Accepting a job offer is a big deal. This is especially true after you’ve spent the majority of your life in school preparing to enter the workforce officially. There are a few things, however, that no one will tell you about your first job. Darlene Johnson, the Director of External Relations at the Hofstra Career Center, Meryl Cooper, Co-Author of “Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired, and Rewarded at Work,” and Lesley Mitler Co-Founder of Early Stage Careers which “focuses on successfully transitioning students and grads from college to career,” weigh in on what to actually expect from your first job.
1. Everything you think you know is probably moot
In a perfect world, your first job would be just that—perfect! But Darlene Johnson notes that this job might not be exactly what you are expecting. “You may find your first place of employment to be more relaxed than you would think, or more conservative than you would think, or more technologically advanced than you would think, or less so,” she says. “Whatever your preconceived notions are about a workplace, they may not match with reality, and that is OK.” Go in with an open mind and lower expectations so that you can make the most of your first job.
2. Even though it's a job, you will still have some learning to do
Just because your title has changed from intern to employee doesn’t mean that you stop learning. Not only will you find out more about your particular field but about office etiquette and basic tasks like submitting time sheets. Cooper compares our minds to sponges. “Be a sponge—listen intently and ask questions,” she says. “Raise your hand to help as often as possible.” Even if your boss needs help with something that isn’t your responsibility offering to lend a hand can help you build your relationship and introduce you to something new.
3. It might not be your last "first job"
Johnson urges to learn as much as possible from your first job, even if it’s not directly in line with your career goals. “My first job was as a legal secretary in an entertainment law firm,” Johnson says. “I had no interest in law, but I am grateful for the job for giving me great typing skills!” Today this skill might be Photoshop or Excel. Cooper agrees saying that a big misconception of a first job post-college is knowing exactly what you want to do. “So many people shift gears and directions throughout their careers,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s about collecting experiences, doing a good job—whatever your position—and building your network.” This is exactly what she did when she first started working after college. Cooper worked at an advertising agency which challenged her, and eventually left to work at an art gallery. She credits her experience at the gallery for helping her cultivate sales and public relations skills which she still uses today.
4. You can't anticipate everything about the company culture
Lesley Mitler urges graduates to do extensive research on the company’s culture. While many startup companies seem exciting to young grads, they should also consider that these companies often lack structure. While the atmosphere may or may not be fun and relaxed where you work, the tasks you are completing might not be as exciting at your first job. “Understand that there will be parts of any job that are routine and repetitive but you must demonstrate a positive and committed attitude to your role and the team,” says Mitler. This applies to your first job and all of the jobs to come.
5. You’ll likely make lifelong friends
Let’s face it: most people spend at least 40 hours a week at work. You’re going to have to at least get along with your co-workers. Work will be more fun though if you go beyond your average friendliness. Cooper says to be friendly but not get involved in gossip or office politics. “Often lifelong friendships are forged in the fires of first jobs,” she says. “Find your people—but also make sure you’re keeping it professional in the workplace.”
Your first job will be a lot of things. It will be a learning experience, a chance to make friends, and an opportunity to hone in on skills related to your field. Unfortunately, it won’t be all fun and games. You’ll likely have to do work that you won’t want to do or work for a company whose culture does not match with yours. Don’t let these facts influence the attitude you bring to work. In the end, it’s what you make of your situation that will determine your success. The things you learn on this job, and the next, you will take with you as you build your impressive and fulfilling career.