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9 Important Office Etiquette Rules to Follow at Your First Job

Starting your first “real job” after college is a nerve-wracking, intimidating process. Between the endless resumes, cover letters, and the emotional journey of interviewing, finding a job is a lot for anyone to handle. But when you’re finally over the job searching phase and receive an offer, the journey is actually just beginning.

Adjusting to a new workplace takes some serious time and energy, and there’s plenty to learn before you feel settled in. If you don’t want to black out from nerves on the first day, these dos and don’ts will help you keep calm and nail your first few months on the job. 

1. Do show enthusiasm 

Most people show enthusiasm on their first day, but that energy sometimes fades once they settle into a daily routine. If you’re young, hungry and ready to grow, enthusiasm goes a long way in creating new opportunities. Remember to express your excitement for the role, your interest in the company and your ambitions for the long haul. It’ll show that you genuinely care about the job and aren’t just in it for the check.  

When it comes to making a positive impression at work, Joan Kuhl author of Dig Your Heels In says, “Attitude and work ethic are everything. You want to be able to work independently but also express your willingness to roll up your sleeves to contribute to the team’s goals.”

I’m not saying you need JoJo Siwa off-the-charts energy every single day. First off, I’m not sure that’s humanly possible, and also, you’d probably annoy the hell out of your colleagues. What I am saying is that even if you’re introverted or laid-back, you can look for subtle opportunities to show that you’re professional, growth-oriented, and happy to be there. For example, if you’re having lunch with new coworkers, you could casually mention how lucky you are to have the job and explain what you plan on contributing to your team in the near future. Or you could talk to your boss about skills that you’re hoping to expand and pitch a few project ideas where you could cultivate those same skills. By proving that you’re enthusiastic and passionate, you’ll put yourself in a strong position for future opportunities. 

2. Don’t have casual office hookups 

This one seems obvious and you’re probably rolling your eyes because you’ve heard it before. But in reality, office hookups happen all the time with young professionals. Picture this: There’s someone at your office who’s kind of cute, your team is out drinking on a Friday night, you take one too many tequila shots, and suddenly you’re alone with said cute person. What could go wrong (I don’t recommend drinking in excess with colleagues either, but I’ll get to that later)?

It’s easy to neglect the fact that you’ll be face-to-face come Monday morning, and every weekday after that until one of you leaves the company. The reality is that after a casual office hookup, there’s no guarantee that it won’t become extremely awkward for both of you. Or even worse, it could get around the entire company if one of you tells the wrong person. If folks at your workplace do find out, it could negatively affect your reputation. That’s not an ideal situation when you’re trying to build your career

3. Do respect shared spaces 

Sharing an office, or a workspace of any kind, is kind of like having roommates. You have your personal space by your desk and then there’s the shared space with everyone else (i.e. the kitchen, bathrooms, meeting rooms, etc.). Everyone has different lifestyle habits and that cup in the sink that you’re “totally planning on washing later” could drive Karen from Accounting into a meltdown. There’s more to consider besides physical messes too. I remember an instance where one of my coworkers microwaved leftover fish for lunch. It made the whole office reek for an entire day and the rest of us weren’t too pleased.

Even if you don’t personally make a mess, be aware of potential areas that you can help clean or organize. Going the extra mile to keep the space tidy will leave a positive impression on your new colleagues. Something as simple as putting away chairs after a meeting could give you extra brownie points with the right person. 

Related: Your First Job Shouldn’t Be Your Dream Job — Here’s Why

4. Don’t get too comfortable 

Especially in the startup world, arcade games, casual dress codes, and Friday happy hours are all the rage right now. If you’re in an environment with young, personable coworkers it can be tempting to let loose.

First and foremost, avoid drinking in excess around any people from work at all costs. It’s hard to recover your image after everyone saw you try to take your shirt off at a whiskey-fueled karaoke night. Another big no-no is talking about your wild weekend antics on Monday morning. No one wants to hear about your attempt at reliving college glory days, nor will it help you get ahead at your job. Something seemingly more benign, like accidentally dropping an f-bomb in front of the wrong person, could leave you in sticky territory too. 

If you do happen to mess up at work Kuhl advises to, “Think about how your actions impacted others and how your mistakes may misrepresent how you really want to be perceived in the workplace. Go straight to the people who were involved and let them know you messed up and be clear that you own your actions and behaviors. You can ask their advice on rebuilding your reputation if you have already established trust in the working relationship.”

