This week, thousands of new teachers are being trained as part of their initiation into Teach for America. Thousands more are still recovering from graduation festivities with an eye on their first job looming in the coming weeks. Whether you are entering the classroom for the first time as a teacher, starting your internship in Washington, or beginning your long slog toward partner at a major consulting firm, here are a few thoughts to help you get started.
1. Know Your Role
You’ve been hired to fill a role. Understand the parameters and the expectations. My first job out of college was as a high school English teacher in Kingston, Jamaica. My job was to give my students clear boundaries for behavior, create a sense of stability and safety in the classroom, and, primarily, to educate them. But I had zero teacher training. As I stood in front of a class of 40 boys the same age as my younger brother, I thought my job was, in part, to be their friend. They thought their job was to eat me alive. Guess who won? By not understanding my role better, I made my first year as a teacher a daily battle with the class. But I learned my lesson. My second year teaching, I became the Dean of Discipline for the Junior class. We all would have been better off if I had understood and owned my role better from day one.
Whatever role you are walking into, you’ll be more successful and feel more confident every day if you have a clear understanding of what your manager, your constituents, and your team expect of your performance. If those roles aren’t made clear, feel free to ask. You’ll appear more strategic and more focused on doing a good job for someone if you look and sound like you want to be held accountable for your performance.
Part of knowing that role is getting comfortable with it. If you’ve always been “Sydney,” and now, as a teacher, you need to be “Ms. Segal,” it can be a bit daunting and you can feel somewhat like a fraud. You’re not alone in feeling that way, and you’re not a fraud. You’ve been given a job because someone has decided you have the goods to deliver on that role. Everyone knows you’re still in a learning phase, but they have confidence in your ability. That’s true in all roles. The first time you turn in a report to your boss and you realize she isn’t planning to check the numbers before she presents your analysis to the committee, you’ll realize you’re being treated like the professional you are, and you’ll panic. Relax. If you did your job with the appropriate amount of care and discipline, it’ll show. If you haven’t, the fault is shared with your manager for not checking your numbers.
2. Demonstrate Reliability
Early on in the job, people know you are learning the role. Most employers know they must invest in helping you acclimate to the organization and help you understand the technical aspects of the job– the “what” of the role. However, most employers don’t expect to have to teach you how to behave in the role, and how to have the right level of self-discipline. While they know you aren’t yet a fully-formed teacher, bookkeeper, auditor, or sales person, they do expect you are a fully-formed adult.
Showing up on time for meetings, meeting deadlines, dealing with coworkers with respect, not gossiping, and dressing appropriately for your role or organization, are all just as important as the technical aspects of your role. Your manager knows his job is to fix your lack of knowledge and experience. He also knows he can’t fix lazy. You’re in a great position professionally, in that you don’t have a professional reputation yet. Make sure you start out by building a reputation as someone reliable and professional.
3. Stay Alert About Others
Pick up on cues from those around you. Work is a social environment as much as a professional environment. Any work environment is organic, constantly changing based on the individuals involved. Many of the subtleties of the work environment aren’t written on the “mission statement” placard in the lobby or the poster in the conference room with the company’s “Top 72 Key Values.”
We learn how to behave and how to help others based on paying attention to the unspoken cues they send. Just because one manager is comfortable with your regular interruptions to get answers to questions, doesn’t mean the next person will like that kind of interaction. Pay attention to how people interact with you. They’re sending you cues as to how they are comfortable with you interacting with them. That doesn’t mean that if your boss’s boss likes to drop by unannounced with questions, he welcomes the same from you. Understanding that difference goes back to Point 1 about knowing your role in the organization. Nevertheless, you should feel comfortable asking your managers, “What would be most helpful to you in terms of how I communicate with you?” Again, asking more questions only makes you seem more strategic.
The same is true of paying attention to clients of the organization, be they customers calling in to your help desk, or students in your middle school bio class. Pay attention to what the individual seems to need. It’ll help you address their concerns better, and make for a smoother, more successful work day.
All of this is a lot to consider when you thought all you had to do was crank out your billable hours or help students understand the history of the Roman Empire. There’s a lot on your plate. That’s why they call it “work.” That said, work will be a huge part of your life. Follow these tips to make it a positive, enjoyable part.
Originally published on Forbes.com.