10 mistakes everyone makes at their first job

There are few situations that make you feel like a huge newb more than the day you start your first job. For awhile, everything’s great: you have your own desk! A salary! Cool work pals and a sophisticated new work wardrobe! But the high wears off.

10 mistakes everyone makes at their first job
10 mistakes everyone makes at their first job
11 Mar 2015

10 mistakes everyone makes at their first job


PHOTOS: Ingimage 

There are few situations that make you feel like a huge newb more than the day you start your first job. For awhile, everything’s great: you have your own desk! A salary! Cool work pals and a sophisticated new work wardrobe! But the high wears off, and in the interest of becoming your boss’ favourite new employee, you end up committing a number of rookie mistakes – many of which you aren’t even aware of until far later, when those mistakes have become a part of your routine.

If it’s any consolation, almost everyone commits these mistakes when they’re young and inexperienced – or well, even when they’ve been working for decades.

1. Eating lunch at your desk
1. Eating lunch at your desk
11 Mar 2015

1. Eating lunch at your desk

Or, alternatively, not eating lunch at all. You might think you’re showing commitment by blazing through the lunch hour between forkfuls of salad, but countless studies have shown that social isolation will hamper your workflow (besides, who does serious work while eating anyway?). Recent findings from the University of Toronto showed that neglecting a proper lunch break increases fatigue and causes lower productivity, while common sense tells us that taking a walk outside can help you think. And research from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education found that people who were instructed to come up with creative ideas while taking a walk were better at it than people who were tasked with coming up with ideas while sitting at a desk.


So if you’re lucky enough to work somewhere that gives you at least an hour for lunch (and these days, most places do), take advantage of that time to catch up with your colleagues and to let your brain recharge.

2. Not making friends outside of work
2. Not making friends outside of work
11 Mar 2015

2. Not making friends outside of work

It’s not easy to make new friends as an adult, so naturally, we have a tendency to become BFFs with our colleagues. How can you not, when you spend upward of 50 hours a week together? You support each other, understand each other, and might even spend time together outside of work. Plus, who has time to make other friends when you’re already so busy at work?


At the same time, however, you should take care to maintain your relationships with people outside of work – even if the only people you know outside of work are the uni friends you haven’t seen in two years. Imagine what would happen if you decided to switch jobs, if all your BFF colleagues decided to switch jobs, or (gulp) if you got retrenched. Your entire support system would be gone. So keep up those connections – who knows, they might even hold the keys to your second job.

3. Not making friends at the office
3. Not making friends at the office
11 Mar 2015

3. Not making friends at the office

On the other hand, you might avoid befriending your coworkers because you’re either scared of getting close to them, or you simply don’t get along. Who needs work friends when you have tons of other friends outside the office, right? Wrong. A recent Gallup poll found that having friends at work increases employee satisfaction by 50 per cent – and that people who have a work BFF are seven times more likely to “engage fully in their work”. Makes sense to us – another person’s perspective can help you become more creative, more relaxed, and ultimately, less jaded with your work. Office life isn’t always the greatest (especially when you’re working overtime), but if you’re going to be spending weekends in the office, you should at least have someone there to entertain you.

4. Needlessly working overtime
4. Needlessly working overtime
11 Mar 2015

4. Needlessly working overtime

One of the biggest mistakes people make at their first job is not knowing when to leave. While some people duck out too early, here in Singapore, it’s more common for newbies to work unnecessarily late. Here’s something we had to learn the hard way: no matter how long you stay tonight, there will always be something else for you to do. You will always get new emails. For every assignment you turn in, there will be a list of “URGENT” amendments. Your efforts will never be enough. Without setting a daily finish line, you’ll never be entirely present when spending time with your family and friends. Anyway, working longer doesn’t mean you’re hard-working – some managers will see your toil as the result of bad time management.


