A 100-Day Plan for Your First Job Out of College

Posted On 7 Nov 2023

A 100-Day Plan for Your First Job Out of College

7 Nov 2023

Candidate Resource, Employer Resource, Interview Tips, On The Job, Popular Culture

You studied and worked hard, got your degree, and secured a full-time job. Congratulations! You’re onto the next stage of adulthood: building your career. But where do you even begin? Anyone who’s been there will tell you that the transition from college to corporate isn’t a smooth sail. The cultural shift can be overwhelming.

A college environment is far more relaxed — from the clothes you wear to choosing whether or not to go to class. You can even get away with turning in assignments a bit late.

Not so much in the working world.

Your manager will expect deadlines to be met. Responsibilities are taken seriously, including punctuality. You must learn to keep a corporate mindset, even when working remotely or hybrid. This means you show up on time for virtual meetings with your camera on, wear work attire, and contribute. Slipping in late, behind the scenes, won’t suffice.

As the founder and managing director of one of Australia’s most successful recruitment agencies, I’ve often seen candidates struggle in the initial days and weeks of their first jobs out of school. Based on my experience, I present to you a 100-day plan to guide you through this critical (and difficult) time.

10 Days Prior to Starting - Prepare

First impressions count. You can’t turn up on the first day of your new job and wing it. Or you can, but it will be obvious and sure to underwhelm your boss. Holding previous part-time jobs is advantageous and always recommended, but they don’t prepare you for the reality of a full-time, career role. Your boss from your part-time job likely expected mistakes and even issues — they knew it was just a short-term gig. Your new boss will be less forgiving and have higher expectations. Before you start, do your preparation:

Get to know your company.

Even if you covered a lot during your interview, I recommend doing a more in-depth investigation prior to your first day of work. Set up news alerts about your company and follow their LinkedIn page to stay updated. It’s also a good idea to connect with your new boss and follow the CEO on LinkedIn to gain insights into their views and thinking, as well as the organization’s values.

Get enough sleep.

You can’t show up at work as your best self if you’re not taking care of your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. One easy way to invest in self-care is by building stress-reducing habits. The most important is getting enough sleep. In college, you may have been rewarded for pulling an all-nighter to turn your paper in on time. At work, this won’t be the case. A healthy sleep pattern supports numerous aspects of cognition, including memory, problem-solving and judgement — all things you need to perform well. Not to mention, you should plan to be in the office (or online) early on your first day. Sleep will help you do that. Punctuality not only demonstrates professionalism and reliability, but also reduces any panic you might feel around being late.

Plan your workwear.

Whether business casual or formal, choose an outfit that gives you confidence in a professional setting. If you’re unsure what’s appropriate for your particular organization, ask your hiring manager. You can also search the company on social media and gather inspiration from pictures of people in the office. If in doubt, err on the professional side. Having a work wardrobe ready for that first week will ease any anxiety. The last thing you want is to wake up, scrambling to pick an outfit and stressing about showing up on time. This doesn’t mean investing in a new wardrobe. You can even wear the same outfits twice in one week. Just be sure your clothes are clean and look fresh. During the first week, you’ll gain a good sense of what to wear and what makes you feel comfortable in this new space.

Prepare your introduction.

At some stage during the onboarding process, you’ll be asked about yourself. Don’t be too rehearsed, but have interesting facts ready, including your background, degree, and one or two meaningful hobbies you want to share. Consider the impression you want others to have of you. It’s not like a college get-to-know-you icebreaker where an outrageous statement gains you campus kudos. Equally, anything too stiff or contrived won’t flow. Be yourself. Keep it light and conversational with a little piece of information that stands out.

If you love sports or have an ardent passion for cooking, for instance, bring it up. These personal pieces of information will help you connect to others and make you more memorable. Guaranteed, someone will approach you with a similar interest. That’s how you’ll start building relationships, or even better, work friends.

The First 30 Days - Observe and Learn

Welcome to your first month in the corporate world. This job will be a doorway to future opportunities. Here’s how to get off to a strong start.

Watch, listen, and learn.

Use the first 30 days to learn and observe. Whether you’re in an onboarding session, attending your first big company meeting, or having a coffee with a new colleague, you should be taking mental notes. Watch for important cultural cues: How do people prefer to communicate (in person, email, or Slack)? Who are the big stakeholders you should be paying attention to? In meetings, which behaviors are rewarded or frowned upon?  For instance, taking notes on your mobile phone during college lectures may have been the norm, but in a corporate setting, this may make you seem distracted or disrespectful. There are a few habits you may have to adjust.

Ask questions — a lot of them.

You need to ask questions to learn the basics of how your team and larger organization function, what is expected of you, and how your responsibilities fit within the larger goals. Ask questions when there is a process you don’t understand, when you’re confused about your manager’s expectations, or when you’re curious about another team or department. Questions will not only help you gather information, they’ll also signal to others your interest in the work. At the end of each day, spend time documenting what you’ve learned to help you reflect, process, and retain any important lessons.

Build a positive relationship with your boss.

