Hello New Graduates
Welcome to the Real World of taxes, graduate programmes, conferences, long client phone calls, and insurance. It’s not a pretty one. In fact, it often gets really, really ugly. Gone are the days where having four classes in a day was a justifiable complaint, when you could skip a lecture every now and then, where you spent all day and all night labouring over an essay like you were giving birth. Now you’re into what they have been complaining about for decades – the dreaded 9-5.
There are many things you won’t miss. The exams, the study, the essays, the meetings with lecturers or speaking out at seminars but the stress and emotions associated with them, they now come in different forms. You will still stress about writing papers, submitting reviews, passing interview questions or questions from your superiors. Deadlines still exist, as do hangovers, correct email etiquette matters now more than ever but it’s not all bad – in fact, you begin to relish evenings, weekends and bank holidays where you don’t have to come home to more work.
Sure, work life can be stressful but at least you’re spared of the constant fear of how your performance will impact your grade nine months down the road.
I’m out of college 18 months now and I’m in my first office job just over four months – I’ve had stints in shops and internships in the meantime – and I think I’ve learned more from being a so-called “professional” than a student. It’s as if college life prepared you for the basics but nothing can prepare you for everything that it contains.
I’ve prepared six lessons I’ve learned from the last few months of full time office work – including my internship – that I would have loved to have known when I graduated. Remember that starting a full time job is the first step on a very long ladder. You can’t see where it ends but you know that taking that step will bring you closer to whatever it is.
1. First In, Last Out
There’s a lot to be said for being the first in, last out of the office/shop/wherever you work. Firstly, it gives you a chance to prepare and catch up on anything you left behind the day before/3am emails from your boss reminding you to do something/get yourself a cup of coffee or even just to observe the silence before the madness starts. Last one out is a little trickier and more by default than design, I’m usually out after my boss on most days. I give myself the extra time to tie up loose ends and prepare my desk for tomorrow so that there’s no panic in the morning. I spend 90% of my time in my boss’s office so the end of the day is where I get a chance to return to my own desk to do any tasks he assigned me throughout the day and ensure that he has all he needs for tomorrow. Doing this in the first few months of your job can make all the difference. Commitment to the job is sometimes more important than how good you are at it. At the end of the day, if a reference is being written, your boss will remember the dedication you gave and how you improved rather than how good you were.
2. Don’t take things personally
Your job is one aspect of your life. It does not define you nor is it the epitome of who you are (same thing I guess). If someone is rude to you, don’t allow yourself to think that it’s a reflection of your being. People bring all sorts of emotions into their work – work stress, home stress – and can and very often will channel it into how they interact with other people. It’s not the end of the world – and just like them, you have a million and other things going on in your life that deserve more attention. Don’t engage, let it slide off you – don’t let yourself spiral down into negative thoughts. It’s a reflection on them – not you and very often, if it were another day, the reaction would be much different.
That being said, if you do find yourself suffering through systematic abuse at work – whether it be emotional or verbal right up to sexual or physical – please tell you superior. If it is your superior doing this, bring it to a higher level. I know this can be very hard – as demonstrated lately by the many, many brave men and women who have reported big names for sexual harassment, some after decades – for fear of reprimand but remember, you have every single right to your dignity and confidence as well as a right to an appropriate, abuse-free working environment and you have every right to pursue them.
3. Write everything down
Everything. Absolutely everything. Every instruction, appointment, important comment made to you, tips and tricks you find useful, things you have had to find out for yourself. Everything. Don’t lie to yourself and say you will remember – you won’t. Get a notebook and keep a record of all your sh*t. You will thank yourself.
Organise your to-do list by marking what needs to be done ASAP. Prioritising your workload is the key to being efficient at a job. Give time in proportion to how important the task is. If you have to take two outings, do them together. Prioritise your breaks too and don’t be afraid to take them. Very often, I find saying “great, I’ll do this after lunch” or “I’m just out to lunch but will make sure this gets done” will show that you aren’t just bunking off out of laziness or being selfish but acknowledging that breaks are a necessity but that time is of the essence.
5. Give yourself something to look forward to
I know how simple this sounds but believe me, it’s very important. I mean, the work day is long – I work 8.30 to 5.30 – that’s 45 hours a week – and I’m usually so exhausted at the end of it. So sometimes I promise myself a night in a duvet watching Gilmore Girls or have an extra long shower or plan my weekends. I try not to do anything too strenuous after work as I’ll most likely cancel it for my bed but I do find having these simple things make a huge difference on my approach to my day.
6. Know that this is the first of many
The working climate is changing. Staying in one job for the rest of your life is no longer the norm or popular. You will gain so many skills from your first job, and your second, and third. Each will be a completely different experience – it will not make or break you – and you’ll not only learn much about whatever industry you’re in but so much about yourself. It’s like trial and error – the industry you start in isn’t necessarily the one you’ll end up in so don’t be too hard on yourself. That’s the beauty of this era of employment – you really can do anything.