What is the Best Advice you Received When You Got Your First Job?

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This topic contains 36 replies, has 31 voices, and was last updated by  Dave Uejio 9 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #135350

    Shannon Kennedy

    Aetna is a proud partner of GovLoop.


    Starting a job can be daunting for any new hire, especially when it is your first. Public sector or private, non-profit or for-profit, beginning a career is full of the unknown.

    When I began my career the best advice I was given was: “Be humble and always willing to learn, but be confident. They hired you for a reason. There is something in you, and you alone, that made them choose you.” Very inspiring words.

    What is the best advice you were given as a new hire, or what is the best advice you would give a new hire?

    Are you a new hire that wants more insight into the exciting beginnings of a career? Head over to the New Hire Hub


    Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 35.3 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Check out Aetna on Twitter and Facebook.

  • #135422

    Dave Uejio
    • Prototype like you are right. Listen like you are wrong.
    • Learn to fail gracefully, often, expediently, and when it doesn’t matter.
    • Mistakes of commission should be celebrated. Mistakes of omission should be discouraged.
  • #135420

    Peter Sperry

    Turn the disposal off at the circuit breaker box before reaching down to clear silverware that slipped in.

  • #135418

    Stephanie Slade

    Raise your hand and volunteer.

  • #135416

    Alicia Mazzara

    Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, even at the risk of sounding stupid.

  • #135414

    Stephen Peteritas

    Put enough in your 401K to get the full match.

  • #135412


    The most important piece of advice I ever received came from my very first supervisor, and had nothing to do with work performance. It was at a fast food service restaurant and as one could imagine, I wasn’t exactly raking in big bucks… I’d complain to him about how ‘poor’ I was as a college student wanting to go out and do fun things. This was a guy who held down two jobs at 50+ hours each, per week… went to one job, then went home and showered, and then went to the next job. Barely slept and had no free time at all, and he sent most of his money back home to help out his mom. He looked at me with a critical eye and said, “If you have a roof over your head and food on your table, you are not poor. Don’t ever say that again because it demeans those without the basic necessities of life. Unless you’ve had to look for shelter or have seen your family go hungry, you don’t know what poor means.” I was stunned… and I’ve kept that piece of advice close to my heart ever since – and that was 16 years ago. He was right. And to this day, no matter how crappy life seems or how much more money I’d like to have, I have never said I’m poor… and I’m always struck when other people in very well-off circumstances mindlessly say it as well.

  • #135410

    Tammie Shipe

    The piece of advice that comes to my mind came from a college professor (while I was getting my MBA and working full-time). He said, “Do you want to be RIGHT, or do you want to be EFFECTIVE?”

    My first thought was BOTH!! (not always possible) It seems like there are situations where you are so right that you are wrong – and I have seen co-workers dig in their heals and ruin careers becuase they are so focused on being ‘right’

  • #135408

    Mark Hammer

    This will probably pertain to very few of us (it certainly doesn’t or won’t ever pertain to me), but was worth noting nonetheless, since it provides a bit of a window into those who lead us.

    I was recently recommended to read the career autobiography of our former organizational leader. She had led our agency for a couple of years prior to her retirement, and led the Royal Canadian Mint, and the Canadian equivalent of the IRS before that. In her book, she notes some advice she received from one of the “mandarins” – a longtime federal senior official – when she began her first agency leadership position. He told her to mark off 100 working days on her calendar from her start date, and to not make ANY important decisions before then. The idea was to acquire a feel for the organization, its needs and priorities, before doing anything of impact. She declares this as the single best piece of advice she ever received during her public service career.

    I find this interesting, because one’s normal instinct might be to leap into action to convey that there’s a new sheriff in town, who will get things done. But does “instant action” convey that you listen and reflect? Does it convey that you are intent on making wise decisions, not just fast ones? Does it convey that you are simply accepting the duty of leading something that has been here before you and will continue after you leave?

  • #135406

    1. You’re all men now – so start &$*%ing acting like it

    2. When you’re in charge of formation – *$&@ing be in charge of the formation

    3. Stop worrying about missing and just shoot

    4. Suck it up

    (My first boss was a drill sergeant)

    #3 was actually the best advice I received. I was so panicked about trying to hit the target that I was screwing it up. Somehow, It finally got through my thick skull to just shoot and I ended up becoming a pretty good shot.

  • #135404

    Jenyfer Johnson

    My first real boss was an old Engineer, working for a govt contracted shipyard and he was only a couple of years from retirement. He told me “Always carry a pen with you wherever you go at work; then even if the conversation gets side-tracked into how your weekend was, you will always LOOK like you’re working, talking to someone with a pen in your hand.”

    I still remember that and don’t leave my desk without a pen…it comes in handy because too many times I need a pen when I get to where I’m going!!

  • #135402

    Shirley Mae White

    The best advise I have ever received is “Ask quetions” when in doubt about anything, even the smallest issue, if you don’t it could be a BIG problem. If you are faced with something you are not sure of, ask for help, it is better than messing up something that could take days, weeks or even months to make it right.

