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Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Your First 'Real' Job

What Not to Do When Entering the Professional Workforce for New Grads (and Everyone Else)

Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Your First 'Real' Job

Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Your First 'Real' Job

By Margaret Steen

You've graduated from college and landed a job in a tough economy. Congratulations! But now the real work begins.   

To make your first job a stepping stone and not a dead end, try to avoid these eight pitfalls:

1. Being Impatient

You want to start making a meaningful contribution on your very first day -- but there's a fine line between taking the initiative and appearing presumptuous.

"The first thing I would suggest is not to go in guns a-blazing and insist on making your mark right away," says Alexandra Levit, the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College. "Pay attention to how things are done, how other people bring up ideas."

Once you have a feel for how the business works, give your boss some ideas for improvement and ask for feedback.

2, Being Too Patient

Just as you shouldn't arrive at your first department meeting with a list of suggested changes, neither should you spend your first month sitting in your cubicle and waiting for your new coworkers to introduce themselves.

Instead, get to know your coworkers and their jobs. "Don't get a bad attitude because people aren't paying attention to you," Levit says.

3. Using Technology Inappropriately

Whether it's OK to text during a business meeting or post to Facebook from your desk will depend on the company culture.

Levit advises paying attention to what everyone else is doing. Do colleagues use email or instant messages? Is it OK to use your laptop during a meeting? Or listen to your iPod while you work? "Every workplace is different," she says.

4. Making a Bad First Impression

From your workplace attire to your handshake, people will form opinions of you early on. "Be very mindful of how you act when you meet people for the first time," Levit says.

Make a special effort to remember people's names and something about them. Don't take two-hour lunch breaks, even if you don't have much work to do yet. And watch your colleagues for signs that it's quitting time. "You should never be the first one out the door or the last one," Levit says.

5. Not Discussing Your Goals With Your Boss

You should find out what your boss's expectations are for you in your first 90 days. "Touch base with your manager on a regular basis," says Peter Jacobs, a career consultant and coach. "Make sure everybody is still on the same page."

6. Not Understanding Your Boss

Your boss may not like to communicate the same way you do -- and it's important for you to match your boss's preferences. Jacobs says you should ask yourself, "How does the person like to receive information? How often?"

7. Going It Alone

Your boss is a great resource, but to build a strong career you'll need advice from more than one source. "Look for people who might be good mentors and sounding boards as you progress and develop," Jacobs says.

8. Not Appreciating It

Your job may not be "the be-all and end-all of career stardom," Levit says, but you can view it as an opportunity to gain new skills, learn about the business world and make valuable professional networking contacts.

"You might as well enjoy the time to take care of yourself and learn as much as possible, because you won't have that time forever," she adds.