Research shows that happiness is largely dependent on whether or not our expectations are met.
If I promise you $500, but only gave you $50 you'll be furious. But if I promised you $10 and then gave you $50 you're thrilled.
With this in mind I’ll begin by telling you exactly what to expect for the first 3-5 years of your career. Knowing what to expect takes a lot of the stress out of the situation. You’ll be mentally prepared for anything that can happen and begin your career with eyes wide open.
I'll tell you how things work so that you can prepare for a long and successful career. But even more important, you will live a happy and fulfilling life.
What to Expect At Your First Job
Many in my generation and younger have a strange sense of entitlement when it comes to the workplace. We grew up in a world without freshman hazing. A magical place where everyone gets a trophy…
…and 20 year olds are the CEOs of multi-billion dollar technology companies and on magazine covers.
We have high aspirations and it's difficult to rationalize how getting our first boss a venti caramel macchiato is going to help us reach our dreams.
Your First Years On the Job
One thing I want to get perfectly clear right from the start. Your first few years working an entry level job aren't going to be glamorous.
Odds are you won't be jet-setting around the world wining-and-dining clients and having a personal meeting with the CEO every morning.
It's more likely that you'll interact with your direct boss and a few peers on a regular basis. Doing routine tasks and getting a little better at them every day.
Work and School Require Different Skills
Repeat after me, “Good grades in college do not automatically equal career success.”
While your top marks were the key to getting an interview for your dream job, they don’t mean a whole lot once you enter the working world.
Expect to be challenged! Your first few months will involve learning a lot of new skills.
At times you’ll get frustrated. Don’t get discouraged, just keep working hard and maintain a positive attitude and you’ll be an old pro before you know it.
Will I Have a Bad Boss?
Judging from bosses on TV and in movies, your boss would be one of two people:
- The Gordon Gekko - A ruthless businessman who will squash you like a bug if you bring them the wrong latte; or
- The bumbling idiot who somehow made it to management because they are related to the owner or are too likable to fire (see any office comedy).
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own work that it’s easy to forget that bosses are people too. There will be amazing bosses and huge jerks. But most will lie somewhere in the middle. It’s important to get to know your boss and how she operates.
I’ve had some less than perfect bosses in the past, and I’ve had some who genuinely cared about more than just my job performance. A good boss can make the difference between a miserable job and a place you enjoy going every morning.
Coworkers: Cool or Cutthroat?
TV would have you believe that the only way to succeed is to throw your coworkers under the bus to impress the boss. Obviously, this does happen. But it’s rare and not at all required to reach your career goals.
In fact, the office is a lot like your classrooms in college…
Remember that kiss-ass kid in class who always reminded the teacher that he forgot to assign homework? He’ll be in the cubicle next to you.
The class clown? She’s in the next department over and still loves those practical jokes.
Your good friend is downstairs in Marketing.
In short – Your coworkers are just normal people trying to get by. They have families and lives of their own. They don’t hate you and they won’t be going out of their way to make you look bad.
Get to know as many people as you can around the office and you’ll realize they’re mostly good people. Building relationships with your coworkers is the key to long-term career success.
I Don’t Love My First Job - Should I Look for Something Else?
Suck it up!
Just kidding -- but seriously it’s only your first job. Most of you will have to start with the boring tasks and work your way up. The cliché of making copies and organizing the filing cabinets had to start somewhere.
Paying your dues by doing the Charlie Work allows you to learn while also providing value to the company. Your company isn’t a charity, and the hard fact is that about 90% of the knowledge and skills you acquire in your lifetime will come from learning on the job.
Think about that – You graduated college with just 10% of the skills you need to be successful at work. You have a lot to learn.
This means that for your first few years in the workforce you simply don't have the skills needed to be fully productive at higher levels. You're learning and the company believes you'll learn as you go along, but you will still have to take on some tasks that require less skill to provide some value to the company.
Bring a positive attitude and show you can do these basic tasks well and you’ll start getting more interesting and challenging work soon.
Your Real Job Description
My final piece of advice is to always remember the true job description of all young professionals.
Your job is to make your boss’s job easier.
Big 4? Regional Firm? IRS? Speedo model? I don’t care what your business card says, as a professional we all have the same job description.
When your boss doesn’t have time to complete a task herself - you get to do it. The task itself isn’t important, it could be presenting to the board or just making copies. The important thing is to remember that your official job title will not cover every task you’ll be asked to complete. Complaining that something isn’t in your job description won’t make it go away, it will just make you look lazy and like less of a team player.
Look at it from your boss’s perspective. She wants to see how well you handle these menial tasks before assigning you more important work. If you slack off on ‘busy work’ then why would she have any reason to believe you would give your all for the more interesting work.
You weren’t hired to do four or five specific tasks each week. You were hired to help your company grow and succeed.
Sometimes this will require you taking on new and challenging projects and sometimes it means you suck it up and stuff envelopes for six hours straight. Either way, always give your best effort and you will be rewarded with more interesting projects in the future.