Your boss may be the single most important person in your new job — at least when it comes to your career progression. To grow in your role, your boss will need to trust that you can deliver, meaning both you and your work need to be visible to them. This starts with clear and regular communication.

If you’re working remotely, be aware of the reduced availability for ad hoc relationship-building opportunities, such as the walk to and from meetings, casual coffee catch-ups in staff kitchen etc. These all count and add up. Instead, you will need to use every other opportunity to connect.  In virtual meetings, be well prepared, mentally focused, and present, with your questions already listed and thought out. Don’t be afraid to speak up or use the chat forum.

During your first month, pay attention to how your boss interacts with yourself and others. What’s their style? In meetings, do they prefer to be given a lot of information or do they want to quickly hear the headlines? When explaining a project, do they explain the big picture or give you bite-sized deadlines to meet? If you’re unsure, just ask. In your one-on-ones, you can say, “How would you like me to report on my progress?” or “Do you prefer being reached via IM or email?”

Your boss will also be a great resource to you as you start to build relationships and understand who holds the decision-making power at your company. They’re your gateway to other influential leaders and can help you expand your internal network. For example, if you’re interested in meeting a leader in another department, you might say: “I’m really interested in the work [name] is doing, and how it overlaps with our team. Would you be willing to make an introduction so I can learn more?”

Don’t neglect your peers.

Your boss can help you gain influence, but your peers can be your allies, advocating and supporting you during moments of uncertainty. Peer networks are especially useful in providing a safe space to ask questions, seek feedback, and uncover more of the company culture.

To get closer to your peers, you’ll need to make an effort. This could be as simple as staying back to help a colleague or asking someone to join you for a virtual lunch. Remember that you’re still “the new person.” You can leverage this by introducing yourself to people on your team via Slack or while passing them in the hall. Explain where you’re coming from and why you decided to join, then follow up with a question as simple as: “What about you?”

Ideally, over time, your conversations will veer into non-work areas. If someone has a photo of their dog on their desk, for instance, use that as an opportunity to ask about their life outside of the office. Before you know it, you’ll be making connections and maybe even friends. Just be careful not to talk politics or gossip. As a new employee, you might be curious about the “workplace drama,” but getting involved will only erode your relationships and trust with others.

As a final tip, I recommend trying your best to remember people’s names. This goes a long way when building new relationships. It’s a sign of courtesy and respect — and possibly the easiest and most effective way to create greater, more meaningful connections.

Don’t eat by yourself.

Make that your mantra! Attend all company events and functions during that first month, and, when possible, say yes to team lunches or after-work social events. It might feel uncomfortable initially, not knowing anyone, but that’s exactly why you should go.

It is instinctive for people to want to help others, especially the new person. Put it out there that you are new and ask to join others for lunch. No one will say no. This is the very best and opportune time to be visible, known and to expand your network. Seemingly trivial connections pay off at a later date, whether that be for future projects, endorsements, support or favors being pulled. But you must be networked, friendly and professional. Fair or not, we have an instinctual bias towards people we know and like. A little like the butterfly effect, a small effort or act can produce a significant impact.

Set short-term goals.

When you’re new, setting long-term goals may feel like a stretch. For now, focus on short-term SMART goals: specific, (learning business lingo or your colleague’s names), measurable (complete two new tasks a week), achievable (finish the assigned training modules), relevant (learn more about the key markets the company operates in) and timely (do it all for one month). These short-term goals will help you learn quickly and make you feel more confident in your day-to-day work. You should work with your manager and aim to align your goals with their expectations for you first 30 to 60 days.


The Next 30 Days - Accelerate Your Learning and Doing

By now, you should be feeling a lot more comfortable. The new job nerves have subsided, you likely have some work buddies, and a good sense of your job and the tasks you need to perform. Now it’s time to be proactive, laying the foundation for your development and growth.

Adopt a growth mindset.

A growth mindset is the belief that you can change and grow through effort and experience — even in the face of setbacks. Having this attitude will help you overcome the inevitable mistakes all new employees make, showcase your drive and ambition to improve, and eventually, grow within your role.

You can start developing a growth mindset by taking personal responsibility for your learning and development. In practice, this might be a report tracking your learnings each week: tasks completed, wins gained, setbacks faced, or goals you got closer to reaching. Reflect on the areas of strength or where you discovered something new about yourself, your work, or the organization. Also include the areas you struggled with, why, and the skills needed to improve. At the end, make an action plan for the following week, continuing to measure your progress.

If your manager is open to it, you can keep yourself accountable and your work visible by running the report by your boss once or twice a month.  This might be especially useful in hybrid, remote working environments. They may be willing to give you feedback and help you set longer-term goals.

Ask for feedback.

What better way to support your growth mindset than through feedback. Don’t wait till you have a formal review, ask for it regularly, and that could be as often as each time you work on a new task or skill. It might be as simple as “Does this look right to you?” Or perhaps you’ll want a more in-depth explanation, such as: “I would like to do this better. Can I ask how you would have done it differently?” Without being needy, ask each time you are in doubt or feel you could have done better but don’t know exactly how. Feedback doesn’t have to be just with your boss. Your peers, especially the more experienced ones, also have a depth of knowledge to share.

