It’s no secret that there are thousands of qualified people desperate for entry-level jobs in South Africa. But, if you’re lucky enough to land one, how do you go about turning your first job into a successful, long-term career?

Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education, says there are eight factors common to students who bridge the gap to becoming sought-after, career-minded employees in the formal sector.

“There has been extensive research into why some graduates ‘make it’ and others don’t. Much of your future success depends on personal character traits such as having a good attitude, being goal-oriented and having the determination to succeed. You must be someone others – especially your boss – want to work with.”

For those going into the workplace for the first time or even others looking to get ahead, Coughlan suggests:

1. Make a sustained positive impression

“Even though the goal is to make a good first impression, it is more important to make a sustained good impression. This comes from how you present and conduct yourself and the way you perform under stress and duress – not the things you do when you know other people are watching. Just as a decision to hire you can sometimes be made within the first few minutes of an interview, so too can the first impression your colleagues have of you when you start, impact on your whole career in an organisation.  You can probably change possible initial negative impressions if the behavior that follows the first interaction is positive, consistent and reliable.”

2. Conduct yourself professionally

“Many graduates question the concept of what ‘professional conduct’ in the workplace entails. The easy answer is that professional conduct is what is appropriate for the context.  At work, this means arriving on time (or even early) and doing what you say you will do and doing it well. Being professional also means keeping clear of office politics and being trustworthy and honest. “

3. Dress for success

“Dressing appropriately for the workplace is important but how you present yourself needs to go far further than the physical clothes you wear. Projecting the correct image includes the way you talk to and about people and your entire attitude and body language. Look interested and pay attention.

4. Communicate effectively

“A key way to project a professional image and to succeed at what you are doing, is to be sure to use the best and most effective communication skills.  This includes speaking clearly, writing formally (not using SMS spelling), and listening more than you speak. To succeed in the workplace, you need to be someone other people want to work with.”

5. Show respect, integrity and manage boundaries

“Avoid office gossip, show genuine interest in others and always do your fair share – or even more.”

6. Do what you promise

“If you consistently deliver and manage the expected outputs you are more likely to get recognised and promoted. This includes owning your work and taking responsibility for both the good and the bad. Acknowledge mistakes and fix them as quickly as possible.”

7. Deliver on your contract

“Maintain your employer’s impression that keeping you on the team makes sense. Find ways to show that the business is benefiting more from your services than they are paying you for and thus they need to keep you on.”

8. Don’t let your personal life contradict your career aspirations

“Maintaining a good impression at work requires that you to conduct your personal life in a way that does not contradict your professional life. What you say about your company and co-workers and what you post about yourself online can and will get back to where you work – make sure it works for you and not against you.”