    Shirley White

  • #135400

    Steve Ressler

    That’s a great story

  • #135398

    Steve Ressler

    Great tip…there’s a Harvard Biz Book that I think is called (First 90 Days in govt) that ties into some of those themes

  • #135396

    Steve Ressler

    Feds – 5% match on TSP

    Appearances matter was another one. Was told by my father (retired fed) – show up early, leave late, dress good.

  • #135394

    Tom Bruning

    Everyone makes mistakes, when you realize you made an error let me know. It is better for bad news to travel up and organization than down

  • #135392

    Jim Reed

    From the boss: “Use both hands!”

    From a co-worker: “Always act busy, even if you aren’t.”

  • #135390

    Diedre Tillery

    “Wash on, Wash off?” No, but seriously, my first job was working part-time in a book store in a small family-owned chain. The customer service training revolved around one premise: “If you can’t help a customer then find out who can.” Doesn’t matter if it meant calling a competitor. Doesn’t matter if they didn’t buy anything from you. Anyone and everyone in need of assistance would get it. “I don’t know” or “Sorry, we are out of stock” was not an acceptable answer. People remembered this and always came to our book store first. This was before the internet and social media. This advice has carried over into my professional life to this day and the standard I judge good customer service wherever I go.

  • #135388

    Carol Russell


    Your delightful story struck a cord. One of my 1st “real” jobs (50 yrs. ago!) was in a NYC bakery, part of a chain now long gone, where women old enough to be my grandmother worked on their feet all day for low wages in pretty lousy conditions.

    “Ya’ll always do O.K., kiddo,” one of the gruffest of them unexpectedly reassured me at the end of a long, sweaty shift capping a week that had brought tear-provoking July 5th lay-offs to 2 other teens also hired for the full summer.

    “See, ya’ don’t just make like ya’re werkin’ when da boss comes sniffing round, though dat’s likely enough to survive a cut. Ya’ really DO the !#$&@% werk! ”

    Words to “werk”…and live…by.

    Thanks for evoking the memory.

  • #135386

    Tom Fletcher

    “”If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”


    No job is so important, no task so urgent that we can’t take the time to do our job safely”

    -Bell System Safety Creed

  • #135384

    Erica Schachtell

    “Eat what’s on your plate, and roll with the punches”

  • #135382

    Forgive the expletive here it’s a high-level executive talking, and many years have passed so the first part is a paraphrase:

    “Once in a while you’ll do something great, but most of the time it’s more s**twork for all.”

    My boss was freaking brilliant.

  • #135380

    Alan L. Greenberg

    My first boss in my first post-college job (not in gov’t) said, “Think of every problem as an opportunity.” Unfortunately he told me this just before firing me. This provided the “opportunity” to work for the feds which was the best thing that ever happened to me (39 year career). My first fed boss preached a work ethic in his own gruff manner. He would say things like “If they pay you to work until five o’clock it wouldn’t hurt you to work to 5:30.” When we travelled he would say, “Instead of taking the one o’clock flight home take the three o’clock flight and go visit another customer.” His clear message was that if you wanted to get ahead you had to give a little extra. Made sense to me.

  • #135378

    Michele Schwartzman

    That is the most critical time for Feds…Those first 90 days – career conditional. Another tip to tie into this one is if you become a supervisor, you will be career conditional, again! Just food for thought.

  • #135376

    Candace Riddle

    Manage people like they are volunteers. They will be more apt to follow your lead.

  • #135374

    Joan Golden

    My first boss told me, “Every job is important. Whatever you are asked to do, and whatever you see others working on, remember that every job is important.”

  • #135372

    Christina Scheltema

    My first job was in the editorial department of a nonprofit association. Our dress code was workplace casual, at best. One of my senior colleagues would tell us to dress up from time to time, as if we were going on an interview. She used to say that it never hurt to keep our managers guessing. This was in the 1980s, but professional dress never goes out of style.

  • #135370

    Bob Ragsdale

    By my new boss when I made a huge career change:

    • Always push the limits and be willing to make mistakes.
    • If you do make mistakes, please try to make them cheap.
  • #135368

    Dr. GovLoop

    “Remember- tact is the ability to make a point without making an enemy.” I keep this in mind in both my personal and work life. Important stuff.

  • #135366

    Jeffrey Levy


  • #135364

    Steve Ressler

    I like this one…such a simple frame.

  • #135362

    Herman N. Cohen

    My first government job was a field position with the IRS. My coach took me into the field, and – I’m afraid I need to paraphrase his advice to be politically correct – he said, “Never overlook a convenient opportunity to (use a clean bathroom)”

  • #135360

    Cammise McInnis

    The most important advice I ever received as a new hire was that a j-o-b is “just over broke” and that I needed to think in terms of having a career.

  • #135358

    Joan Golden

    Thanks for sharing that story. So true.

  • #135356

    Jeffrey Levy

    Doing excellent work is important. Making sure your management knows you’re doing excellent work is, too. And “management” includes formal, like your supervisor, and informal, like team or workgroup leaders.

  • #135354

    Shelly Tregembo

    +1 VERY smart idea 🙂

  • #135352

    Regina Montes

    1. Don’t take it personal

    2. Never do anything to undermine your integrity

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