8 steps to surviving office politics in your first graduate job

People often say they hate office politics and try to avoid it. This is silly, because they can’t. Here’s 8 things you can do to survive office politics in your first graduate job.

Surviving office politics

They can’t avoid it because politics exist wherever there are hierarchical structures, power, influences and people. To be fair, politics is really just another word for relationships but it describes the complex nature of the way we interact with each other at work much better than the word ‘relationships’.

At work we are keen to do a good job and to make a good impression in the eyes of those around us. If we didn’t we probably wouldn’t be in the job for very long. So politics is inevitable. The best we can do is to learn how to handle it the right way.

Number 1: Understand that politics doesn’t have to be dirty

The common face of politics is one characterised by backstabbing and self-serving people. That isn’t the only view. The other side is of people who have the best interests of the company at heart, even if they don’t agree with the next person.

Number 2: Be observant

If you want to progress at work – that is, want your ideas accepted, want support from your colleagues, to be recognised and accepted by your boss, and to rise up the career ladder – then you are going to have to learn how to understand the politics of your workplace.

So start by doing a bit of noticing of your own. When you join the company be observant so you can understand what gets people promoted, who makes the real decisions, who the opinion leaders and ideas people really are, and who the fence sitters and killjoys are.

Once you do this you will know who to learn from, who to avoid, who to help and who to ask for advice.

Number 3: Build good hierarchical relationships

The first person you need to please is your direct superior. You may not like the way your boss does things but it is unwise to criticise him or her and to behave as though you can do better, even if you believe you can. Your priorities should be your boss’s priorities. Ask what needs to be done and do it. Try not to disagree with him or her or if you do, frame your concerns or questions tactfully and never do it in public. Don’t go over people’s heads or say things that will make them look bad. Try to remain loyal to those who can help you most.

Number 4: Build good horizontal relationships

You need people on your side so you need to make good alliances. The best way to do this is to help other people. Be genuine in learning about who your colleagues are. What they like and don’t like, what they need and don’t need, then help them to get it. Understand their jobs and do whatever you can to help them to look good as they do it. Don’t steal their ideas and always give them the limelight that is due to them.

Number 5: Be subtle

Trying to win a promotion for yourself or support for your projects by stepping all over other people or by bullying or bludgeoning your ideas through a meeting is the wrong way to go about developing a helpful reputation for yourself. It is much better to be subtle, to present your ideas openly and to ask people for their support.

Number 6: Know how to negotiate

You can’t always have everything your way so you need to learn how to negotiate. Negotiating includes knowing when to compromise and when to hold out. You need to look for an outcome where both sides win.

Number 7: Say only good things, or shut up!

Rumours and gossip are inevitable. And research says that much of it is true! In essence rumours and gossiping are really the presence of a company’s informal communication channel. It’s their grapevine, and there is often much that is useful that you can learn from it. Turn gossip into something positive by turning the conversation around to something good. Speak only for yourself, not for other people. Resist repeating rumours and if you do disseminate facts try to avoid references to the sources. Be very careful with details that can destroy the credibility or career of a colleague.

Number 8: Work hard

Working hard brings results and results speak for themselves. Making a good impression is important when it comes to building strong and secure relationships at work and to getting ahead. The best way to do this is still to work hard at your job and to get your work done. If not, you will eventually get found out to be nothing but a nice sounding but empty clanging cymbal.

Together, these steps can help you survive office politics in your first graduate job. Good luck!

How we help

One-to-One Coaching: Stage 6

If you’re a student or graduate looking for help, stage six of our one-to-one coaching: Job coaching and Mentoring includes mentoring to ensure excellent job performance, handling the office environment and how to build your network.

The Student Book & The Graduate Book: Get (& Thrive In) The Job You Really Want

Chris Davies is the author of The Student Book, All you need to know to get the job you really want and The Graduate Book, All you need to know to do really well at work. The Graduate Book informs graduates of the steps they should take, and the techniques they should apply, to make a success of their first job, see Chapter 6: The Sixth Key: Learn to be Resilient and Chapter 7: The Seventh Key: Build Networks and Make Friends.


4 things that will help any Graduate get a job

Most graduates can identify with Luisa Downey, the Brazilian-born graduate who spent two years applying for job after job without success.

But few show the kind of entrepreneurial spirit Luisa did when she finally got desperate and started handing out her CV to commuters on the train each morning.

Luisa even resorted to wearing a sandwich board in central London to advertise her skills.

Within a week of resorting to self-advertising Luisa had received 13 emails from interested prospective employers and had several interviews in the pipeline.

Now employers are chasing her.

Same CV, same skills, same person, so what was the difference? Luisa got desperate enough to do four things that will help any graduate get a job.

1. Luisa showed she really wanted the job

Luisa got desperate and began showing that she really wanted the right job – one in advertising. She was driven by the fact that her visa was due to run out within a few months and this spurred her into taking drastic action. Recent research shows that some employers can receive up 160 job applications for every post advertised and this is certainly true for the industry Luisa wanted to go into.

2. Luisa sold the relevant skills for the job

Luisa was looking for a job in advertising and used the number one skill required to succeed in the industry: she sold her own skills. She demonstrated entrepreneurial vision, business awareness and persistence. A potential employer would easily be able to see proof of the very skills she has listed on her CV as well as the potential value these skills could bring to their own company.

3. Luisa stood out from the crowd

By getting out there and handing out her CV Luisa made herself visible. She stood out from the many thousands of other graduates looking for a similar job but who haven’t had the bottle to do something different from other people in order to get one. In a competitive graduate job market such as ours you need to stand out from the crowd. She demonstrated that she has the capability to use her initiative and to think outside the box.

4. Luisa persevered

Recent research from High Fliers shows that 36 per cent of graduates give up on trying to find a graduate level job within two years of graduating and settle for a lower skill role instead. Luisa didn’t. She demonstrated perseverance and persistence, skills that are prized among employers not just in advertising but in a whole host of roles.

In a nutshell Luisa demonstrated job-finding skills

Most graduates haven’t been taught how to find a job and so many stumble when it comes down to finding one. All of the skills mentioned above could be summed up as job finding skills for a new recruitment era – showing a knowledge of the industry, demonstrating good communication skills, showing that you are proactive, and creating a personality for yourself that will help you appear interesting in a job interview. Luisa did not rely solely on traditional ways of finding a job but got face to face with potential employers.

If you have been looking for a job for a long time Luisa’s story should give hope and encouragement as it shows that it isn’t always that you don’t have the right skills for a job. Perhaps your CV isn’t selling what you have to offer an employer effectively enough. Luisa took hers right off the page! The most important thing you can do for yourself is to demonstrate that you have the skills you are trying to convince employers about on your CV. Start doing the job you are looking for. Show proof of why an employer should choose you over someone else. Find ways to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t wait for other people. Make something happen yourself.