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Your Very First Job: What to Know, How to Deal

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A college degree might prepare you for most of your first job, but it can't cover everything. Entering the 40-hour workweek hits most recent graduates hard. It can help to know what you're getting yourself into before you hit the ground running – and how to cope if (and when) things get overwhelming.

Prepare to Adjust – to Everything

Once you're out of school and in the "real world," you'll need time to acclimate. JobAdX CEO Amit Chauhan wrote in a LinkedIn blog post that first-time full-timers should give themselves some time to get used to their new independent life outside of college, plus their first professional role in the workplace. Chauhan estimates that new employees should allow 90 days for this acclimation to happen – about 30 days of whirlwind confusion, followed by 30 to 60 days of buckling down and settling in. You may feel out of place for a while, but you'll eventually find your fit. Just work hard and trust the process.

Go the Extra Mile

You're young, smart and full of potential – and no, that's not good enough. As U.S. News and World Report points out, in school, teachers often show preference to their smartest students. But in the working world, you have to show results to earn respect. And especially in the first few months of your new job, work as if you're under a microscope. Your errors in the workplace matter more and affect more people than they do in the classroom, and screwing up might mean impacting your coworkers' schedules, deadlines and ability to be productive.

Pay Your Dues

Let's face it: You're in the beginning phases of an entry-level position. You aren't about to graduate from college and wake up the next day on third base – you have to work to get there. According to Monster College, recent graduates often make the mistake of expecting to slide straight into their dream jobs after college, when in fact they usually have to prove themselves in a lesser position and work their way up from there. You may have to trudge your way through some grunt work at first, doing some of the relatively undesirable office tasks before moving on to more engaging and important work. You also may have to live on a less-than-ideal salary for a while: Just because the average person in your position makes a certain amount doesn't mean you'll start off earning those numbers. Expect to start within the lowest spectrum of your career's income range, and climb your way higher from there, as you prove yourself in the position at hand.

Learn to Love Criticism

If you're looking to move up in your career, get ready to swallow your pride, because constructive criticism will become your new best friend. You have a lot to learn (and that's a good thing!), and the best way to start learning it is to ask questions (yes, even the dumb ones), make mistakes and accept critical feedback. Glassdoor suggests that new employees prepare themselves for constructive feedback by adjusting their mindset: The criticism is there to build you up and propel you forward, not to drag you down. When your higher-ups take the time to sit down with you and detail how you might improve in certain areas, that's a good thing. It indicates that they are invested in your success and believe in your potential. Gracefully accept their criticism, and use it to motivate yourself.

Have Patience With Your Social Life

This is a big one, and often the hardest aspect of independence for newbies in the workforce: It takes time to develop relationships with coworkers. You may feel lonely for a while in your workplace, especially if it's your first time being mixed in with people of all skill levels, ages, stages of life and backgrounds. But more likely than not, you will make your way into the circle. Act like a teammate, and you'll become part of the team: Introduce yourself to everyone you work with, and do your best to learn their names, too. Maintain a positive, friendly attitude, and don't be afraid to ask your colleagues for assistance or suggestions. Soon, you'll develop more meaningful workplace relationships, and that new 40-hour workweek will have its own community.

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About the Author

Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University.