The College Grads’ Guide to Working with their 1st Manager

The College Grads’ Guide to Working with their 1st Manager

Making the leap from student to professional can be one of the biggest leaps you will make as a young professional and in your early-adult life. The differences between student life and professional life are substantial -the expectations are different, the schedule is different and the way you work is different because you’re being paid based on performance and results.

After spending years preparing for a job, and learning about your subject area of choice, you feel as though you’ve been trained to tackle your first job with gusto.

However, many students experience a “culture shock” when they’ve landed their first professional jobs, and if you’re one of those people, you should know that you’re not alone.  Much of the shock is driven from the shift working for professors’ approval vs. management’s.

If you’ve just graduated, you’re likely taking all the knowledge you’ve obtained in your classes, acquired through your internships, and given to you by experts in your schools’ career center and doing your best to showcase it all when applying for jobs.

Since your last semester, you have been securing interviews, following up with hiring managers and mulling over your application materials -and if your hard work has paid off, you’re about to take the first step on a career path that is certainly not defined right now.

It’s important to note that you’ve received and accepted your first job offer; the rules are pretty ambiguous and how you navigate your first position can impact your career path negatively or positively depending on how you operate in a professional setting.

You know what you’ve interviewed for and you know what the job description entails but it’s likely that you haven’t been formally trained on how to receive feedback and work with superiors.

For many of you, your first job might be the first time working with a manager directly or taking directives from several colleagues who are in positions of authority.

Unlike your professors’ your manager’s sole job isn’t to ensure you’re succeeding, and as such, navigating the complex manager-first year hire-relationship can be tough.

The biggest cause of tension is simple: it’s adapting to an ongoing work-based relationship as opposed to a temporary transactional based relationship.  

In college, students usually attend and participate in a course for a 3-4 month time span, turn in a series of assignments and tests and receive a grade based on those assignments or tests—once they’re done with the work, the transaction is over.

In a professional setting however, you must adapt to ongoing influences, the relationships can span the entire duration of your employment, and your performance is judged solely on what you can deliver in terms of reaching the organizations’ goals.

Students making the transition from a one-to-one transaction with an authority figure to a holistic ongoing relationship feedback loop can feel a little overwhelmed. In college, your work has a clear start and finish, at work, you’ll be expected to pivot day-to-day depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

When working with a manager and on a team, you’re going to be entering situations where maybe the guidelines aren’t that clear, or there is back history to the project you’re working on that is obvious to everyone else but you. 

Or, you have a really great, creative idea but it doesn’t fit your boss’ strategic vision or the goals your clients/customers are working towards. Oftentimes, managers will not provide a detailed history of events to you because they want you to focus on your part of the work.

Without necessary details, however, you may have to go through rounds of feedback from your managers, approval processes and often times, several brain-storming sessions.

And after all that, you may have to redo the work you already did and receive little- to-no- explanation on what specific hurdles you’re not clearing. This can lead to frustration and confusion, and most professionals in their first jobs experience this at least one or two times within the first year of employment.

You will think that your manager doesn’t like you, has it out for you, or that you’re being caused to work extra hours because it’s personal—but there is good news!

It’s not personal. For college grads who are starting in their first jobs, operating in this new relationship dynamic can be frustrating, confusing and at times, soul crushing, but usually, your managers have your best interest in mind.

I currently teach internship courses at Lasell College and also have helped oversee the development of many first-year-hires in communications agencies. Through this experience, my assessment is that there is 3 year learning curve for new hires when it comes to working with a manager and understanding management’s true intent for a new hire’s career direction.

You need to realize, there are usually reasons for the feedback you receive, or projects you’re given and you may not have all the information in front of you.

Successful professionals are those who can digest feedback and cherry pick the critiques they find most valuable to help them evolve into a more dynamic and marketable hire in the future.  I will tell you a secret too—managers are also on their own career journeys and are receiving feedback on their work and how they manage you too!

Even though I’ve let you in on this secret, you will still feel lost at times. Here are a few scenarios that will help you recognize a growth opportunity, even when your managers’ feedback might seem harsh.

1. They make you rework your work time and time again

Unlike your professors, your manager won’t redline your work and call it a day. You will have to brush it up many times until it is correct, or if you make mistakes you’ll have to follow a work-checking process.

You might not phrase something correctly in a document, or leave out details that are imperative to the project’s overall success, and your manager will probably make you rework your projects and ideas until they fit into the larger strategic goal.

Your manager (s) aren’t doing this to make your life difficult, they’re trying to allow you to  jump into the deep end and learn how to rework your projects so you can get it right the next time around and eventually train others.

It’s not personal, it’s meant to help you experience the changes yourself and ultimately help you deliver better work down the line.

2. They ask you a lot of questions

New hires don’t have a lot of experience to draw from, so you’ll get a lot of questions from management about how you’re handling tasks and what your to-do list looks like for the day. This behavior is not caused by a lack of trust, it’s caused by the need to help you prioritize your work and learn how to organize your task list.

Managing a workload is not something you are taught in college classrooms, so it’s up to your managers to help you so that you’re aware of how to maximize your time and results.

The questions can feel a little off-putting, so make sure you ask your manager what they think about your time management skills so they know you are also invested in working smartly.

3. They expect you to want to learn

The best way for you to make a good impression, is to ask those in power for guidance. For instance, per the point above, if your boss rearranges your task list for the day or asks you to tackle a specific discussion point in a meeting, you should feel empowered to ask why they made that decision and how your work contributes to the teams’ success.

Managers do not want order takers, they want new hires who see themselves as a piece of the bigger puzzle and who have a vision for how to improve and impact the organization as a whole. You should take control of your own career path and ask how you can improve your performance or what is working vs. what isn’t.

You should also ask how they see your role evolving as you become savvier in your position. The only way to get better is to perpetually seek out opportunities to learn and digest feedback, and once you get more comfortable with asking questions, you’ll see a relationship developing with your managers which might not exist if you decided to stay quiet.

Working in your first job will be exciting and challenging—and if you approach it with confidence—will be a great learning experience. Not all managers will be great though, but once you understand the reasons behind their feedback, you can take control in your response and how you evolve on your own professional voyage.

Author: Kristina Markos

Kristina Markos M.L.S teaches at Lasell College in Newton, MA and previously lectured at Indiana University Northwest. She is well versed in student internship preparation and regularly provides career coaching to her students. She worked in the communications field for over a decade and took a hands- on approach to mentoring her subordinates. View all posts by Kristina Markos