How to Set the Bar at an Appropriate Level During Your First Corporate Job
This article is part of our Post Grad Survival Guide for the recent grads out there that we’ll be rolling out this summer. 13 weeks, 13 blogs, 13 chances for the corporate drones of the future to learn how to exist in the adult world while still hanging on to some level of sanity and self respect. Join our email list to follow along all summer and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to guest write.
You did it. Against all odds, you graduated college and got a job that will pay you to sit at a desk and circle back with people for 9 hours a day. Maybe if you’re lucky, it’s enough for an apartment with windows. Dream big.
First impressions matter. That’s like rule #1 in life. Your first 90 days can make or break you in your first job and luckily, we’re here to help you set yourself up for success long term. And when we say “success” we don’t mean “get you promoted in 3 months.” The long relentless march of working for the next 50 years (before you retire and die) is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s set the expectations at a level that your mediocre self can exceed without breaking a sweat.
Next week we’ll cover softer skills like dress attire, office politics and making work friends, but today we’re starting with the least important part of your first job – the work itself.
How to Do the Actual Work at Your First Job
The most shocking thing about your first job is just how little of your brainpower you’re going to be using. After 4 years of studying and writing essays in college, it’s jarring when you realize you first job will mainly consist of writing emails, trying to say smart things in meetings, and making PowerPoints that your boss will have to go back and edit themselves since you used 10 types of animation and had no real information.
Here’s how you handle the different types of work that will be thrown at you.
The single most important and frequently used skill in any office job is sending emails. Honestly, they should teach you this shit in college instead of forcing you to take 3 levels of Econ with your $50k a year tuition (why do I need to know how the system works if I’m just a cog in it?) but I digress.
Here’s how you become a professional emailer like the rest of us.
Figure out your exclamation points.
Have a nice mix of periods and exclamation points so you don’t sound like an overexcited loon or a militant robot sent to Earth to provide project updates.
When in doubt, follow the lead of who you’re emailing with. And if you even think of double exclamation pointing, smash your computer with a hammer.
Get to the goddam point.
Whenever I see a paragraph longer that 3 lines, my eyes start to glaze over. We don’t need a background story for your email about last month’s email campaign. Get into it already.
Use bullet points to separate thoughts, bolding or italicizing for key points, and link to documents instead of describing them in detail.
Remember that emails last forever.
Keep the shit talking or raunchy conversations to Slack or Teams. These also live forever, but whatever.
Just send it.
Stop spending hours overthinking emails. Ultimately, none of this really matters at all. Do you think that on your death bed, you’ll regret an email you sent? No. You’ll be regretting how you never got your drinking under control and ended up driving away your wife, children, and everyone who ever loved you. Send the fucking email.
Also known as “deliverables” or “that thing you spent 3 weeks on that your boss will present and take credit for.”
Crush Your First Few Projects
Establish yourself as someone who knows what the fuck they’re doing and can be trusted with actual work. Do research, push yourself, and make sure all your data and information is 100% accurate. Practice your presentation and make sure you’re prepared for any and all questions. Maybe even get a haircut you sloppy piece of shit.
Once you’ve built trust and developed the rep as “person who is good at their job,” you can slack off by about 20% and still get promoted.
Don’t Overdo It
It’s a fine line to walk with the previous point, but the key here is making sure you don’t go above and beyond. Staying late for no reason or doing extra work that your boss never asked for is tryhard behavior that won’t be tolerated, plus it will set you up for failure and burnout.
Figure out which projects matter. You don’t need to make a 25 slide deck with beautiful templates and transitions for a weekly check in. Pick your spots.
Realistically, you’re going to consistently deliver B+ work at the best. That’s ok, you’re not curing cancer or doing the Lord’s work (running a relatable work humor meme page and blog.) Set the bar at a B or even a B- and soar over it every time.
Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
You’re going to fuck up a lot because you’re a dumb little moron. It’s ok. You’re new to this. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make them again. I shouldn’t have to tell you it’s a bad idea to interrupt the VP and call him “buddy” more than once. Or even once for that matter.
The best way to get promoted in Corporate America is to seem smart in meetings. I don’t make the rules, I just manipulate them. Here’s how you becoming the meeting king.
Know When to Speak Up
You got hired for a reason, so don’t be a little bitch. Share your opinion, ask a question, or offer a new idea.
Be the second or third person to speak up after a presentation. You can piggyback off someone’s point (saying the same thing in different words) without being annoying yet, plus you can make an easy comment before someone else steals your point (“have we considered the scalability of this idea?”)
Know When to Shut Up
Don’t talk just to talk. There’s nothing worse than the guy who chimes in during the last 90 seconds of a meeting and forces it go another 5 minutes longer than it has to.
Unless someone asks for questions, let them do their presentation without interrupting. Fuck the guy who interrupts the flow of a presentation to ask a question that will be answered in the next slide.
In your first job, the best skill you can learn is listening.
Master 4-5 Buzzwords
Nothing makes you sound smarter or gets you out of more jams than the perfect buzzword. Nothing makes you sound dumber than speaking exclusively in jargon or using them in the wrong context.
We’ve taken the liberty of putting together a dictionary for you, but start small for the first few months and find your old reliables.
Send Out the Meeting Notes
This is the easiest way to prove you’re paying attention and adding value to the team. Plus, it forces you to actually pay attention and add value.
Do this for the first two months and see if anyone gives a shit. If not, then stop. You don’t want to get stuck doing this for the rest of your life.
Golden Rule: If You Don’t Know Something, Speak Up
There’s nothing more annoying as a manager than when projects or processes get delayed because a new hire was too scared to tell you they’re confused at the beginning. No one expects you to know everything right away, but they will eventually, so ask a million questions while you can. You have about 90 days to play the “I’m new to this” card. Use every second of that.