New Job Survival Guide: A Student's Guide to Landing on Your Feet

by Monette Anderson | Aug 25, 2016

With many graduates starting at firms this fall, I wanted to put together some quick tips to make sure you have a smooth transition at your new gig. Hopefully, you’ve already started to assess your new firm’s culture. Firm culture is important, as you’ll be spending more than 2,000 hours a year with your new coworkers, arguably more than you’ll spend with friends and family. The average new employee only needs three weeks to determine if they feel at home at a company. Here’s what you can do to ensure that you are welcomed into the fold and make the most of your new professional experience.

(Click here for a larger version of the infographic on the right.)

Your Main Objectives

  1. Build your skills. Many professionals, firm trainers, and recent graduates tell us that there is a pretty big gap between what you learn in school and your first firm experience. Expect a large learning curve and spend your time gaining the valuable experience you need to shorten the gap between student and professional.
  2. Impress your boss. This is a no-brainer, but remember that your boss is likely getting input on your performance from other trainers and your peers. This is a case where perception is reality, so make sure you are doing your best for everyone you work with.
  3. Fit in with peers. Watch how your new coworkers interact with each other, get a sense for how relaxed the environment is, match your attire to the normal dress code, and look for any other indicators that will help you glean insights about the company’s culture and key players.
  4. Gain some quick wins. Find some projects, performance goals, or professional benchmarks you can accomplish within 60-90 days and work toward achieving them.

Your First Month Survival Guide:

  • Establish guidelines with your trainer or supervisor in the first few days. You’re going to have a lot of questions, and different manager, supervisors, and trainers may have different communication preferences. Do they prefer a weekly or daily check in, or do they want you to email your questions? Do they have an open-door policy where you are encouraged to come ask whenever you need help? Taking the time to find out their preferences will show a lot of forethought.
  • Keep a notebook, and write your questions in it. They may get answered in training or shadowing sessions with coworkers and you can cross them off as you go. This helps keep your questions thoughtful and minimizes interruptions for those training you. Don’t skimp on reading the employee handbook or doze off during orientations either. Few things will frustrate your coworkers more than a constant bombardment of questions like where to find the copy machine or what holidays are paid when the answers are covered in material you didn’t read.
  • Say “yes.” Recently, the WSCPA published a blog post about learning to say no; a valuable skill set for new professionals. This is not the time to practice that skill. Generally speaking, you have to prove yourself at a new job before you earn the right to say no. Taking on projects outside your scope may just be the ticket to impressing your boss (see objective two, above) and setting you up as someone with leadership potential.
  • Get to know your peers. This goes right back to objective number three. Smile, avoid complaining, be helpful, and ask thoughtful questions. Take advantage of opportunities to invite coworkers for coffee to learn more about the company and their role. Try to listen in these scenarios more than talk. Offering up too much information about yourself may make you fodder for office gossip. Need some resources to break the ice? Jen Mueller, Seattle Mariners television broadcaster and Seattle Seahawks sideline radio reporter, has great resources from her book and website on leveraging America’s favorite pastime to strengthen your business communication. You can find out more at

New Job Don’ts

  • Don’t be tech rude. Keep your phone in your bag or pocket and don’t conduct personal business at work. Don’t check social media on your work computer even if you see others doing so. Companies have different social media policies so even if it’s a relaxed environment, spend some time proving yourself before you follow suit or you could come across as lazy or unmotivated.
  • Don’t eat at your desk. Just for the first few weeks. If you do, you’re missing out on huge networking opportunities. Make a point of joining coworkers for lunch, or eating with others in the breakroom. Doing so will help prove you’re a team player.
  • Don’t be silent. Sure, it’s natural to have your guard up in a new environment, and it can be difficult to know when to voice opinions at work. But remember that you were hired because your ideas and opinions have value. So speak up in meetings and when asked for feedback or ideas. A DecisionWise Benchmark study found that failing to speak up can escalate dissatisfaction and lead to absenteeism, non-productive work behaviors, low team identification, and eventually reduced performance and turnover. Some general guidelines are to keep things positive and while it’s okay to support and stand up for an opinion or idea you have, it’s also important to know when to let it go.

And One More Thing...

Finally, recognize that you are likely to make mistakes. The best policy is to come clean as soon as you realize you made an error. People tend to be more accommodating and helpful when you can admit you made a mistake. Showing grace under fire, and having the ability to laugh at yourself, can go a long way towards building your reputation and earning respect among your coworkers.

Follow these tips and you’re well on your way to finding success and harmony in your new position. If you’re eager to share your newfound professional wisdom and experiences with future CPAs on local college campuses email me at for details on volunteer opportunities. Happy fall and good luck! I know you’ll do great.

Monette-Anderson-HeadshotMonette Anderson is the WSCPA Academic Relations Coordinator. You can reach her at


Article References:
Simmons, Jon. How to Get Over Your Fear of Speaking Up at Work. Retrieved from
Anderson, Erika. The Most Important Reason People Fail in a New Job. Retrieved from

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