Real Grads. Real Advice. Real Stories. Real World How to Make the Best Impression in Your First Days on the Job

Quintessential Careers conducts ongoing research into the job-search experience of new college graduates as they enter “The Real World.” Go to the Real World Home Page.

On how to dress on the job:

“Dress to impress!”
— TV production grad

“It’s better to overdress the first few days, to be eager to learn, to understand that no matter how much you know, you’re brand new in your job.”
— political philosophy grad

“In the first weeks of a job, dress according to the dress code to a ‘T.'”
— Robert Ashodian, management grad

“I first took a look at how others around me dressed, but in the end I dressed for myself. I realized that although those in my environment dressed pretty casually, I chose to ‘step it up a notch,’ because of my position. I never knew when I might have to see a donor without notice. It’s always better safe than sorry!”
— finance grad whose first job out of college was in the development office of the college from which she graduated

“Always dress nicely, even if it’s noticeable that you are overdressed. This will make a good first impression.”
— Anne Johnson, economics grad

“Casual dress in the workplace for women is different than for men. Men can wear Dockers and a golf shirt. Women still have to wear suits, heels, conservative jewelry and makeup.”
— Anonymous

“Always spend the investment to get the best possible dress and make the impression early on. No matter how informal the office may seems, presenting yourself well is important.”
— Anonymous

“Even if a company is ‘business casual’ show up in a suit for your first day on the job…if you want to move up within the company dress as professional as possible (not necessarily in suits all the time). My company is ‘business casual,’ but some people take extreme advantage of it and wear jeans to work. I’ve noticed my director takes those of us who dress professionally more seriously.”
— Ali von Staudach, communication studies grad

“The most important things to know is be as professional as possible meaning dress the part, be on time, and be sure the management knows from the start that you are serious about who you are and what you want to accomplish. Best advice for new college grads is to learn all you can about your job, other people’s job, and what it takes to succeed in the company you work for.”
— Anonymous

“Lose the piercings, except for the ears in the case of women. Hair? Natural colors … maybe not your own natural, but natural looking … definitely not blue or purple. Sir and Ma’am are perfectly acceptable words to use during the interview and during employment occasionally. It shows respect and you will be respected for it.”
— history grad

“Regardless of the casual dress environment, always project yourself professionally and avoid the jeans look. In the IT contract business where there are multiple contractors working for the same client, you may find yourself working next to your future employer. Remember to present yourself for your next job and employer.”
— Anonymous

“Appearance DOES matter. Develop a good work ethic up front that will follow you throughout. Find out about company policies and then behave appropriately.”
— Anonymous

“Look around. If your coworkers are all wearing nice suits, I would invest in a couple of nice suits. If they are wearing casual outfits, wear casual outfits. The same goes with how to act. Try to get a feel for the company atmosphere while interviewing, so you know if it is a serious environment or one that supports a little good natured ribbing.”
— marketing and Japanese grad

“You’re earning a job and trying to prove yourself, so always be professional. Go a little more until someone tells you its OK to wear jeans, or take a day off.”
— English education grad

“Make a solid first impression and keep it up for the first two months. Know the dress code and dress on the high end for the first couple months. If your company has casual attire where jeans areacceptable, wear khakis or nice skirts for awhile before moving onto the jeans.”
— Stephen Magennis, finance grad

On professionalism and taking initiative at work:

“Act professionally and go above and beyond what is expected of you. Take initiative, and you may be handed more responsibilities.”
— advertising and Spanish

“Act like a professional at all times (even outside of work). Networking is an all-hours skill and is invaluable in any career.”
— English grad

“Preparation and professionalism are essential at the start to keep on top of things and [enable you to] work well with a team.”
— Anonymous

“Professionalism, skills, and abilities will get you experience. Experience will get you promoted.”
— computer information science grad

“Be professional, no matter what you are doing. Meet people that you will be working with and make good relationships with them.”
— Anonymous

“Look and act professional — and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
— Anonymous

“For new hires, work hard and prove yourself. Take on challenging projects and illustrate your skills.”
— Anonymous

“Always have a smile on your face no matter how difficult it becomes.”
— Anonymous

“Work hard …. put in some overtime. Never stand around. If you complete a task, look for another one to tackle.”
— Ali von Staudach, communication studies grad

Professionalism. It absolutely matters. Think about how you would like to be perceived; set yourself up for success by behaving in a manner that [reflects well on] your company. Get the reputation for being professional — think about what you say before you say it, consider the implications of your actions, and understand that people are paying attention to how you are dressed.”
— Bryan Stoehs, communication studies grad

