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First Year on the Job

A Short Guide to Post-Graduation Workplace Success

As a recent graduate, your focus as of late has naturally been on the job search itself – on identifying and finding what and where you would like to begin your career. But, once this effort pays off, you are faced with…drum roll please…your new workplace, a world which you may have had very little experience with up to this point.

Even if you have extensive experience under your belt from summer work, a year off, part-time jobs during the academic year etc., making the transition from a "student" to an "employee" is a substantial one. It means more money, yes, but also often more structure, less freedom, and likely less frequent evaluations.

The tips in this section are designed to get you thinking about how you will navigate this new world and some of the qualities which are essential to long-term career satisfaction and success.

For more resources: First job books (Available in the McGill Library)


  • Assess your wardrobe. Remind yourself what your interviewers were wearing and what you noticed others wearing. Buy a few things to get you through the first day or so and then go shopping as needed.
  • Figure out how to get there. Then add some extra time so as not to arrive late and/or frazzled.
  • Review any company literature or information provided by your new employer.
  • Fill out any required paperwork or forms. These are often necessary to process your first paycheque so you don’t want to be late with them.

Your First Day

  • Be prepared for anything. Literally. From being taken out to lunch and introduced to the whole office, to an introductory meeting with your boss, to LOTS of solitary reading at your desk, to “oops, we forgot you were starting today!” Approach your first day as an adventure, remain positive and flexible, take it all in stride, and make the best of whatever situation you are presented with. Recognize that while your first day on the job is a huge day for you, it is a fairly regular day for everyone else with business proceeding as usual.

  • Be on time. Early even.
    Be on time. Early even. (This is not a typo, it bears repeating!)
  • If you have not been assigned any particular tasks just yet, ask your co-workers and the administrative staff if you can help out in any way. And then do so.
  • Take the initiative to introduce yourself to those you cross paths with. Do not wait for them to do so; they might not.
  • If you are faced with a relatively unscheduled day, take advantage of the opportunity to do some relevant reading or research or to organize/decorate your office – it may turn out to be the last free day you will have for a while!

The First Few Months

  • Be enthusiastic and keep a positive attitude. Remember how pleased/relieved/thankful/excited you were to get this job? Keep that in mind, even when doing uninteresting tasks. It is a fact of working life that not everything you do will be fascinating. There are boring and tedious aspects to even the best jobs. If you can do even these tasks brilliantly and with a positive attitude, others are much more likely to be impressed with you and deem you competent to take on additional responsibilities.

  • Continue to take the initiative to introduce yourself to others and get to know as many people in the office/organization as you can, including, actually, especially, administrative assistants and secretaries. More often that not, these are the people who really keep the place running smoothly and know exactly what is going on. They can be some of your best allies in the workplace; it does not pay to be anything but polite and helpful to them.

  • This hopefully goes without saying, but get to know your boss. Part of your role is supporting this person, so the sooner you find out what motivates him/her and figure out how you might make her/his life easier, the better!

  • Ask questions and clarify expectations, on everything from how to work the coffee maker to performance evaluations to dress codes to unwritten office rules and more. It is much, much easier to do this early on when you are “the new person” than later on when people assume or expect you to know everything.

General Tips

  • Build and cultivate relationships. Your short and long term career success will rest substantially on your ability to do this, to get along and work well with others and to communicate successfully. Start now.

  • As on your first day, be consistently on time. Early even. Do not be the first out the door on the dot at five o'clock or the second your shift ends. And definitely, do not call in sick unless you are sick. Period.

  • Build goodwill and demonstrate your positive attitude early-on. Say “YES” to things others ask of you, volunteer for tasks/assignments, cheerfully fill in for co-workers at home sick, swap shifts when you can. Pay it forward when you are the “new person” and get your positive, team-player reputation on solid footing. It is also likely to pay dividends when advancement opportunities arise.

  • Sweat the small stuff – introductions, manners, email and phone etiquette, typos etc. matter. Pay attention to the details, as others definitely will.

  • Learn as much as you can about your job, department, company, profession, and industry. Yes, even if that means reading on your own time to stay up to date.

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