How to Build a Great Reputation at Your First Job

Building a successful career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you are just at the starting line. As a new hire, your role is to get acclimated over the first few days and observe the flow of work. Whatever apparent madness you think you see in the early days at your first company, there is usually some very sound method behind it. The paychecks don't bounce, so the company’s seasoned employees and officers must be doing something right.

With this in mind, do not make comments about how things should be done. No one will listen, you may earn the reputation of “the know-it-all,” and you will be put in your place quickly.

Don’t try to change the world before you know your way to the restroom.

You need time to get to know the company, its services, and its people. In turn, those people need time to get to know you. If you arrive and immediately begin reinventing the company, understand that it will be received as arrogance, not as an opportunity for your co-workers to learn and grow from your brilliant perspective as an outsider. No one wants to hear your ideas until they know whether you are a talker or a doer.

Start small.
Take the time to get your feet on the ground, learn your way around, cultivate work relationships, avoid the temptation to exchange gossip, and absorb the culture. As you do this you'll see plenty of opportunities to make a difference with your presence. Prioritize them and start small, with each project meticulously conceived, planned, and implemented.

If you have ideas, the time to start introducing them is sometime after the ninety-day probationary period, when you know:
  1. The names of everyone in the department.
  2. How the department work and why it works that way.
  3. How the company works and why it works that way.
  4. Who’s trustworthy and who isn’t.
  5. Management and other power players holding titles, at least one and ideally two levels above you.
When you start pitching—start with smaller ideas. They are easier to sell, help you build a foundation of credibility, and should something go wrong, the failure is not such a big deal. Working on smaller ideas first helps you recognize and learn to finesse the hidden hierarchies that can torpedo any initiative.

Learn how to function as part of a team.
It doesn't hurt for your ideas, when you do introduce them, to be seen as part of a team effort. They will usually carry more initial weight when a member of that inner circle also has ownership. You don't lose credibility with their endorsement; you gain it.

You don’t climb alone; no one does. You will do it most effectively with the support, encouragement, and camaraderie of similarly committed professionals, and as such we grow together. That's why the people at the top of every profession all know each other and have done so for years.

No one likes to be overwhelmed with genius, and the better you are, the more you have to work at your humility. Taking it slowly in the first ninety days will speed your acceptance by the group as a whole and allow you the time to recognize the real players amongst your peers. When it comes to establishing your credibility and visibility, the good news travels more slowly than the bad, but it does travel.

When you’re a recent grad and new to the world of work, all you want to do is get noticed. But respect really is earned; it’s not just a cliché. It also takes time and doesn't happen by accident.

Martin Yate is an author of 11 job search and career management books, including a New York Times and international bestseller Knock ‘em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World.

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