6 Things About Office Life I Wish I'd Known Before My First Job

by Marina Carlson
Image Entertainment

Three years ago -- almost to the day -- I landed a job at a leading institution. I saw nothing but a bright future ahead of me.

It was my first job out of college. I felt smart, ambitious and ready to take on any challenge thrown my way.

I envisioned "The Office"-esque pranks that my co-workers and I would become embroiled in, and I pictured us swapping stories about our terrible bosses over pints at our local bar. I was bright-eyed, and I saw my cubicle through the rose-colored lenses of a rookie.

But after three years, there are some things I wish I could tell that version of myself. During this time, I've learned a lot, made some wonderful friends and had the opportunity to travel and do remarkably cool things because of my job.

But there are definitely some things I would have done differently. Here are six things I wish I could have told myself three years ago:

1. No one really cares about your college degree.

Unless you're entering a certain field, no one really gives a sh*t what you studied or where. What they do care about is your attitude in the office every day, and how you approach your day-to-day work.

They care about hearing new ideas, getting quality work done in a timely manner and knowing that you are, in general, a good person to work with. Don't get me wrong; it's important to be sharp. But it's more important to be a good leader, work well with a team and have strong work ethic.

Your first job isn't about your intelligence. It's about getting your foot in the door and proving yourself over and over again. The time will come when you will have projects and positions that justify having written that 90-page senior thesis, but I wish someone had told me this when I first ventured out into the real world. I would relied on more than just intelligence.

2. That said, know your value. Use every chance you get to leverage it.

In short, be opportunistic. When a project comes up that requires your intimate knowledge of a niche subject or a language you happen to speak, take it.

Actually, don't just take it: Take it and run with it. Take that project and own it like you've never owned anything before. Prove how valuable you are to the team with not only your unique knowledge or skill set, but also with your dedication to the task at hand.

The hard part about first jobs is they have this way of beating you down. You can only fetch so many cups of coffee and file so many documents (or whatever menial task you are assigned to) before you start to believe you aren't smart enough to do anything else.

Don't do that. If no one else appreciates you, appreciate yourself. Take the initiative to prove to yourself just how much you bring to the team. At the very least, it looks great on your resume.

3. Raise your hand.

Along the same lines, I wish I had known how important it is to constantly raise your hand and self-advocate. This is not only true in meetings -- where you should literally raise your hand as often as possible -- but in pay negotiations, job openings and any other project you undertake.

So, they're understaffed and need someone to pick up the slack? Raise your hand. You can see a major hole in a project, but no one else is talking about it? Raise your hand.

They need someone to take on some duties while your coworker goes on maternity leave? Raise your hand. You disagree with a questionable business practice? Raise your hand.

You get the point. Speak up, and take on as many extra duties as you can. This will go a long way in proving just how valuable you are, and it will show that you care about what you're doing.

Alternatively, it's important to raise your hand for yourself. Be your own advocate.

I wish I had known how important this is. Don't ever be afraid to sing your own praises or nominate yourself for a high-level position that's opened up.

It never hurts to ask. All that happens when you self-advocate is interest. You just give yourself another opportunity to tout your achievements. I regret every moment I didn't take the chance to do this.

4. Be a defensive driver.

Not literally (although it is a safe practice). What I mean is this: It's easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new job, making new friends and getting in on the office gossip. But tread lightly.

I came into my first job as an open book. I have always lived my life that way, and I didn't see any reason to change it.

I changed my mind quickly when I learned that I'd been turned down for a promotion because of hurtful gossip that had made its way to senior management. They made a decision on my future based entirely on false character accusations. Often times, it's more beneficial to remain guarded (but still congenial).

Form friendships and trust slowly, identifying who you can trust and who is best avoided. Keep your cards close, be the utmost professional and remember that you can't always trust people. I wish I had known this from day one.

5. People will judge you and try to tear you down. All you can do is block them out.

I wish someone had warned me just how political and icky it is to work in an office environment. Granted, not every company is like this. But it's more than likely that no matter where you go, you're going to run into people who just want to rip you down, while all you try to do is build yourself up.

It's a difficult transition coming from college, where people are generally bound by a sense of community and togetherness that allows trust and openness to bloom safely. In the real world, people are far less forgiving, especially if you are in a competitive field. Others will do their best to take every word, gesture and action of yours and judge silently.

They will form a completely biased opinion of you, and they'll use that to try to thwart your success. It's important to continually build and maintain a strong sense of self, or a sort of wall to block the haters out. It also helps to do your best to not give them anything to add fuel to the fire.

Be polite, professional and positive. This way, you can't go wrong.

6. Be on time for everything all the time.

Just do it. Don't make anyone question you.