Advice for Your First Job out of College: Covid Edition
Actionable suggestions and what to expect while working from home to start your first full-time job.
A lot has changed since I accepted my first full-time offer less than a year ago. Toilet paper became more valuable than gold, the world came to a screeching halt, and my new job became fully remote for the foreseeable future. I was thankful that I still had a job waiting for me, but now had no idea what to expect when I started. How would I get to know my team? How long was I going to be working from my parents’ house? Am I going to keep getting stuck with no one to turn around to and ask for help?
Now that I am almost a month into my first full-time job out of college, I have a better idea of how to navigate this new, online reality. I want to share what my first few weeks looked like and offer some actionable advice to hopefully help ease your transition into this new role while reliving some anxiety and answer some of your many questions and concerns.
On the first Monday of August, I signed into my new work computer from my parents’ attic, over 2000 miles away from my manager in California.
The majority of my first day was on-boarding, a process that consisted of virtual HR presentations about company values and policies, a history of the organization, and tech support to get the necessary software properly installed. We new hires introduced ourselves and met various members of the organization, mostly HR folk.
In the afternoon, I had a 1:1 meeting with my manager. We got reacquainted (he had reached out to me a few weeks prior so I had the opportunity to chat with him before my first day), and then he gave me a basic overview of the team I was joining, the project(s) I would be working on, and a general idea of what my roles and responsibilities would include. Fortunately for me, my manager had already set up a 30/60/90 day plan so that I could get somewhat of a sense of how my first few months would look. While it was certainly not a fixed schedule, it was nice to see a general idea of where I was headed.
On my second day, I joined in on a team-wide meeting where I told them a little bit about myself, and they introduced themselves as well.
Throughout the rest of the week, I had various meetings with key stakeholders of the project I was joining to begin to better understand what I was working on. These meetings always included my manager and 1–2 others that were familiar with the project as well.
I was added to reoccurring team meetings and all the necessary distribution lists and Slack channels, my company’s platform of choice for individual and team collaboration. My team also had a virtual happy hour at the end of the first week, which was awesome to chat and get to know each other off of work hours!
Week one was mainly focused on getting integrated into the team and ramping up to speed regarding what I was going to be working on.
Quick note here: Because my role and responsibilities are super specific to the team I am on, I did not go through “traditional” training with any other new hires. As a product manager, my job requires me to learn on the fly. This may be different for you, depending on the company and role. I have many friends who spent their whole first week (or more) mainly on structured training.
2nd & 3rd Weeks
The second week was a lot of learning and picking up as much key information as possible. While many of the project’s intricate details were either left out or went over my head, I was starting to form a clearer picture of what I was involved in and what role I would play.
I was attending all the team meetings which helped me get into the work flow and was frequently messaging my manager questions (which he was happy to answer). My manager gave me a list of relevant people to schedule meetings with, and increased my responsibilities (I ran a 6 person meeting!).
By the third week I was comfortable and familiar with the team, had a much stronger understanding of the project and where I came into play, and was contributing in meaningful ways. While I was by no means independent yet (my manager still was overseeing many of my tasks) it was encouraging to be helping out in a more concrete manner.
As I continue to demonstrate understanding and competence, my responsibilities will expand and my autonomy will increase. However, it has been made clear to me that they do not expect me to be fully ramped up for a few months. Of course, this will vary dramatically depending on the organization and the role you are occupying.
While I still have a ton to learn, I have discovered a handful of tips and tricks that have worked extremely well for me and should provide immediate benefits for any new hire. I have included these below.
Have an ongoing list of questions (and acronyms): There will be lots of information thrown at you, and it’s easy to lose track of the questions you have. Write them down as soon as they come to mind, and when you have time with your manager you can ask them, one by one.
Similarly, keep a list of acronyms that are new to you. Chances are your organization will use acronyms that are unfamiliar to you; write down what they mean when you are told, and for those you encounter that you don’t know, write those down too for later when you have time to ask.
Setup repeating meetings with your manager and other key stakeholders: If you have a meeting regularly scheduled you don’t have to worry about finding time to catch up. You still will have impromptu meetings, but this way you ensure time to talk and go over issues/questions/etc on a regular basis.
When finishing a meeting, clarify action items: Action item = what needs to be done before we meet again. This helps you leave the meeting with a sense of clarity about what comes next. Write these down somewhere easily accessible.
Look things up early and often: The internet is a great resource — don’t be afraid to google any little thing you don’t fully get it. This is a good first step to help avoid bombarding your manager with questions.
Organize your email by creating folders and rules: Instead of keeping everything in an inbox that will soon become overcrowded, setup various folders for different types of mail. For example, I have a resources folder, a follow-up folder, a To-Do folder, and a folder for the automated IT emails that I get a couple times a day.
Further, setup email rules if you can. Every time I get an automated email from the IT team that goes to the whole tech organization, I have a rule that automatically puts that email in a specific folder to avoid cluttering my inbox. This can help with organization, and the rules most beneficial to you will become clearer over time.
Ask lots of questions: The first 3 months or so are a great time to use your naivety to your advantage — no one is going to think any question is dumb because they aren’t expecting you to know anything. Don’t nod along if you don’t understand, they are more than happy to help out!
Take good notes: On paper, online, whatever you are most comfortable with. But take notes during meetings, while doing research, and any other time there is new information being presented.
Be patient. There will be a learning curve, and that is normal and shouldn’t discourage you. It is ok to feel lost or overwhelmed at first, keep at it and you will be amazed at the progress you make. You aren’t expected to know everything (or often anything) at first. They wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t trust you could learn and excel; have faith in yourself and work hard to prove them right.
Trying and failing > not trying at all. If you sit around all day thinking of the best way to do something, you are not actually getting any practice in the activity. Trying something out for yourself is the best way to start learning. Failure is OK. This will lead to better questions and a much deeper understanding.
Celebrate little wins. Your first month(s) may or may not lead to concrete progress; focus on the little things that are helping you progress.
Control what you can control. The only things you can control are your effort and your attitude. If those two are good, people will notice and you will be set up for success.
Have your camera on for meetings! This may seem small, but I highly recommend always having your camera on for meetings. It may or may not be common for others to have their camera off during meetings, but it helps keep you focused, lets others know you are engaged, and feels much more personal which leads to trust and relationship building.
Have a dedicated physical space or two for work. It helps you mentally separate work from personal time, which can be a challenge sometimes when you are working from home.
Finishing college and starting work in the “real world” can be daunting, especially in the Covid era. With the right mindset and understanding of good practices, you can succeed in any situation. Work hard, ask questions, and be a sponge and learn as much as you can from those around you. Working remotely is certainly different, but in today’s day and age we are well set up to make it as seamless as possible. Eventually offices will reopen, but until then we must make the most of this current situation and I hope this article was helpful for you to do so!
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn!