yes, offer your ideas from time to time. But your colleagues have worked for months or years under a certain system within a certain culture, and systems and cultures don't change quickly.

Being a Know-It-All

When you were little, someone probably pulled you aside and said, "Nobody likes a know-it-all." Heed that advice as you enter the real-world workplace. You've probably learned things in college that people who graduated just a few years ago didn't learn. And it's OK to mention those things on the job, but it's all in the delivery. You need to acknowledge what's being done, and why, in your new organization. Then make suggestions based on your own learning and experiences.


When you're the new person, it can be difficult to get to know your new colleagues. Often, your instinct is to keep to yourself or wait until someone invites you to lunch or coffee.

But both of those strategies can leave you feeling isolated and seeming unapproachable. So you need to make the first move. If you hear a few people are going to lunch, politely ask if you can join them. If your company is giving away free tickets to next Saturday's ball game, be sure you get one and attend. Before long, your new colleagues will see you're making a conscious effort to connect with them, and they'll respond positively.

Chances are, your success -- or lack thereof -- in your first job will have little or nothing to do with your technical skills or academic knowledge. Instead, it will probably rest on your people skills and ability to fit into the organizational culture. You earn your new colleagues' respect by being someone who is willing to learn as well as teach, listen as well as talk and contribute as well as lead.

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