The shift from attending a university where all of the rules are spelled out for you to a workplace dictated by unwritten rules isn’t an easy one — especially for first generation professionals that have to jump over hurdles to break into these spaces in the first place. 

While a college degree is meant to prepare you for professional life after graduation, classes often fail to address skills and tools necessary for professional success. Some students might turn to their parents or mentors for advice to consider when entering a new workplace. 

But first generation and other underrepresented professionals who don’t have these immediate resources often resort to trial-and-error to learn the unspoken rules of the workplace. This puts first generation professionals at a disadvantage as soon as they enter a new workplace. 

How can first gens navigate rules that aren’t spelled out in their employee handbook? And how do you find out who can answer tricky questions about your office culture?

Here are five ways that you can get a head start and ease into the rules of a new workplace. 

Keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground.

It’s standard to walk into an interview dressed to the nines, making sure that you present as professional as possible. Though this is the safest option before you learn the ins and outs of your workplace, it might not be the standard of your office culture. 

During the first few weeks of working at a new job, focus on absorbing as much information as you can about both individual expression and group interaction at your office. Observe how coworkers engage with one another during both work-related interactions and informal, outside-of-the-office interactions.

Notice the type of attire that employees tend to wear on days that they have meetings or days that they have a lighter workload. Pay attention to whether people tend to eat together or separately, and whether they take breaks inside the office or outside of the office. 

And as a new employee, it’s always most practical to thoroughly understand the office culture to make sure that you are respecting a space that you are entering. 

All of this will allow you to build a robust idea of the flexibility that you have in your workplace. And as a new employee, it’s always most practical to thoroughly understand the office culture to make sure that you are respecting a space that you are entering. 

Listen to the conversations happening around you. 

Before you decide to share who you are or what you’re doing over the weekend publicly in your office, make sure that you’re familiar with what typical conversations sound like in your workplace.

Spend the first few weeks at the job listening to the conversations happening around you, and learning what the people working with you care about most. Is it normal to only discuss work, or are people comfortable sharing about their families?  

It’s important to note that this not only helps you learn more about who you’re surrounded by, but also helps you to protect yourself from sharing information that might hurt you. In the current political climate, this is especially important for people with marginalized identities, including queer people and BIPOC individuals. 

Connect with a new coworker to build your internal network.

First generation individuals aren’t born with the support of experienced networks like their peers. To fill in for resources that aren’t automatically granted to them, first gens should make the most of  potential networking opportunities presented to them. 

A great start is by networking with people that you don’t directly work with in your office. Start by networking with people that you feel you could lean into because of shared experiences, whether that’s someone that’s in your age range, or someone that seems open to supporting you. 

Try setting a goal to take someone new out to lunch every week (virtually if you are working remotely) so that you can steadily build a network of support. 

Be aware of workplace boundaries.

Consider a situation where you immediately click with one of your coworkers. You feel comfortable working with one another, and slowly become comfortable leaning on each other for support. Perhaps you feel comfortable addressing questions about the unspoken rules of the workplace with one another.

While this is an ideal situation for a first generation professional, it’s important to remain aware of workplace boundaries. Never overshare about your personal life, and never discuss qualms that you have with other employees in the office. 

First generation professionals are especially vulnerable to workplace discrimination, so it’s essential to balance developing a support system at work while also playing your cards close to your chest.

In the end, you are the only person that will prioritize your success and development over the company’s success as a whole. 

In the end, you are the only person that will prioritize your success and development over the company’s success as a whole. 

Take advantage of employee assistance programs and other mental health resources.

While it may not be disclosed explicitly during your onboarding process, most companies offer employee assistance programs that provide free and confidential counseling, assessments, and referrals to employees that are experiencing personal or work-related problems.

These services exist to support employees who are experiencing issues that may interfere with their ability to work to their best potential. 

First generation professionals should take advantage of these resources, because unlike other company programs and services, they are built to serve employees first and foremost. 

Work does not exist in a vacuum – especially for underrepresented people who constantly manage micro-aggressions inside and outside of the workplace. Take advantage of resources that will optimize your performance in a new work environment.

(reposted from