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How To Have A Strong Start To Your Career

career start Aug 19, 2021

First Impressions Matter.  Here are some tips for starting out strong.

Dennis Guzik

Quick Summary/Intro

You’ve done it.  You’ve landed a great job that puts you on the path you want to be on for a fulfilling career.  You want to start strong; make a great impression.  Based on my career in the Marine Corps and in a large corporation, here are some tips.  I’ve been impressed when I’ve seen this in newly hired people and disappointed when they were not present.  So, let’s talk about them!


Act with Integrity at All Times
The trait of integrity means that you speak the absolute truth as you believe it exists, in all situations and circumstances.  It does not mean that what you say is always correct – you will be wrong about some things, especially if you are just starting out in your career.  But it does mean that everything you say is what you honestly believe to be correct.  You never intend to deceive.

You want those above you to believe what you say, and most people will, right up until you intentionally deceive them.  If that happens (and you are lucky enough to keep your job), everything you say after that will be viewed with suspicion.  I have told those I led that I will believe everything you say until I find that you intentionally lied to me.  Then afterward I will question everything you tell me.  Your boss does not want this situation, and neither do you.  So – act with complete integrity at ALL times.

Increase Your professional Knowledge

Increase your knowledge of your job and its associated industry.  As the new person, you won’t be expected to know everything at first.  But that “probationary period” ends quickly.  Bosses are impressed when a new employee gets up to speed quickly.  Try to gain some knowledge every day.  Good ways of doing this are engaging other, more knowledgeable, employees, and not just taking, but seeking feedback from your work (ask: How did I do?).  Read trade publications.  Consider further formal or informal education and training opportunities.  One of the best ways to progress your knowledge is to volunteer.  When you hear a new project is being started seek an opportunity to get involved! 

As you start your new position, do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, then develop a plan to eliminate those weaknesses.  A good example is public speaking.  This is an important skill in most businesses, and if this is a weakness for you, seek out training to overcome it.  Toastmasters is a great example of a place where you can improve your public speaking ability.  Don’t ever stop learning and you will be surprised how quickly you surpass your peers.

Get Organized
Develop your own method for ensuring you are organized with your work and your schedule.  This can be a simple way of tracking tasks and deadlines, to more complicated, software-assisted means, such as MS Project.  But find what works for you.  Excuses such as I forgot, or I don’t know where that work is located don’t cut it.  As a boss, if I tell you I want you to be at a certain meeting, give you the date, location, and time, I should not have to say anything else.  You will be there, even if I told you this several months in advance.  Always have a way to write things down so you do not have to rely on your memory.  Wear a watch.  You need to be aware of what time it is, and counting on there being a clock in the room can lead to failure.  I don’t recommend using your phone.  It can be misconstrued by more senior folks as your being disinterested in what is being discussed and instead you are taking care of personal business.

Ensure Your Personal Life is in Good Order
What you do outside of work will impact your work performance.  Take the time to get it in good order.  Take care of your health.  In the Marine Corps, I observed that people in better physical condition tend to handle heavy workloads and stress better.  You may not have life-or-death situations like in the Marine Corps, but you certainly will be stressed at times, and want to perform well during that challenge.  Purchase and wear clothing appropriate for your profession.  Never wear worn or soiled clothing, and pay particular attention to your shoes as they can take a beating just getting to work (I recommend you keep a shoe brush in your desk).  Be careful about alcohol consumption.  Never over imbibe at work functions, and having a hangover in the morning is not an acceptable excuse for being late or performing poorly.  Take care in deciding which colleagues you chose to associate with.  There is always that five percent that are disgruntled and perform poorly.  You can tell them by their attitude.  Things are always bad and it's never their fault.  They would love to add you to their cadre, and nothing good will come from that.

Practice the Small Stuff
Small actions can have a large impact on how you are perceived.  Here are a couple of them that will catch your boss’s attention.

  • Never be late for an event.
  • Be overly formal when speaking with seniors. This will ease up quickly, but it makes a good first impression. 
  • If something isn’t right (e.g., you are going to miss a deadline), let your boss know as soon as you do. Bad news does not get better with time.  Give your boss time to help, vice dropping the bad news at the last minute.
  • Never make excuses or “pass the buck”. If you’ve screwed up, admit it and learn from it.  You are not expected to be perfect, but you are expected to be honest
  • If you are seated at your desk and your boss walks in, stand up. That simple action conveys a lot of respect that will be noticed.
  • Proofread EVERYTHING before it leaves your desk. Your boss isn’t evaluating you on grammar and spelling but is evaluating you on attention to detail.
  • Email is a terrible way of expressing emotions. It is easily misinterpreted.  If it's important and sensitive, ask to speak in person.
  • Respect your boss’s time. Don’t drag on a conversation – get to the point.  If your boss has the time and wants to chat, he/she will let you know.
  • Too much jewelry, inappropriate attire, or wearing strong scents are distracting. You’ve worked hard to get here, don’t let something like that influence what your colleagues think of you.
  • Don’t say “no problem” when handed a task or request. Acknowledge the task (especially important if the task was not assigned in person).  If it truly does present a problem, try to find a solution before telling the boss that it is a problem.
  • Make eye contact and say hello to everyone you meet or pass in the hall. It can have an instant impact on how you are perceived.


You are starting an exciting and eventful part of your life.  Getting off to a good start will be much more likely should you follow a few suggestions:

  • Act with Integrity at All Times
  • Increase your professional knowledge
  • Get organized
  • Ensure your personal life is in good order
  • Practice the small stuff