3 Tips To Succeed At Your Entry-Level Job

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Mailroom with shelves for mail, recycling bin

You may see more of the mailroom than the boardroom at your first entry-level job.

After I graduated in January, I immediately started my first entry-level job. It was such a lightning-fast transition that it’s taken me nearly 6 months to reflect on the whole experience.

I’ve come to quite a few conclusions about the whole thing, not least of which is “what the hell were you thinking/why didn’t you just hibernate for what would’ve been your spring semester?”


My college experience unintentionally crafted a myth about what a “job” is. I thought I was going to use my hard-earned BA to start impacting businesses and the world at large from day 1. (It’s what I paid all this money for, right?)

That thought was so far from reality, it probably could’ve done a decent job as a plot for True Blood. It took me a while to accept that, at least in the beginning, I’d have to do some not-so-fun work mixed in with the stuff I loved.

So, having served as an entry-level crash test dummy for the past half of a year, I’ve come up with three tips to help you manage expectations and succeed at your first job.

1. Don’t Be Afraid To Do “Intern” Work

Think your fancy new salary and benefits package makes you immune from being the office’s designated FedEx person? Think again, my friend. Removing “intern” from your title, contrary to popular belief, does not shield you from the occasional menial task.

I used to think that the more senior people in the office looked specifically for interns to mail packages, transcribe interviews, and do data entry. Come to find out, they’re just looking for somebody more junior than them to do it—how junior the person is doesn’t necessarily matter.

Regardless, try and embrace the “intern” work you’ll inevitably have to do from time to time. Pitching in is a quick way to become the most likeable person in the office, just remember to set boundaries. If it makes you feel better, grumble about how you’ll never make the little people do stuff like this for you when you’re high and mighty one day.

2. Ask “How Can I Help?”

My first few days on the job, my boss was stressed out with stuff to do. My coworker, who had been reporting to my boss for about 3 years, asked her something that stuck with me. She said, “How can I help?”

When you come into contact with an equally burdened souls, you’ll have two options: pretend you don’t notice their struggle (cause you have so many things that you need to do) or offer to help.

If you choose the latter, you risk taking on work that may not immediately benefit you in any way. However, you’re lending a hand to a co-worker, and helping the overall organization by doing so. That’s something people won’t forget when you need help—or when promotion time comes around.

Offer to help as much as you can afford to (remember those boundaries again!): you’d want somebody to do the same for you.

3. Your Job Is To Make Your Boss Look Good

Forget your title, your job description, and your overarching hopes and dreams. Regardless of what you do or where you work, your job is to make your boss look good—I guarantee it.

It makes sense when you think about it. Who’s the person in charge of your pay, responsibilities, and workload? Your boss. If they don’t look good to their boss, then, by extension, you also do not look good going up the chain.

You were hired to do a certain thing, and if you do it well, chances are you’ll make your boss look good. However, there will be times when your own successes won’t align with your manager’s. If your project performs far better than a similar project your boss is running, you may want to tell the whole company about your success.

A good boss will be happy for your success, provided you don’t flaunt it in a way that makes him or her look silly—no one ever appreciates that, but especially the person you report to. Let’s just say that office life can be a bit more like Game of Thrones than you may expect …

Any other entry-levelers out there have their own tips for success or good HBO metaphors? Let me know in the comments!

(Photo: sarainsanfran)

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  1. Sasha August 8, 2014 / 3:51 pm

    Great advice here! I’m noticing some of the same things in my experience now working my first entry-level position.

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