College Game Plan

Common mistakes new workers make on the job

Stacy Rapacon, special to
Cyrus McCrimmon | The Denver Post | Getty Images

Rookies to the working world are bound to stumble a bit when they're just starting out. After all, figuring out how to navigate the workplace for the first time, on top of adjusting to the independence of adulthood, is sure to be challenging.

"The biggest mistake is not setting up some kind of routine," said Blake McCammon, marketing manager at Looksharp, a career networking site for new grads and interns.

In your college years, it might have been easy to stay out late to party on weeknights and drag yourself through a few classes the next day, he said. Perhaps you set up a forgiving schedule as McCammon had, typically attending classes between noon and 4 p.m. But getting through a full day of work with a hangover, on the other hand, may prove more difficult.

Instead, embrace the old tenet of "early to bed and early to rise" and put yourself on a set schedule to stay on track professionally, McCammon said. "It's a lot about willpower and understanding that you're out of college now and you have more responsibilities," he said.

It's a lot about willpower and understanding that you're out of college now and you have more responsibilities.
Blake McCammon
marketing manager, Looksharp

Along those same lines, get organized both at work and at home, he said. That means maintaining a calendar, tidying up your desk and apartment and putting things in their proper places (whatever that might mean to you). "Being organized in your professional and personal life will definitely keep stress levels down," he said. "And it'll set you up for success in the future."

Part of your routine at work should include regularly communicating with your boss — something new employees often don't do enough, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

"Even after you've learned the ropes a bit, remember that you still need to keep your boss actively in the loop about what you're working on and the progress you're making," she said. "Get an idea of how often your boss likes to be updated, both in general and when you're working on a particular project."

It's OK to ask questions

Another common mistake among new workers is not asking questions. Perhaps you're shy or afraid of appearing dumb (or both). But remember that "you're not expected to know everything right off the bat," said Haefner, "so you should ask as many questions as possible in order to learn quickly."

Indeed, acting timid is another mistake people make at work. "Starting a new job, especially your first one, can be a nerve-wracking experience," said Haefner. "It's normal to feel unprepared, but it's also important to remember that you were hired for a reason."

At the same time, don't go to the opposite extreme and act overly confident. Especially for millennials, it's important that you acknowledge being new and not go in assuming, or appearing to assume, that you know everything. "Be open to learning from others and developing your strengths," said Haefner.

Get a mentor

If you do find yourself working against older co-workers who wrongfully label you as entitled, try to shake it off and focus on your work. "Don't let the stereotypes get to you," McCammon said. "Remember that it's all about proving yourself. Just prove that you're able to do the job and do it well."

McCammon and Haefner recommend working with a mentor to adjust well to your new life in the real world. "Finding a good mentor can change your career," said Haefner. "Mentorship goes beyond giving advice; a mentor commits valuable time and attention to make sure you're progressing toward your goals."

Look internally at your company, as well as to others in your industry, for someone you admire and respect, McCammon said. For him, that was someone in his field who was accomplishing things he held in high regard. He walked up to her, told her that he respected what she was doing and simply asked if she'd be his mentor. "It worked like a charm," he said.