Advice for the New Professional

Graduation season has inspired us to share our top pieces of advice for new professionals. Whether starting a career as an engineer or something totally different, we hope these tips help you find success in your new role and love your work!

1. Get to know the company. And industry.

You most likely did company research in preparation for your interview. Now that you’re hired (go, you!), it’s time for research phase two. Your initial research likely included a zoom-out of the company, website features and big-picture items. Phase two helps put you into the picture. By diving deep into an organization’s portfolio and taking the time to understand what’s happening in the industry, you’ll have a distinct advantage.

To be able to speak confidently about key projects, keep up when past work is referenced, and have a head start during onboarding, consider questions like:  How does my company talk about themselves? Which projects in their portfolio am I especially interested in? Have they won any awards or recognition lately? What kind of content do they showcase on their blog or other outlets? What have I found that I want to learn more about?

To begin building a foundation of industry knowledge and practice seeing the bigger picture, consider questions like: What trends or topics keep showing up? Who are my organization’s competitors and what are they doing well? What are industry leaders publishing or saying? What kind of philanthropic outreach does my company support?

2. Go beyond the portfolio.

A company’s philosophical side should be included in pre-start research. While portfolio research helps you understand the work you’ll do each day, company research (think mission, vision, values and approach) helps you understand how you’ll work each day. We all want to make an impact with our work and in our community. Chances are, company research will motivate, excite and help you buy in to the organization you’re joining.

3. Speak up. (But listen up too.)

You won’t know it all on day one. And you don’t need to! Ask questions and listen when answers come. Don’t be insecure about what you don’t know, but see asking questions as an opportunity to learn something new. Remember, everyone understands that you have a lot to learn. In a matter of time, you’ll be answering the questions for the next new hire. And when those questions come? Remember what you appreciated about the people who answered your questions. Technical skill is important but communicating with patience and clarity leave lasting impressions in the workplace.

4. Set goals.

This task may take some time. Setting good goals requires thoughtfulness, intentionality and organization (and many large goals require sub-goals). Maybe you want to become a licensed engineer? Or be on a certain project type ? Goals serve as your roadmap. Better to know where you want to go, identify a route, and adapt as necessary.

Goal setting isn’t a habit exclusive to the workplace. We all know that it’s a practice associated with successful careers and personal lives alike. It’s important to let yourself be aspirational and to spend time thinking about your goals. Establish attainable checkpoints for yourself. In your new role, we recommend setting phased goals (some for the first quarter, six-month mark, and first full year), writing them down and sharing them with a manager.

5. Be yourself.

When beginning a new role, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the desire to make a good first impression. You want to impress, prove your worth, find your footing – we get it!

But you don’t need to be the exaggerated extrovert if you’re naturally shy. And you don’t need to curb your friendliness if you find yourself in a quieter office. Relax, trust yourself, and we promise you’ll make a better impression than any façade would. Plus, you’ll allow your coworkers to know the authentic you. (In the name of self-awareness, we have to share our favorite personality evaluator, Meyers Briggs. It’s eerily accurate and very worthwhile.)

6. Find your work style.

Identifying your work style is an extension of being yourself. Are you an early-riser who loves watching sunrises as you check off to-do’s? Are you most productive when there’s a hard deadline? Do you like to work through challenges independently or with a team? Understanding how you work best helps you be more efficient and communicate better with teammates. It’s also great for mental health because finding your work style helps pinpoint your recharge style. Whether taking a walk around the building to clear your mind, grabbing coffee with a coworker, or making time for morning workouts, understanding how you unwind matters too!

7. Diversify mentorship.      

There’s a reason apprenticeship has been around since the stone ages: it works! Great mentors will invest time in getting to know you, your strengths and your goals. They’ll support your day-to-day work, provide constructive evaluations, and help you plan for career checkpoints.

In reality though, your workplace likely won’t have one single person who represents everything you want to achieve. Diversify! Everyone at your office has something to teach you. If you find someone particularly competent in tough situations, study that. If you admire the way a coworker stays organized, take notes. If you find someone you connect with who has walked the path you’d like to, well, you know what to do! Take them to coffee and tell them you’d like to learn from them! Take the time to pursue mentorship with people you admire.

Many organizations have established mentor programs, but if you’re finding it difficult to find a mentor, talk to your manager. It undoubtedly will be well received, as it shows a commitment to growth and is an indirect way of saying, “I value our in-house expertise and talent and I want to build my career here.”

8. Explore extracurriculars.

Socializing with your coworkers is essential for your career,” says Alexander Kjerulf, an international author and speaker on happiness at work. “If you’re not able to relate to your coworkers as human beings and build positive relationships, your career will suffer.” Our advice here is to socialize, yes, but force it, no. You spend a significant amount of time with your coworkers and it benefits your day-to-day if you can establish relationships with them.

Today’s companies typically offer lots of camaraderie-building extracurriculars, everything from in-office ping-pong tournaments to offsite adventures. Find the right fit, as participating in activities that don’t genuinely interest you may leave you feeling ostracized. There are lots of options: explore a topic or trend you’re interested in with an internal task team, join in on a volunteer day, start a coworker book club, play a game with the company kickball team, or simply show up to an occasional happy hour.

9. Keep learning (and let professional organizations help).

Professional organizations present various ways to advance your career. They not only provide a platform for purposeful networking and industry collaboration, but regularly facilitate opportunities for learning. Workshops, panels, conferences, and meetings allow members to share best practices, learn from others’ experiences, and consider challenges as a team. Many companies are happy to cover employee membership fees or continued education costs. Take advantage!

10. Be inspired outside the office.

You are so much more than an engineer (or marketer, or designer or sales associate)! Embrace your out-of-office interests. We’re firm believers that pursuing what you love, be it hobbies, travel, cooking, fitness, service, etc., makes you more creative, motivated and happy! And we’re not alone. The premise of Shawn Achor’s, The Happiness Advantage, is that happiness fuels success. He says, “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. This discovery has been repeatedly supported by research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world.”

Finding the right work/life balance can be a challenge, especially when you’re new and eager to learn and put in your time. Just remember that balance is good, and that pursuing interests beyond the office helps avoid burnout and improves our work product. Everyone brings a unique perspective to projects, and it’s our team’s varied backgrounds, interests, and talents (the fact that we’re tap dancers, rock climbers, guitarists, and little league basketball coaches) that make our project teams dynamic and successful.

11. Treat conflict with care.

Even if you’re justifiably frustrated or upset, resist sharp words, passive aggressiveness or trash talk. Chances are you’ll regret impulsivity once you’ve had a chance to cool down. Remember that you’re at the office (even if it’s disguised behind a fun, informal company culture). Conflicts, even small ones, should be treated with hearty doses of professionalism and self-control. That’s not to say you should keep your frustrations bottled up. it’s important to be transparent about your experience, what could be improved, and help your office culture evolve – but instead of reacting when you’re emotionally charged, address them in a professional, sincere manner.

12. Bring your best attitude.

We saved the best, and arguably most important, for last. The attitude you bring to work matters enormously. It determines how your coworkers interact with you, how you approach tough tasks, how open you are to growth and learning. It’s contagious too, your attitude is a huge factor in office morale! Teamwork is a big part of every industry and there will be times where your product is dependent on how well your team functions. If you can take that late night at work in stride by ordering pizza and revitalizing the team, you’re doing it right. Order the pizza. Rally the troops. Bring passion, positivity and grit with you to work, and you’ll undoubtedly be a success.

On behalf of the entire Coughlin Porter Lundeen team, we wish you the best of luck as you begin your career. If you’re on the job hunt, be sure to explore our careers page. We’d love to meet you!