The better you are at receiving feedback, the more frequently you will receive it. This is important. You need your peers and boss to be totally comfortable and relaxed to deliver feedback anytime, especially for those more important, crucial and even delicate times.

If you have not received feedback at the end of your first 30 days, ask your manager. The framing of this question will depend on the work you’ve completed. For instance, if you’ve been assigned a particular project or set of tasks, ask what’s going well, what you could improve, and which skills you should be focused on building. If you’re still getting the lay of the land, you can ask more generally how your manager thinks things are going and whether they have any thoughts on your performance so far. You could say: “I appreciate all the help you’ve had in getting me started. I would love to know what you think I’m doing well and where I can improve. This will help me adjust my learning plan as I move to taking on more responsibilities.”

At this stage, the feedback may be minimal. Still, asking shows your boss that you want to learn and grow.

Be prepared to hear both the positive and the negative. Remember: Great feedback is not a series of compliments. It’s an objective observation made about your work that’s meant to help you get better. If you do receive critical feedback, resist the instinct to get defensive. Thank the person delivering the feedback, even if it’s hard to hear. This will demonstrate your professionalism and maturity.


The Next 60 to 90 Days - Start Contributing

You’re still new but are starting to feel like you belong. You’ve developed a routine, set some goals, have a better understanding of the different processes and systems, and are starting to build deeper connections with your manager and colleagues. If all has gone well, you may even wake up looking forward to the workday ahead.

Now, it’s time to apply the learnings you’ve gathered. You do this by increasing your level of contribution. This can be achieved by assisting others, raising your hand for important projects, gaining the confidence to share your ideas in team meetings, and identifying some longer-term goals.

Get involved.

Put your hand up and show initiative. It is an invaluable way to understand the business better its culture and to build relationships. You can do this by:

  • Contributing to meetings: Be well prepared and curious. Know the agenda, understand the pain points, ask your peers questions beforehand around context, and come prepared with some form of contribution. This might be an observation of what your competitors are doing to address the same issue, or it might be research you found or an idea you have. All of these contribution points will enhance your knowledge, learning and create a deeper business understanding and engagement. For those working remotely, contribution at meetings will be a smart move to increase your visibility.
  • Identify important projects and put your hand up: Offer to take care of any task or duty, no matter how basic. At this stage, you want to add value. Your contribution might be small right now (creating spreadsheets or proofreading a document), but do it well and on time. Your knowledge and learning will be accelerating, even if by osmosis.

Set long-term goals.

Now would be a great time to work with your manager in setting long-term goals. These tend to be more complex and require in-depth planning, forecasting, tweaking, and application. An example of a longer-term goal might be to work with a customer from the start of a sales cycle through to completion. This will see you involved in every step and seeing the bigger picture, understanding what, why, and how. Of course, you will have someone assisting as back up, but it is an excellent way to put in place all the knowledge and learning you have acquired. You will see the acceleration in your competence very swiftly.

Start building your personal brand.

Think of your personal brand as your reputation at work — but it’s much more deliberate. It’s the version of yourself you want your colleagues to see, experience, and remember. A positive and strong personal brand can help you stand out and get you noticed among senior leaders.

To figure out what you want your brand to look like, think about the values and attributes essential to you. This could be integrity, leadership, honesty, dependability, hard work, or others. Then, act with intention to build these into how you show up at work every single day. For example, if you want to be seen as dependable, don’t falter on deadlines. If you want to be seen as a leader, take charge of difficult situations, own your mistakes, and set the example by consistently delivering high-quality work. If you do this enough, people will start to notice and associate you with those values or characteristics.

My final piece of advice: Take it easy on yourself. You’re still at the beginning, and even after 100 days on the job, you’ll have a lot more to learn. Allow yourself to make mistakes and fail. Your first job out of school won’t be perfect, and neither will you. The way you handle setbacks, adversity, and challenges will define how others perceive you. If you handle them with grace and professionalism, you’ll shine.


Originally published by www.hbr.org

About the author
Roxanne Calder
Managing Director

As Founder and Managing Director at EST10, Roxanne has an all-encompassing role that includes building and growing the business, as well as actively recruiting and consulting.

After completing a Bachelor’s Degree at Monash University, Roxanne began her recruitment career with renowned recruiter Julia Ross. From there, Roxanne worked in HR and recruitment with a number of global players and boutique businesses throughout Australia, the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong for over 20 years. She has been responsible for managing large teams and projects, implementing RPO models, managing and assisting businesses to an IPO and assisting companies in setting up their recruitment teams and processes.

Following completion of her MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management, Roxanne launched EST10 in July 2010. In doing so, she hoped to combine the flexibility and high touch service levels of boutique agencies with the structure and strategy afforded to larger firms. Roxanne believes in high-touch, high-care consulting and is always on the lookout for consultants that share this vision of recruitment.

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