First Real Job as a New Graduate: Here are Some Young Employee Maneuvers

I have been tasked with training a brand spanking new lab partner, fresh from the university system.  It’s been so long since I was in that position I had to think long and hard about the basics of the workplace and sound finances for a young person.

My first thought went something like this:  “I hope she has a sense of humor.”  I would rather teach a dunce with a sense of humor than a delicate flower who might shatter with the slightest critique of correction.  Like always, I only offer opinions on how to navigate in a huge company and only offer advice on saving and investing if asked.  The trainee seems interested so here is what I have to offer in addition to the obvious “don’t make your career like I did” statement.

The Job Part

Once you’re hired and finally making some decent coin I suggest these moves.  These are tailored to people like us in a technical field but you smart readers can figure out the comparable moves for different work environments.

  • Know how much you’re being paid and make sure that is correct from the start.  It pretty much goes along with Why You Should Review Your Paycheck Stub but you want to make sure you are being paid the agreed amount.  The jobs at our place come with specific pay raises at specific intervals.  Know exactly the amount of your expected increases and when they are due.  When they’re due make sure they show up in your check.  After all, most of us wouldn’t do these jobs for free.
  • Don’t mess up while you’re on probation.  Once the probation period ends after a few months you ought to still follow the basic rules but take extra care during the period when it’s easy for the company to cut bait with you.  The biggest thing is showing up on time.  We live in a winter climate here in Buffalo so if it’s going to snow 18 inches at night get your ass out of bed early in case you need to shovel your car out in order to be at work on time.  Don’t eat or drink in areas where it’s not allowed and just generally don’t draw any negative attention.  That big personality can come out and shine once you’re established a little bit.
  • Find out about tuition reimbursement policies early.  If you have ambitions beyond the entry level these large employers will usually reimburse for graduate school.  Something I feel is often overlooked is the potential to attend training that isn’t necessarily towards a more advanced degree.  You might be able to take a seminar or technical training that is less than a full class but could be considerably more useful to your new employer.  For instance, we might have an instrument that very few people know how to repair or operate at it’s best and you might be able to take a one or two day course on that specialty.
  • Once you found out where the coffee maker and the bathroom are, get yourself the lay of the land and try to scope out people with similar credentials who have progressed to higher paying roles that might interest you.  I believe you can’t start this process too early but you can do it quietly where you don’t come off as pushy when you’re a newcomer.  You have to balance patience with getting your name out there in a large organization.
  • The company doesn’t care how smart you are.  Look around.  Everybody here is pretty smart.  The company cares how you can add value.
  • Find a mentor.  In a large company like this they have all kinds of bullshit mentoring programs.  In real life you might just find a non-bullshit mentor but around Big Brother Corp.  it’s more like part of a game you play to get ahead.  Recognize the rules of their game and play along.  Don’t be like a Smidlap and go around calling out 100% of the BS you see with an abrasive tone!  You might be right but Big Brother doesn’t care if you’re right.  They own the field and the ball so if you want to play then understand they make the rules too.  Find one of those mentors you meet with every so often and people will at least know you’re interested in trying to do more.  I’ve seen it work for less qualified folks getting gravy jobs over more qualified candidates because they sucked up a little (or a lot).
  • Keep an open mind and an up-to-date resume.  I would not suggest to move just anywhere as I discussed  in Get Your Money Straight and Say NO to Crappy Offers.  However, I would keep an open mind and explore any potential fantastic opportunities even if that might mean relocation.  I think it’s important early on to at least listen when the recruiter calls.  You may have lowballed yourself just to be here at a first job and it takes a long time to catch up from that and be paid your real worth when you stick around.
  • This one never gets mentioned so I’m going to take full credit for the idea.  If you have graduate school on the brain the best time to attend full time is likely when the next recession hits.  Maybe you could delay that in case you get laid off.  Use your first year or two to build a big emergency fund and if you end up in a layoff in a downturn think about that as maybe an opportunity to run for cover in grad school for a couple of years.

That’s all I have for now for brand new employees.  What have I left out?  Next time I’ll cover some finance basics for somebody just starting out.


Christmas in Key West.  Why in the hell am I not there right now?

