I’d like to extend my congratulations to you, the recently graduated class of 2015.
For four (or more) years, you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into your studies and extracurricular activities, all in preparation for joining the real world.
I was in your shoes a few years ago. I had officially signed an offer letter and accepted a full-time job at a marketing company in midtown Manhattan, just a short subway ride away from the East Village I’d come to know so well during my time at NYU.
I’d done a couple of part-time internships during college, so I assumed I’d already have the hang of working in an office. How different could it be? I’d arrive at 9 a.m. sharp, sit down at my desk, do my work and go home eight hours later. I’d get a steady paycheck and paid vacation time, and I’d make some great new friends.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
I had a lot of expectations going into my first day on the job. Some turned out to be correct, but many were quickly shattered. The year that I spent at this company taught me a lot of valuable lessons-both about my career and life in general-that I took with me when I began working for Business News Daily last summer.
Below, I’ve shared eight things I would go back and tell my 21-year-old self, in the hope that you can take them with you into your first jobs.
Work might follow you home …
Many first-time members of the workforce make the naïve assumption that work will end when you leave the office. This is how it was at my internships: I never had to worry about what happened once I walked out the door. When you’re a full-time, salaried staff member, your responsibilities can and will extend outside the confines of your desk.
With today’s cloud and mobile tech, people don’t follow the 9-to-5 mentality anymore. You shouldn’t be expected to respond to your boss’s emails at midnight, but there will be times when an after-hours emergency pops up, and you may have to deal with it.
… But don’t let work become your life.
Just because you can work from anywhere at any time absolutely does not mean you should. Yes, you will have to stay late or come in early sometimes. Yes, you may have to miss out on some social events because you have a big project to do.
You’re an entry-level employee, though. You’re not running the company, and the company certainly isn’t paying you enough to spend every waking moment doing work. Set a time each night when you’ll stop checking your emails.
Please, please don’t spend your whole weekend working in an effort to make Monday morning easier. Mondays will never be easy, and if you don’t have that work to do, something else will come up.
You won’t earn everyone’s respect.
There seems to be some kind of stereotype that “millennials” feel that they’re entitled to respect off the bat without working for it. Though some of us know that respect must be earned, especially as an entry-level employee, you also have to realize that there will be certain people in the office who will never respect you.
They will never see you as anything more than a means to a corporate end, no matter how hard you work or how valuable your contributions are. Don’t fight it, and don’t lash out because of it. Find the ones who do respect you, and stick with them.
Communicate (but don’t gossip).
On a related note, if there’s a serious problem with the way your boss is running things, you have to speak up. Ask for a private meeting with him or her, or if you’re too afraid to approach your boss directly, bring it up to the next person in command. If you don’t say something, how do you expect the situation to change?
What won’t help anything is gossiping with your fellow low-level colleagues about how you’re planning to apply to other jobs just to get out. You never know who’s listening, or who will bring that second-hand news back to the boss.
Always give 100 percent, even if there’s no reward.
You’re not always going to get credit for the work you do. That’s just the way of the world. As frustrating as it is to receive little to no recognition for the hours you spent slaving over a project, don’t use that as an excuse to slack off and fade into the background.
Your bosses and colleagues will notice, and when it comes time for evaluations, promotions or even future job recommendations, you can forget about a kind word from any of them.
Your job description will change as you go.
No position is static. When you start working, your duties should resemble those listed in the job description. As your skills develop and the company’s needs change, you may (and probably will) be asked to go in a different direction, take on more work and tackle new challenges.
You shouldn’t feel stressed and overworked 24/7, but if the boss asks you to do something you weren’t hired to do, welcome the project as an opportunity to grow and learn. The experience could come in handy in a future job.
Use your vacation time.
The impact of being a full-time working adult doesn’t hit you until about four months in, when you realize your undergraduate friends are wrapping up their semesters and getting ready for a few weeks off.
The real world doesn’t give you built-in seasonal breaks, so you have to make them for yourself. Don’t put off using your vacation days because you think you “don’t have time.” Even taking a single day off every couple of months can help you recharge and keep you from burning out.
Have an exit strategy.
Unless you hit the corporate jackpot and find a job where you can swiftly move up the ranks, your first job is probably a steppingstone to bigger, better things. There’s nothing wrong with that, and most companies have come to expect high turnover rates in their lower-level positions.
Keep an eye on companies you might want to work for, and network with people in your industry. Both are great ways to begin planning your exit, even if you’re happy where you are-for now.