Working is my forte. I’ve always found a way to have a steady income to pay for anything I wanted. Because of how poor my family was I never really had a choice. And although it was frustrating at times, it benefited me in more ways than it harmed me. Which is how I knew that I’d be fine after graduating. I was a good student…but I was always a better employee.
Because of my perseverance in finding, applying, and interviewing for jobs, I landed a pretty sweet gig right out of school. It was an entry-level marketing position that payed well and even better, was with a really great company and team. I had a ton to learn but I was eager to get started and while I wasn’t perfect at it, I kept learning and performing well.
About nine months into my job, I had a peer of mine who was on her second year confide in me about her own challenges with her job. She admitted to me that she was struggling. It wasn’t that she wasn’t meeting expectations, it was just that the expectations were overwhelmingly high. She had even broken down in front of her boss. At the time, I was ignorant enough to assume that her stress was associated more with her own unpreparedness for the workforce than with the expectations of her position. That is, until I found myself in tears during a one-on-one with my own boss. Oops – consider that a lesson taught the hard way.
For 18 years we’re guided through the next steps of our lives. We learn to count, read, and write so that we can do well in the next level of schooling. We’re taught to count, read, and write even better so we can make it to a college that will best prepare us. And we’re taught to negotiate, challenge, and schmooze ourselves into a comfy job and company after our education is complete. But then what?
Here’s the reality of life after landing your first job.
Yes, it’s normal to cry during your first couple of years.
Your first job comes with a lot of pressure. If you don’t do well, it’s not just a bad grade anymore. It could cost you your entire means of living and seem like a permanent black smudge on your career.
There’s also the factor that as an entry-level employee, you’re less likely to speak up. Naturally, a lot of us are too shy to admit when something our boss (who graduated years ago) asks us to do is over our head. Or, when we simply have too much on our plates. After all, we’re also trying to prove ourselves. For me, challenging my boss (ever) was just out of the question during my first year. That included when I disagreed with her opinion, when I didn’t understand what she was asking, or when there was an interpersonal issue (like communication style). Not everyone has these same obstacles with their first job, but if you do it’s perfectly normal to get frustrated or overwhelmed.
The good news, is that a lot of companies operate with more flexibility and empathy than they used to. When I burst into tears in front of my boss (she had been gone for maternity leave, and let’s just say it was tough operating without her) she went above and beyond to support me and not only listen, but try and solve the situation so I didn’t feel that way in the future.
That being said, not everyone works in an office environment that is as forgiving. So how do you prevent a meltdown in the first place? Practice speaking up. Yes, it’s scary. But if you can learn to push back or develop your voice, you’ll release a lot of the tension and stress that builds up and leads to a breakdown in the first place.
You maybe, probably, will hate your job. At first.
I was fortunate enough to land a job that I really loved. But a lot of entry-level jobs are not fun or glamorous. You probably won’t even be doing exactly what you went to school for, either. But we all have to pay our dues (and bills). The key, however, is to focus on aspects of the job that you can either learn to enjoy, or that will provide you with the experience you need for another opportunity you might want in the future. At the very least, every job is a chance to learn and make meaningful connections with your peers that could come in handy down the line.
Sometimes, making friends at work is hard.
In my case, I was an young, entry-level employee in a company that really didn’t have a lot of people my age. Not to mention, my team was growing fast. Too fast. There were new hires popping up left and right and it took quite a while before social events started being incorporated into our routines.
Not everyone has this problem. But if you do, it’s perfectly normal. What I’ve learned, is that if you’re thinking something…someone else probably is to. So whether or not you’re entry-level or the VP, plan a happy hour if you don’t see enough socializing happening in your department. Your initiative will be noticed and more importantly, you’ll meet people!
Salary is a whole different playing field.
I didn’t negotiate my salary (I should have). I didn’t negotiate my raise (I probably should have) or bonus. Fortunately, I got lucky in that my boss pays within the range that I should be at based on my experience and skills. But how do you know this? Use your resources. For one, continue to check how much you’re worth through websites such as PayScale. If you didn’t educated yourself before accepting your offer, at least be prepared for your performance review or future job hunt.
That being said, what surprised me the most about salary was learning what other entry-level employees with comparable job titles made at my company. Fun fact: It was less than me. Which isn’t rocket science by any means, but it’s something you don’t think about until it hits you in the face. So just be mindful that you could be making more – or less – than the person who sits across from you.
You’re being watched more than you realize.
That’s a creepy way to put it. I should instead say, “You’re being noticed more than you realize.” But it’s true. It’s probably safest to assume that when you make a mistake, everyone will notice and when you perform well, no one will. So keep your goofing off to a minimum. That should really go without saying, but I know some of you out there need the reminder.
Case in point – another team hired someone right out of college shortly after I was hired. This person took two hour naps each day, wore sweats to the office every single day (no, it was not okay with our dress code), and most importantly, did the bare minimum for his work. He would do exactly what you asked of him and nothing more. He would never ask for more work or take the initiative to find another way to contribute.
On the opposite side, there’s me. When one of our powerhouse women quit for another opportunity, our CMO sent the team an email to let us know. I toyed around with the idea of emailing her back to offer my assistance wherever she needed it with the new hole in our team. I doubted myself for a long time before pressing send. This was a director-level employee…how could I seriously offer my help for anything that she once did? That being said, I had had a margarita shortly beforehand so my boldness was at an all time high and I hit send despite my own self-doubt. What happened next? Well of course, our CMO didn’t need my assistance but she appreciated the offer enough to mention it to my superiors and send me a sincere thank you. Cha-ching! Double points for Gryffindor! And all it took was a bold, but very simple, gesture.
What about you? Any tips or stories you remember from your first years on the job?