18 Replies to “First Real Job as a New Graduate: Here are Some Young Employee Maneuvers”

  1. This is a great intro for a new employee starting out in a technical (and any other) field. I’m happy to see that I followed some of your rules earlier in my career. I went back to get my Master’s on the company dime, and I try to do other training programs whenever it makes sense (I got my Six Sigma green belt a couple years ago). I found a mentor early on that has helped me greatly through the years.

    I am supervising a new chemist now, and am trying to fill her with all of my knowledge regarding navigating the corporate landscape. I think it’s good to help others not fall into the same traps as I did.

    1. i had a real mentor and not the one on paper. he was near retirement when i started and shared a lab with him and he taught me the fine art of BS detection. i just don’t think i was cut out for corporate life in a large company. should go back to making silver compounds. i’m glad you navigated the waters better than i did.

  2. I’d add if you have a question that might be a dumb one don’t go to your boss. Find someone whose opinion is less important to your future and ask them if you can’t find it out on your own. I agree its a game, so spend those early days watching how the elite gamers play and how the worst act. Just cause you don’t make the rules does not mean you can’t win. I was pretty good at office politics Freddy, and I never felt bad about that. It was just game theory to me and I’m almost pathological about winning.

    1. i agree that you can win. like you, steve, i worked for a family company starting out and had connections and advantages there i didn’t realize at the time. i used to know some of the owners socially and never leveraged that, but it’s ok. you sure can win and you can win pretty big if you get good at the game.

      i’m here for all the dumb questions the new girl has until she has exhausted them.

  3. I third the comment about making sure you’re being paid correctly. I ended up in a year long “discussion” with our folks because PA’s taxes are stupidly complex and mine weren’t being taken out correctly. It took forever to fix and I had to write a $1200 check at tax time because of it.

    I also agree with keeping your head down and ears open during the probationary period. It takes 3-6 months to really get the lay of the land in pretty much any new job, so being in full time absorb mode for a few months is a good idea.

    I’d also tell her that everyone has an agenda. “It’s up to you.” Does not mean, “It’s up to you.” It means, “If you don’t make the choice I’d prefer you to make, you’re dead to me.” And literally no one will be honest about that. Which is why I also heartily agree with your point about an up-to-date resume. Because if the choice she wants to make in an “It’s up to you” situation does not align with what the person asking her wants, it’s time to start job hunting because that’s really the end of her upward career path at Big Bro Corp.

    1. i’m doing my best to relay as much of this as possible. some of it is subtle when it comes to the politics. it might be how you ask and your tone sometimes if you want something simple. could be the difference between yes and no.

      we already crossed a bridge where the expected vacation time wasn’t correct and plans had to be altered. lesson learned.

  4. I had a guy take me under his wing when I first started out on my first and only job that was in a huge, huge facility and required more political maneuvering (and hence why I left for small companies the remainder of my career). He said that when you get your performance review, no matter what the raise is, never, ever look satisfied. The reason is that the boss is stuck trying to disperse the pot of raise money to their people, and if you make it easy to give you less, then less is what you’ll get year after year. Make that boss squirm, I tell you. It’s subtle, the difference between making them uncomfortable and pissing them off. This balance is the key to your future pay.

    1. exactly…and you learn little things like you can only go to the well at work with a job offer in hand so many times before they just say “ok, bye.” and sometimes the only way you’re getting that bigger role is through leaving.

  5. She probably is pretty nervous, too, having her first “corporate” job. When I was working for an aerospace company as my first engineering job, I used to tell my direct supervisor when I was going to the bathroom, until one day she said “look, its not school, just go, you don’t have to tell me”. Fast forward a year and I was unexpectedly giving a presentation to the customers (immediate boss was out becuase his dad just died), and I told the head of program management of Lockheed Martin to shut up and sit down so I could give my presentation. Had no idea who they were, but they were talking over me when I was trying to start. Then got told later….ooops. Didn’t get fired, and in fact, they liked me so much they demanded I attend all their meetings (so like 5 hour teleconference meetings

    1. at least she’s not nervous to that level so far. i think i’m a relaxing presence around here.

      i did the same thing with dow chemical during a meeting. i let the phd mathematician talk for about an hour and finally she said “i’m about to tell you how it works.” and i couldn’t take it any more and said “donna, i’m about to tell YOU how it works.” i had all the science and data to back it up in my pocket the whole time. i didn’t want to interrupt but it seemed the only way to cut the soliloquy short!

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