This time last year I was starting my last semester of college and was already freaking out about graduation. I felt the strangest combination of terror and excitement whenever I thought about entering the real world, and I had no clue what I was going to do with my post-grad life.
Fast forward a few months to me landing my first job (yay!) and moving to New York City. After working for almost six months now, there are a few things I really wish someone had told me before I started working.
1. Having a retirement account isn’t lame
My parents were good about teaching my brother and I good spending and saving habits. I remember putting my loose change into a piggy bank with different sections when I was little. One section was for the church, another for spending, one for saving and…I can’t remember the rest (I was a kid, what can I say).
My parents’ parting words to me when I moved away from home were, “Don’t forget to open a retirement account!” I jest, they actually got a touch teary eyed and said a heartfelt goodbye, but you get my meaning. I felt a bit strange opening a retirement account at age 22 because none of my coworkers had one. However, I’m happy I did because it feels good to know I’m putting away a little money each month for my impending old age.
2. You’ll get a lot of constructive criticism your first month on the job
I really wasn’t prepared for this. I went through high school and college with good grades and was known among my friend group as the all-star student. Teachers loved me, I was great at school, and there wasn’t much I seemed to be bad at (let’s ignore how horrible calculus was for me, okay?).
That all changed once I started working. It’s not that I’m bad at my job by any means. In retrospect, I did quite well my first month on the job. But having your mistakes corrected by your manager always feels a bit horrifying, even when you know you’re in the “learning curve” stage of your job.
Accept the constructive criticism and learn from your mistakes. Your coworkers will notice if you take things in stride and will appreciate your willingness to learn.
3. You can be good friends with your coworkers
Don’t hesitate to get to know your coworkers. Having real friends in the office makes your work day better and you’ll feel more comfortable going to them for help. Going past the basic “work topics” like the weather and your weekend plans will make for a stronger team and will encourage open communication with one another.
4. You won’t be fired for no reason
Contrary to popular my belief, your manager won’t just walk up to you and tell you that you suck and you’re fired. One way or another, you’ll know you’re in hot water and need to get your act together before you get the axe (hallelujah for small miracles). On the flip side of that, your manager will tell you if you’re doing a good job, which feels pretty fantastic.
5. Your manager wants you to ask questions—really!
I’ve never been one to shy away from asking for help when I need it, but I did hesitate to ask my manager “too many questions” when I first started working. Having now been working for a few months and having helped train new team members, I can say from firsthand experience that your coworkers want you to ask questions. It’s much better knowing someone is confused about something.
Asking questions not only shows that you’re interested in learning more about your job, but it also shows a willingness to learn from your mistakes.
6. You won’t have that much more free time
Like many college students, I thought that once I was free from the constraints of school I’d magically be gifted with oodles of free time to do as I please. I’m not sure where I got that idea from since neither of my parents had hours to lounge around during the week (let’s call me an idealist and not an idiot, okay?).
Fun fact, when you start working there are still only 24 hours in a day. Your day-to-day routine will definitely be different than it was in college, but not by much.
7. It’ll be hard to stop working
I was shocked at how tough it was for me to stop working when I was first hired. Before I got my job, I figured everyone clocked out at 5pm and called it a day. Wrong. I actually enjoyed my job so much and had so much to do that I found myself working at 7 or 8 at night. While a few late nights are okay every once in a while, it’s also important to establish a timeline for you workday so you don’t get burnt out. If you’re worried about how much or how little you’re working, talk to your manager to figure it out.
8. You don’t need to live like a miser
I’m so happy I sent a rough draft of my monthly spending plan to my mom, because I had no idea what a good amount of money to put in savings was. After being steered in the right direction, I realized that it’s okay to allow a few extra bucks on groceries each week to buy a few fun items or to allot a set amount of money each week for dinner with friends. Saving money and preparing for the future is important, but so is taking the time to spend time with your friends and enjoy where you are in life right now.
9. Personal goals are just as important as the company’s goals
I learned really quickly that even though the company’s goals are important (it is your job to meet those goals, after all), it’s just as important that you set your own goals for your role. I find meeting my personal goals super satisfying because it gives me a larger sense of accomplishment. It’s great when my manager or coworkers recognize that I’ve met a shared goal, but putting that extra value in myself has helped boost my confidence in the workplace. As a bonus, recording your own goals and listing your successes and failures will show your boss you’re forward thinking and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve success.
10. Choose a company whose values align with your own
I applied to a lot of companies just because I thought it’d be cool to work there. I didn’t really research what was important to them, and I now realize that I hated writing cover letters for those jobs because I really wasn’t passionate about the company I was applying to. My current job is for a company whose values I 100% align with and am excited to represent, which makes a huge difference in my day-to-day activities.
Getting hired after college is a daunting task, but keeping these 10 things in mind is so important before you take that first job. I’ve learned so much in the few months I’ve been employed, and I know I’ll never stop learning on the job.
What’s something you wish you knew before starting your first job out of college? I’d love to hear from you!
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