“There is no substitute for hard work — do your best. If you perform with a positive attitude and do your best, your company will prosper and you will reap the long-term rewards. Short-termism is what I call stinkin’ thinkin’ — never have the attitude of ‘what’s in it for me?’ Work as if you own the company.”
— Mario Teixeira, master’s grad in organizational leadership

“How to perform? Always to your best — even if it’s a task you’re not that wild about doing. Have a ‘Work Habit of Excellence.’ There’s nothing wrong with people thinking you’re dependable and a hard worker no matter what the job.”
— finance grad

On interpersonal communications in the workplace:

“Be respectful of your co-workers and superiors, but speak your mind if something bothers you (in a professional manner of course).
— Ali von Staudach, communication studies grad

“I would not get caught up in office politics and gossip. Be as even-tempered and amiable to your peers, subordinates, and bosses. Be on time to work and even occasionally, work extra hours and don’t be afraid to take ownership for your mistakes an your accomplishments. (P.S. Dress appropriately for the environment — if it’s an office — dress for business).”
— Anonymous

“Sit back and observe how the company operates, how each person prefers to work. Some people like to be approached in person, others via email, others by phone. Each person works differently, and the only way you can become savvy is by taking a step back and watching.”
— broadcast news grad

“Treat everyone the same, whether it’s the big boss or the administrative assistant (secretary). Just because someone might be in a lower job classification than you doesn’t mean they don’t carry weight with, or at least have the ear of the big boss. Their comments about you can affect your career performance. You really can’t screw up unless your interpersonal skills are lacking. Everyone expects you don’t know anything, so just be a good person, volunteer for projects or to help others out with mundane work, and use good manners.”
— Stephen Magennis, finance grad

“Even at the most respected multinational companies there are different types of people. Some of them hate you from the first day you entered the office, others are polite and friendly with everybody. Both types of these people can be either your enemies or friends. Don’t tell personal information to anyone, until you trust him/her completely.”
— economics grad

On open-mindedness, flexibility, and willingness to learn while on the job:

“Be willing to learn more than what you have been taught. In theory some things look very easy, but in the real life and in corporate world, theory doesn’t work. you have to look at other people and the way they do the job. Learn by looking and trying yourself. If you just graduated from college, you actually don’t know anything. You learn while working. Be patient and willing to accept that you will make mistakes and people will show you what you have done wrong. You will get negative criticism, but don’t take it personally. Work with it and make it work for you!”
— Anonymous

“Come in with an open mind and eyes. Observe everything around you, and absorb as much as you can.”
— Anonymous

“Be eager to learn. Come in before, and leave later than your boss.”
— finance grad

“Be honest. Don’t lie about anything. Do the best and honest job you can and your boss will appreciate your efforts. I would also say asks lots of questions. The person that is training you likes to answer those questions because it makes them feel like they know everything.”
— electronic engineering technology grad

“DO NOT act like you know everything … I don’t care if you graduated with a 4.0. If you do, your new co-workers will not like it and you’ll just give them more ammunition as to why you are a ‘wet behind the ears’ college kid. College grades kick open the door and get you the job. Once you are hired, you start the learning process from near scratch. You’ll get more respect by listening and absorbing what your co-workers have to teach rather than showing off how much you know … because they’re really not impressed by it … really. After the widely used 90-day ‘probationary’ period you should be showing your employer that although you still have a lot to learn, you have hit the road running and used what they’ve taught you. The majority of your day-to-day tasks will already be set by then, so you want to show that you are becoming more competent and a value-added member to the team. Within the first year, depending on the complexity of your job, should be fully competent in your role. You will look better during raise/promotion cycles if you have been performing above what is expected based on your experience.”
— Robert Ashodian, management grad

On being yourself at work:

“Just be yourself and don’t be afraid.”
— math major

“Be yourself, after all if you are hired and then act differently from how you did at your interview, you’ll look like a fake.”
— wildlife and fisheries science grad

“The best advice is to be professional, and more importantly be yourself. If you worry to much about trying to be something you’re not, the employer and your co-workers will see that and eventually it will catch up to you. Rather impressing them with a bunch of little white lies, be honest about your experiences and indulge them with what your have learned from those experiences.”
— human resource management grad

Go back to The Real World Home Page.

Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index, which enables site visitors to locate articles, tutorials, quizzes, and worksheets in 35 career, college, job-search topic areas.