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10 tips to succeed at your first job

Written by Nuskha Semaun on 1 May 2023 for Graduates

It’s natural to have some nervous jitters when starting a new job, especially if it’s your first one. You might find the reality of working doesn’t align with your expectations, and there are always things you weren’t prepared for. In this blog, we give you 10 concrete tips on how to make your first job a success.

If you’re reading this blog because you’ve just landed your first job: first of all, congratulations!  The transition from school to work isn’t an easy one, and it’s something lots of graduates aren’t fully prepared for. Reality often doesn’t line up with expectations when it comes to starting your first job. That’s why it’s great to have a coach, like all graduates at Exellys do. But more on that later.

When transitioning from being a student to being a professional, your role shifts remarkably. You’re no longer the customer, who pays the school to deliver you a service: education. You’re now the service provider: your employer pays you to deliver them a service. Big difference.

At school, you controlled your time and schedule for the most part. At work, you have to adjust to what your boss expects of you, what your co-workers require from you, mandatory meetings that take up chunks of your time, a mailbox and office chat that are always on, …
At school, you pretty much knew what to do and how to do it in order to succeed. There were clear instructions: study this syllabus, write that paper on this topic, get at least a 10 out of 20 on your exams. At work, it’s not always so clear what is expected of you and what ‘doing a good job’ looks like. This is where soft skills really help. Learning how to communicate and how to ask for feedback is crucial if you want to succeed at your first job. This is something we dedicate a lot of time to at Exellys.

So, in short, learning what it takes to succeed at work is vital. Here are 10 tips to make your first job a success.

#1 – Show humility and willingness.

Unfortunately, Gen Z is often thought of as entitled and impatient. Don’t live up to these stereotypes. Accept that you’re the new kid on the block, and do the menial tasks. It’s a rite of passage, a test everyone has had to pass. After all, nobody will trust you with a complex task before they see you perform well on a simple one. There will be plenty of opportunities to showcase your talents later on.

#2 – Don’t fake it till you make it.

Many new workers pretend to know more than they do, because they don’t want to come off stupid or inexperienced. Here’s the thing though: you probably won’t fool anyone, and nobody expects you to know everything. Asking questions shows you’re interested and eager to learn, and also conveys that you respect your co-workers’ knowledge and experience. Adopt a growth mindset and keep learning!

Extra tip: bring a notebook to work. Jot down your questions when they arise and take notes of the things you learn. An actual paper notebook sends the message that you’re serious and willing to learn, while typing on your phone might send a different message – even if you’re just taking notes!

#3 – Show up with a positive attitude.

Attitude is everything. Coming to work every day with a positive, can-do attitude is one of the best things you can do to launch your career in the right direction. People enjoy working with someone who’s enthusiastic, upbeat and eager to learn. You don’t want to be known in the office as Miss or Mister Complainsalot. 

#4 – Build your network.

This is an important one: it’s not just about who you know, it’s also about who knows you. Start building your professional network early on by talking to everyone in the office and in your field. Every single person at your new job, from the receptionist to the CEO, can teach you something valuable if you bother to get to know them.

Side note: networking doesn’t come easily to everyone. But even if you’re introverted and/or socially awkward, you need to learn how to do this. Find out a way that works for you: schedule one-on-one get-to-know-you-meetings or coffee breaks, or organise small group lunches so there’s always someone to carry on the conversation when you’re drawing a blank on how to use your mouth to produce words. There are also books, TED Talks and podcasts out there to give you tips on how to do this.

#5 – Get to know your boss.

Your new boss can make or break your future at the company, so getting to know them early on is very important. Learn their values and expectations, communication style, work style and so on. For example, do they prefer e-mails, chats or calls? Without getting too personal, ask them about their life outside of work as well. It’s never a bad thing to be on good terms with the person who decides on promotions and performance reviews.

#6 – Showcase a strong work ethic.

