1. Steer clear of office gossip. This is especially sage advice during the first six months at a new job. Be quick to work hard, but slow to form alliances with co-workers. Watch and listen for how stakes fall politically—the last thing you need is to be aligned with someone who is on their way out.
2. Laugh at the boss’s jokes. Along those same political lines, you’re not going to love everyone you work with—and you’ll just have to deal. Of course, you don’t want to be the office kiss-up but bosses like to have their egos stroked. Plus, laughing at jokes is great for bonding and relationship-building.
3. Make friends in high places. Sure, senior executives can seem intimidating if you’re just starting out, but they’re the ones you can learn the most from. Stalk them in the hallways—without being creepy—seek them out at events, ask them smart questions, and never be afraid to ask for their help. You never know when that high-powered exec might be willing to act as a mentor or sponsor.
4. Know when to keep quiet. We hate to break it to you, but you don’t know everything—and you shouldn’t be quick to yammer away at the wrong time. If you’re in a meeting, take notes for questions you can raise later. If you’re in a conversation, listen for the meaning between the words, and don’t be too quick to interrupt.
There are times to assert your opinions, and times when it’s better to keep quiet. People who are just starting their careers need to learn everything they can about their business, their clients and their co-workers. And when you’re talking, you don’t learn anything.
5. Test your comfort zone. Volunteer for the project that you don’t think you can do. With your back against the wall, you’ll discover creative ways of accomplishing your goals and force yourself to learn a lot with limited time. Plus, succeeding against the odds will make others take note of your tenacity, ingenuity and drive—and that may earn you a much-deserved promotion.
6. Go ahead—break bad news to your boss. It may be tempting to hide in your cubicle to avoid the aftermath of a mistake in the workplace, but it rarely works out in your favor. Proactiveness and communication are key for career success. Bottom line: Knowing how to deal with the good and the bad is a sign of maturity.
7. Keep an outside-work-hours side job. Not everyone can land their dream position at 22-years-old, so it’s great to keep your passions alive through side gigs—whether they’re hobbies that could eventually make money or income-generating businesses right off the bat. Considering young professionals can likely count on having periods of unemployment throughout their careers, having a part-time gig to fall back on is crucial. Bonus: You might even learn a skill or two that you can translate into your 9-to-5 job.