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The dos & don’ts of your first job

First Job

It’s that time of year when many law students start an externship, which may be, for some, your first professional work experience.  Or perhaps you are preparing to begin full-time employment. Well, either way, take those principles from your high school job at McDonalds or the mall, dress them up in a suit, add the following ten tips, and you’ll be on your way to a successful career.

1. Don’t be on time: BE EARLY.
If you strive to be on time to work, you are in danger of being late.  This is the easiest way to impress your supervisors by something that is completely under your control.  And let’s say, heaven forbid, you are late; do not use the “planes, trains, automobiles” running late, etc. excuse – no, no NO!  Just apologize.  If you are late don’t blame it on the bus.  If you are late, it is your fault.

2. Nobody cares about your personal life.
If you get into a fight with your boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, sibling or bestie – keep it out of the office.  Don’t discuss it with your boss by any means.  For that matter don’t discuss it in the workplace at all because someone could hear you.  And let’s say you have something serious going on, such as a sick parent or maybe you’ve been a victim of a crime (sorry this is getting dark to prove a point) – you have to keep it out of the office.  Sure it’s awful, but listen, the world is competitive.  For every person whining about their plight, there’s another who is keeping their head down and pushing through.  I promise you, work is the greatest distraction from sorrow.

3. Eat lunch at your desk.
Since I started my own practice 15 years ago, I am proud to say I have never gone out to lunch.  I don’t understand interrupting the day when it is time to accomplish more.  You can still get a break in by stretching your legs when you go out to get food.  Then eat at your desk while working.  You will definitely impress your bosses.  Also, I guarantee your energy will stay up by not breaking the day and having to revamp the momentum to work after lunch.

4. Don’t have drinks with The Boss.
It’s tempting, I’m not going to lie.  You start a new job, people are inviting you to happy hour, you want to fit in; it’s too easy to say yes to drinks downstairs at the bar.  But don’t.  Do NOT.  First off, you are too geographically close to your employment, thus in danger of being seen by a multitude of supervisors (I would avoid having drinks with coworkers altogether for this reason).  Second, a casual setting may allow you to neglect number 2 (above) and start talking about your boy/girl trouble.  Third, alcohol loosens us up so you are more likely to discuss things you know you should not – for instance, what you dislike about the job.

5. Making friends or frenemies?
This ties in perfectly with number 4.  Of course you should make friends at work, but you must be cautious.  It’s too easy to get stabbed in the back by a co-worker you confide in that you think you can trust.  Just be wary and do not divulge anything personal for a while.  Keep it positive, keep it about the job.  (I’m assuming you know NOT to sleep with a co-worker, let alone a boss … right?)

6. Yes, there ARE stupid questions.
Ask Google first.  That should be your policy in life.  I despise when people ask me questions, thus wasting my time, without trying to find the answer first.  Let’s break this down.  If you have a substantive question, which can only be answered by a co-worker/boss go to the co-worker who is least likely to tell the boss you asked.  For instance, in the legal setting, if you are working on a case and it’s an issue about the law, research before you inquire.  If it’s a factual issue on a case you may have to ask another associate.  Just be careful to pick someone who won’t throw you under the bus.  Even if it’s a completely logical question, a good lawyer can spin it to make you look like an idiot for asking.

7. You don’t really need to go to your cousin’s wedding.
If you are starting a summer internship/externship it’s highly likely that someone is getting married during it because ‘tis the season!  Well, terrific if it’s on a weekend and you can leave Friday night, but what if you need Friday to travel?  You can’t go.  Sorry.  You simply cannot ask for a day off to go to Cousin Sally’s wedding within the first 3 months of a new job.  If it is a short-term internship you simply cannot take a day off.  Maybe your parents/relatives will be upset, but too bad – are they going to be supporting you for the rest of your life???  (I should hope not!)  This is the first step in your career; every decision going forward matters.  Focus on this opportunity.  Oh, this rule applies to bar mitzvahs, graduations and the like – just do not take a day off.

8. Business casual (but not THAT casual).
A lot of companies/law firms have a “business casual” or “casual Fridays” dress policy.  This is not a license to dress like a slob or a seductress (if you have ever seen interns in a prosecutor’s office, you know what I mean).  Guys, this means no t-shirts, shorts, or skinny jeans (the skinny jeans part is another life lesson; you need to stop wearing them period).  Girls, no short skirts, tight pants, spiked heels, or revealing tops.  You may be working but you are not a “working girl.”

9.  Don’t get sick, just don’t.
I know.  I know.  You are saying, “but I can’t control getting sick….what is she talking about???”  For starters, if you do call out sick, no one is going to believe you.  Us old folks are convinced millennials feign illness.  Next, you can control it.  Take care of yourself, will yourself into health – do what it takes to be healthy.  Before I became a solo practitioner, I took sick days like a normal salaried person.  Then I discovered if I don’t work, I don’t eat.  However, I’ve had several fitness-related injuries over the years, but even on crutches and in in pain, I go to court.  I have grown convinced that the only people who get sick have the luxury to do so.  They have a safety net.  Stop thinking you do.  If you convince yourself that your future depends on staying healthy – you will.

10. Do MORE.
Come early.  Stay late.  Volunteer for more work.  This first job is your first impression.  You have the gift of being a blank slate.  Wow your colleagues and superiors by being the hardest working person – EVER.  Your diligence will pay off down the road, I assure you.  And after all the accolades, accomplishments and praise settle in, just don’t forget one thing – I told you so.

Seema Iyer Seema Iyer, Esq. is a former prosecutor, criminal defense and civil rights attorney with her own practice in New York City, as well as an attorney for the NYPD. In addition, Seema is a TV Legal Analyst on MSNBC, NBC, FOX, HLN and CNN and the host/producer of The Bollywood Lawyer podcast.