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Four Ways to Earn Respect at Your First Job

When you've worked so hard to get that first job after college, the last thing you want is to screw it up. Sadly, new grads do it all the time.

The problem rarely stems from lack of knowledge or poor technical skills. It often goes back to something simpler: Your persona in the workplace, particularly during your first few weeks on the job.

Remember the spot on your second-grade report card that said "works and plays well with others"? This skill is still important, because it's shockingly easy to make an awful first impression on your new colleagues - the kind that will taint your reputation the entire time you're with the organization.

How do you save yourself and perhaps even your career? Here are four key attitudes and behaviors.

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

"You may be a smart cookie, but as a 20-something, you're still a relative newbie in the business world," says Alexandra Levit, author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College. So tread lightly when it comes to sharing your groundbreaking ideas, especially when you're the new person.

"Resist the temptation to jump in and take over projects or to assume that you know how things should be done," Levit says. "Older colleagues with more experience will perceive this behavior as arrogance and will quickly dismiss your valuable input."

A Sincere 'Thank You' Goes a Long Way

Isn't it nice to hear "thank you" once in a while? Your coworkers feel the same way. So does your boss.

"Your manager is a human being who likes to feel appreciated, just as you do," says Susan Stern, president of Stern + Associates, a public relations and marketing firm in Cranford, New Jersey. "That means that if your manager takes you to lunch, gives you a gift, bonus or raise, or even hosts a company party, you should reply with a heartfelt 'thank you.'"

Few Go Above and Beyond

You'll be amazed by the number of clock-watchers you'll be working with. These workers do only what's asked of them and put in their 40 hours a week, not a second more.

Their indifference can be your gain if you simply offer to take on additional assignments or put in extra time once in a while.

"Happy volunteers rack up points," says Stern. "Companies are always impressed with junior staffers who are willing to pay their dues, roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help. By exhibiting this type of can-do attitude and leaving your ego at the doorstep, you'll show management that you're committed to hard work, advancement and the team effort."

Listening Is Highly Underrated

"This should be an obvious one, but many entry-level workers are anxious to prove their knowledge, and they speak without listening first," says Mary Harris, a corporate etiquette and protocol consultant in Fort Lauderdale.

The unintended result: An image of a snotty know-it-all with no regard for more-experienced colleagues.

So above all, learn to really listen, says Marjorie Brody, head of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania-based Brody Communications and coauthor of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?

"When you understand what people are saying to you and need of you rather than always focusing on your own agenda, you garner respect from your colleagues as someone who is attentive and cares," she explains.

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