I Just Started My First Job… Now What?

Tips for a Successful Start in the Agency World


You did it. You survived college and earned your first professional job. Tomorrow is your first day at the marketing and communications firm you set your eye on during your sophomore year of college. This. Is. Happening. Now what?

During my time at Fahlgren Mortine, I’ve been fortunate to interview hundreds of students and hire several into their first job after graduation. I would like to think that it wasn’t too long ago when I had my first day after graduation. But there are some behaviors that transcend time when it comes to making a successful start at a marketing and communications agency. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Overdress for Your First Day. Actually, Overdress for Your First Several Days.
Many agencies allow a casual dress code for employees considering the creative nature of the work, and it’s easy to look forward to wearing jeans on days other than Friday. Remember that appearance says a lot about you. My preference is that you overdress for your first several days to get an accurate read on the dress code culture. Once you’ve got it down, go ahead and fit right in.

2. Take Notes.
The days of taking notes while a professor lectures may be complete; however, the exercise of capturing key information is really just beginning. In some ways, college was just practice for professional life. Starting a career in an agency is not easy, so you might as well try to capture all of the helpful information provided to you at the outset. As soon as the assignments start rolling in, you’ll wish you remembered how to enter your time, develop a purchase order, utilize an online database to start a media list, among other things, so write down as much as you can. If nothing else, taking notes shows that you care enough about the subject matter to write it down.

3. Ask Questions. Never Stop Asking Questions.
I will never forget when Neil Mortine, Fahlgren Mortine’s president and CEO, told me in my first week as a professional to ask questions for the first six months of my time with the firm. Thirteen years later, I’m still asking questions. I want to know that my team members are thinking about the client, its challenges and opportunities, its competition, and the markets it serves. I want to see them trying to connect the dots. I want to see them ideating. Asking questions is a great way to demonstrate engagement in each assignment. On the other hand, not asking questions is a great way to demonstrate that you’re thinking about something else – and often an indicator that the deliverable is not going to meet expectations. As a new professional, you do not know all of the answers. There’s often little – if any – harm in asking questions.

4. Share Progress Updates
Wendy Schweiger, who is one of our colleagues in our Cleveland office, shared with me the saying, “The greatest myth about communication is the delusion that it has occurred.” New professionals can quickly gain respect when they leave no question unanswered about the status of a project. It’s critically important to not go radio silent on something until the day before it is due. Share updates at major milestones during the process, and if you uncover a really interesting fact during your research, let your team leader know at that moment – don’t wait until the end. Or, if you arrive at a crossroads, ask (see tip number three) which way to go so you don’t waste time and budget heading down the wrong path.

5. Prepare. Show Up Early. Stay Late.
It seems so basic; yet, it is so often forgotten. Get to work on time and let people know when you won’t be where you are expected to be. When you arrive, come ready to go. Meeting times are set to start at the time they are set. Do not assume that a 9 a.m. meeting really means 9:10-ish. If you can commit to preparing for every meeting, you’ll be ahead of the game. Preparation tactics can be as simple as reading the agenda in advance, drafting some questions to cover during the conversation, visiting some websites relevant to the discussion, or at the least bringing materials that were shared in advance.

Instead of darting out to happy hour when your phone clock changes to 5 p.m., give yourself time to review the day, cover any loose ends, review your schedule for the following day and prioritize activities. Be present and participatory throughout the day in ways that demonstrate your commitment to your company and your client. And, please don’t allow your cell phone to be the object of your attention while you are at work.

While each of these tips is tangible, I’ll add a bonus one that is intangible: Demonstrate poise. We know this is your first professional job, and we know you’re going to make mistakes. All that we ask is that you remain calm and confident amid the chaos. If you can do this, the work product has a much better chance to be successful. And so do you.


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