The only way out of workaholism is defining for yourself what “done” means. A recent article published in LinkedIn said that there are four types of finish lines: energy-based (“I’ll leave work when I’m dead tired”), time-based (“I’ll leave work when the clock strikes 5pm”), results-based (“I’ll leave work when I finish my daily to-do list”) and feeling-based (“I’ll leave work when I feel good about what I accomplished”). Pick whichever one suits your line of work, and then call it a day at 6 pm.

5. Not speaking up during meetings
5. Not speaking up during meetings
11 Mar 2015

5. Not speaking up during meetings

Don’t be shy. Staying quiet during meetings hurts you in the long run. Firstly, because you’re not really adding anything of value, and secondly, because you’re missing out. Speaking during meetings strengthens your influence, makes you look confident, and can even open up new opportunities – you might not think your ideas are worth hearing, but it’s worth a shot. Your boss might like the idea so much, she’ll put you in charge of a project that could help advance your career. Consider the alternative if you stay quiet: your colleague might voice out the same idea, and in doing so, receive the opportunity that could have been yours.


Speaking up takes practise, yes. So take baby steps until it becomes natural. Ask questions. Commit to speaking about at least one topic during the meeting. And don’t let yourself get intimidated by people whoare more senior than you. In the end, they’ll be more impressed by a junior employee who knows how to be competent and confident, than one who automatically shrinks back from authority.

6. Not using your vacation time
6. Not using your vacation time
11 Mar 2015

6. Not using your vacation time

You have a right to some days off. So take them! The company has you for more than 200 days a year. Not having you around for two weeks won’t kill them. You tell yourself that it’s not a good time, but unless you’re extremely free in life and work, it will never be a good time to go on holiday. So book that trip – it might be just what you need to come up with your next brilliant idea.

7. Not being a team player
7. Not being a team player
11 Mar 2015

7. Not being a team player

In school, you look out for Number One. You’re responsible only for your own GPA. But as competitive as the workplace can be, you also owe some responsibility to your team. Fresh graduates tend to focus on being brilliant while underestimating the importance of being someone people actually want to work with. So do your part: work with your team’s timeline, give others a chance to contribute, and be flexible with your time, even if it means coming in early or staying late to help the team make its deadline.

8. Awaiting direction before doing anything
8. Awaiting direction before doing anything
11 Mar 2015

8. Awaiting direction before doing anything

Again, at school, we wait for our teachers to give us homework. But your boss is busy. She doesn’t have time for hand-holding. She expects you to make decisions and to solve problems yourself. Be confident and act on your gut, even if it means that you risk making a mistake. Sure, being subservient and passive sounds like the safer route, but it also lessens the chance of getting noticed – let alone promoted.


Of course you should still ask for help when you need it. But showing a little bit of self-motivation can go a long way. When there’s a problem, show that you’ve at least tried solving it yourself, rather than making your boss do everything.

9. Assuming your first job will determine the rest of your career
9. Assuming your first job will determine the rest of your career
11 Mar 2015

9. Assuming your first job will determine the rest of your career

Your first job won’t make or break the course of your life. Just because you are starting work at a small company, while your friends are working at Big 4 firms, doesn’t mean they’ll always be more successful than you. Life is rarely that straightforward. No job will lead to eternal happiness, and nothing guarantees a dream career. And if your chosen field isn’t to your liking after all, who’s to say you can’t try something else? There’s no need to regret your first job. It might not have been what you expected, but at least you know now what you don’t want to do in life.

10. Acting entitled
10. Acting entitled
11 Mar 2015

10. Acting entitled

Yeah, you slaved away for years in internships, freelance jobs, and contract positions, but don’t get indignant about your new job’s “lack of perks” just yet. Too many fresh graduates walk into their jobs with a sense of entitlement, demanding paid leave a month into the job or experiencing a breakdown because they didn’t receive a 50 per cent salary increment at the end of their first year. And then they quit before they’ve really had a chance to grow. Calm down. Like we said, life is rarely so straightforward. Instead of walking into a place feeling like you’ve paid your dues, consider this new job another step in a life’s worth of education.


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