The bottom line is that even if you make friends at work, be careful about the way you act and the information you share. Gossip can spread like wildfire in a workplace, and you want people to think of you as capable and intelligent, not young and reckless. 

5. Do get involved 

Most companies have occasional events or special projects that are open for all to join. Getting involved can help you network with people outside of your immediate team and teach you new skills. For instance, lots of offices have catered events. You could volunteer to help place the order, set up the food, and clean up when everyone is finished. This would position you as a go-to team player. Attending special events outside of work, like a team bowling night, can help you meet new people who might be able to help you grow your career. Getting involved at any level shows that you care about the company’s success and are willing to step outside your day-to-day duties to lend a hand. 

6. Don’t engage in negative talk 

If you love spilling tea, this is a tough one. Venting, complaining, and gossiping aren’t the best idea in the professional world. If you find yourself in a tough situation where you need to vent, try talking to a friend outside of work. If you absolutely need to confide in someone from your workplace about a tough situation, speak with someone you trust in a private one-on-one environment. If you make a negative work-related comment in front of the wrong people, you’d be surprised at how fast it gets around.

Along with avoiding spreading your own grievances at work, don’t spread any information you see or hear about anyone else. If you happen to hear your colleague bawling over a recent breakup in the hallway, it’s best to keep your lips sealed. They could get angry if they find out you leaked the news, and you could make their breakup way more painful. Aside from personal problems, firings, quittings and promotions can also lead to hot office gossip. While it’s tempting to pry into why the Finance VP walked out after ten years on the job, it won’t benefit you to have a snooping reputation.

7. Do find a professional mentor

A trusted mentor can help you navigate the workplace with ease and teach you tons about your industry. They could make the difference in helping you land your first big promotion. Your mentor could be someone in a different department that you’re hoping to join, or it could be someone from an entirely different company. A great mentor will push you out of your comfort zone and help you learn new skills along the way.

If the thought of finding a mentor feels overwhelming, don’t worry. You certainly don’t need one right away and you can feel out a few different options before deciding on someone permanent. Kuhl says that when finding a mentor, “The key is understanding that you must invest more time cultivating the relationship as the mentee, but it will be mutually beneficial.” A good way to start is to research people, either at your company, from your alumni association or on LinkedIn, who are in a role that you admire. Next, you can ask them to meet over a cup of coffee and pick their brain about their career path. If you make a connection and receive good advice, try to meet with them a few times a year. 

8. Don’t sweat the small stuff

During your first job, it’s easy to overthink little details because you care and want to make a good impression. So, if Bob from Sales sends you a weird email with a rude tone, don’t panic. If someone you met one time forgets your name and snubs you in the hallway, try not to take it personally. We’re all human and have our off days. More times than not, other people’s odd behavior has absolutely nothing to do with you. Try not to read into the small things unless they turn into consistent patterns. 

On a similar note, it’s important to remember that you’re human too. You’ll make mistakes and have a few mess ups within your first few months. It’s totally okay and even expected from newbies. It would actually be weird if you didn’t make a single mistake. If you own your mistakes, fix them and move on, there’s absolutely no need to stress. Be kind to yourself while you’re learning the job. 

9. Do listen to your gut 

Speaking from personal experience, there’s a lot of pressure to stay in your first job for at least a year to gain reputable work experience. If your gut is telling you that it’s not the right fit, don’t be afraid to say “thanks, but no thanks” to the opportunity. If you notice immediate signs of a toxic work environment, like blatant disrespect toward employees or if the job isn’t what they described, my advice is to leave. Landing a job should be a two way street. They’ve already determined that you’re the right fit for them, but if they’re not the right fit for you don’t bother wasting your time. 

It might be corny, but the best way to ease into your new role is to just be yourself. It’s scary to be immersed in a new space with complete strangers where you’re expected to bring something to the table every day. As time goes on you’ll get the swing of things and work will feel like riding a bike. If you’re feeling pressure about being perfect, try to take a deep breathe and know that no one is. Be yourself, use common sense and above all, try to stay positive. You’ll figure out this adulting thing in no time.

Sandi Scanlon

U Mass Amherst '16

Sandi is a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate with a degree in Communications. She currently lives in Boston and is figuring out this "adulting" thing one day at a time. When she's not busy writing about life hacks, you can catch her sunbathing or snowboarding. Either way, she'll have an iced coffee in hand. You can follow her on Instagram at @sandiscanlon.