Work ethic is about HOW you work. Show that you are serious about doing a good job, and show up on time – especially on your first day. Prepare yourself for your new job to make sure your first day runs smoothly:

  • Do a test run of the commute during rush hour. Then calculate an extra 15 minutes at least, just to be sure.
  • Figure out the parking situation beforehand, so you don’t lose time because you have to park your car 10 minutes away from the office.
  • Ask about the team’s habits: when are people usually in? What time do most of them leave? Do they come in a bit early to have a chat and a coffee first? Knowing these things before your first day can help you fit in more naturally and avoid awkwardness.

#7 – Go the extra mile.

Be willing to come in early or stay late occasionally, when needed. Employers notice, appreciate and promote those who put in a little extra effort. That being said, it’s also important that you set healthy boundaries from the get-go, and take care of your work-life balance to avoid burn-out. A few extra hours here and there won’t destroy your personal life or mental health though, and they might really pay off in the long run. Bosses are more inclined to promote a trustworthy and committed employee over someone who does the bare minimum and is out the door at exactly 5 PM every day.

#8 – Ask for feedback.

Part of adopting a learning mindset is asking your boss and colleagues for feedback. Do this regularly and proactively, with people you trust. Don’t wait for your annual review. Here are a few example questions that can help you gain important insights into your performance:

  • What’s an area of my work that I should devote more focus to?
  • What do you believe are my greatest strengths?
  • Am I meeting your expectations?
  • How can I add more value to the team?

At Exellys, feedback is very important. One of the first acts of business is a hands-on workshop on how to give and receive feedback. You have a meeting with your coach every three months, or more when necessary. In between meetings, you can always call or e-mail your coach as well.

#9 – Understand the company culture.

The company culture is basically “the way we do things here”. Some companies have an awesome culture, like Exellys 😎. Others… not so much. And what’s a great culture for some, can be a uncomfortable for others. For example, some people thrive in a well-structured environment where following clear procedures is important, while others feel better in a more dynamic environment where things aren’t as clear-cut. Whether the office culture is a fit for you is something you will feel pretty early on, though you’d probably do some research in advance before signing your contract. Websites like Glassdoor can be very helpful in that regard.

It’s important to remember that you, as an individual, cannot change the culture. So it’s important to choose a workplace that’s a good fit. At Exellys, ‘matching’ is a vital step of the recruitment process. We will always look for a client where you will fit in. Because if you love what you do but you hate your environment, you probably won’t be very happy.

#10 – Take initiative.

Taking initiative starts on your first day. While it’s great to ask questions, don’t be afraid to do some research on your own. It will show that you’re a self-starter and nobody needs to hold your hand. But taking initiative is important throughout the next few months and years of your career as well – and well beyond that, of course. To start, the most important thing is that you do the things you’re supposed to do well. But as you grow in your position and you get more comfortable, it’s always a good idea to look for ways to help. Even if it means doing something that’s not part of your job description.


The transition from school to professional life is one of the biggest ones in life. At times, it can feel daunting and unnerving. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Exellys builds the bridge from your last day of school to your first job. We do this by offering plenty of guidance and support through our coaching approach, and by providing valuable trainings to learn and practice soft skills as well as job-specific hard skills. Our events are always a blast, and a great way to network with your peers. So while following the tips above will get you a long way, getting in touch with us will assure you the value of 4 years of work experience after only 48 months!

About Exellys

Exellys is a Tech Talent Incubator. We match ambitious companies with the finest tech talent. Are you ready to drive the innovations of tomorrow? Ready to make an impact and become a future-fit digital leader?

Whether you are a graduate or (young) professional, Exellys will unlock your full potential by guiding you to a challenging work environment that perfectly matches your personality, expectations and ambitions.

On top of that, you are enrolled in one of our very own training and coaching programs (based on your personal and professional ambition and experience). This means that, while working as an Exellys consultant, we are helping you to bridge your ambition to excellence.

Through intensive training and coaching, you’ll gain the essential skills, competencies and knowledge necessary to become the highly effective professional you aim to be. Become an Exellyst and get in touch with us today!