The realest thing many people told me; though, at the time, I thought they were joking was “stay in school for as long as you can.” I can’t tell you how many times in the last five years (since graduation) I have wanted to go back and stay for another semester, or year.
Adulthood is hard. There should be an adulting guide they hand you as you walk across the stage instead of a diploma. But there isn’t, you are on your own trying to stay alive on ramen noodles and your parents’ Netflix account.
So here are the five things I wish someone would have told me when I started my first grown-up job.
Your first big job probably isn’t your destiny.
And that’s okay. Starting out, you think you know exactly what you want to do and the type of company you want to work for and that might be accurate. But the chances of landing that “dream job” the first time around is painfully difficult. Even worse, getting that rejection email. It will hurt and you will question everything, let it happen.
Eventually, don’t wallow in self-pity/doubt for too long, you will pick yourself up and find that the best is yet to come. What you thought was devastating at age 22, was really a blessing in disguise. Four (or six) years down the road, everything will work itself out.
It doesn’t matter if you enter the workforce for a well-established large company or a tiny startup, office politics are something you will encounter in any job and you will not be able to avoid them. The one thing no one ever tells you is that whether it is by choice or not, you will naturally pick a side based on who you interact, befriend, and spend the most time with.
Do your best to not vocalize or advertise your every thought to everyone in the office. Remain Switzerland, if you will. You spend a lot of time at work, with the same people—don’t ruffle the wrong feathers or you are only to blame if your time in office is miserable.
You will establish all your working habits.
Your first job is where you will create the groundwork for the rest of your career. It doesn’t matter if you stay with the same company until you retire or change 100 times in the next 50 years, your first job is where you establish good working habits. I’m not talking just making it in on time every day, or making more coffee when you finish it. I’m talking about setting boundaries with your work/life balance and friendships in and outside of work.
No one wants to hear you complain about being in the office 80 hours a week when that is your choice. Learn what you can take and what you absolutely do not want to give up in your life for work. Set yourself some ground rules and take them with you wherever you go.
You will struggle financially.
Many entry level jobs are really just that, entry level. You shouldn’t expect to get paid much, but the benefits will make you feel like an adult. And you should definitely keep that part-time job that funded your fun throughout college because it will now supplement your savings account when you really need it. Appreciate the grace periods student loans give you, but don’t forget to save!
Work hard and prove your worth to the company so you can get the bonus, or promotion before they even expect to give it to you. Use your savings account, seriously.
Lastly, no one tells you what you don’t ask.
Sound obvious? It is. But too many career newbies are forgetting to ask the simple questions. Find a mentor, someone you can trust, who can help you along the way. This someone needs to be honest with you and will be able to give you the bad with the good. You don’t need to be friends outside of work (but that’s up to the two of you), but you do need to create an open line of communication and trust with each other.
Believe it or not, not everyone is looking out for the good of you…they are looking out for themselves. A lot of the working world won’t just offer up advice unless they are directly asked. So don’t be embarrassed to not know something, use your voice to ask the questions that will help you get ahead in your career.
Navigating the working world is not easy, and much less fun than college, but trust in yourself and your work. Whether you love your first job, or two weeks in you’re ready to give your two weeks’ notice, do the job you were hired to do and prove to your coworkers, boss, and self that you can do it.
Do you have any bits of advice you have learned from making it through your first job? Leave them in the comments below!