10 Things You Should Take Away From Your First Job, Even If You Hate It
Everyone told me the real world would suck, but like every naïve college senior, I believed my life would be the exception.
I had managed to turn my final semester internship into a full-time job, and I felt pretty confident at graduation knowing I was one of the few headed straight into working in my field. However, I was so happy to be avoiding unemployment that I ignored quite a few red flags.
My internship hadn't been the best experience. There was a lot of tension within the company, people were constantly badmouthing the CEO and my supervisor was so busy all the time that I felt guilty interrupting him to ask even a simple question.
I reasoned everything would be better once I was there every day, so I could manage my own workload and get a stronger feel for how the company was run.
Over the next six months, I watched two of the five people in my department quit, countless people got fired and my workload increased so dramatically that I stopped taking lunch. I even made my trips to the bathroom as fast as possible.
There were also a lot of shady happenings with upper management, including some possible tax evasion. Soon, it became clear the work I was doing was not only unfulfilling, but it was also borderline unethical.
Needless to say, I was miserable.
Like every naïve college senior, I believed my life would be the exception.
It's taken me over a year after quitting to look back at this time in my life with any sense of humor. However, I now realize I'm glad I had this experience. Part of it makes me appreciate my current job with my cheery co-workers and manageable workload.
Mostly, though, it taught me valuable life lessons about these 10 problems to look out for with future employers:
If you are giving 100 percent and not keeping up, it's not your fault.
If you go to work every day with good intentions, an organized to-do list and no intention of breaking for lunch, you should have some sense of accomplishment when 5 pm rolls around.
Occasionally, it's understandable if you're thrown a curve ball and need to work late. But if you're doing this every night and still not getting ahead, something is definitely wrong.
In my final few months of employment, I worked longer hours than ever and felt like I got even less done than before. If this is happening to you, you may need to talk to your manager about your workload.
If you are giving 100 percent every day and still not keeping up, the job may not be for you. In fact, it might not be for anybody. No one should have to work over 40 hours a week and still feel like they have regressed on their to-do list.
Keep your eyes on upper-level management.
How do they treat you? How do they treat other employees? How do they treat each other?
The last one is really key.
While it's possible that your boss hating you is all in your head, a good way to test this theory is to watch how they interact with others besides yourself.
A manager treating all employees under them badly but constantly sucking up to those above them in the office hierarchy is definitely a red flag.
Even worse, if they are always getting into squabbles with other department heads, because every mistake is always someone else's fault, then it's a major sign that there are fundamental problems with the way the company is run.
It shouldn't be the end of the world if you're late.
We've all had those Monday mornings where it's especially hard to get out of bed. Then, the coffee maker won't work, and then, you hit every red light on your commute.
Of course, being routinely late is a problem, but if you have an office job where the only thing waiting on you is your computer, occasionally being five minutes late without having to explain yourself extensively should be permissible.
At my first job, we had to clock in and out, so we were never paid for any time we didn't spend working. Yet, I watched people get severely reprimanded for showing up even a few minutes past 8 am.
Leaving early was also frowned upon, which was understandable. However, it dawned on me as I watched my manager fly into a rage over hearing someone say “goodbye” a minute before 5 pm that, if your boss is watching the clock that closely, they have the problem, not you.
You can have too many meetings and too much communication.
It might seem like a good idea to have daily meetings with your boss, but if you're constantly going over things that could easily be shared in a memo or condensed into a weekly meeting, you may be the victim of micromanagement.
To test the worth of frequent meetings, take note of whether the get-together is to discuss your progress or if it's an open forum to ask questions and discuss your day.
If the meeting is only being called with the intension of monitoring you and other underlings, your boss should realize your time is better spent actually working and not just reporting on what you have or haven't accomplished.
Quantity is valued over quality.
In most jobs, numbers do matter. Whether you balance budgets or accumulate social media likes, there is usually some quantitative way of measuring what you get done.
This is normal, and even healthy, as it allows you to gauge your own productivity.
However, if the quantity of what you produce far exceeds the importance of the quality, it might be time to assess why. No one wants to constantly chase unobtainable numbers, especially if it means producing content or a product you wouldn't even buy.
Bonding with your co-workers is important.
Watch what things you are bonding over, though. I got close to a lot of my office peers very quickly, mostly because we were all united in how much we hated our boss and the company.
Everyone should be bonding over the awesome new coffee shop that opened down the street, not over how desperate they are to find new jobs.
You shouldn't dread Monday.
OK, we all dread Monday.
But if you dread Monday to the point of not being able to enjoy the rest of your weekend, then you are the victim of an unhealthy work environment.
There were weekends during my first job where I lay in bed feeling nauseated, and I fantasized about contracting the plague so I wouldn't have to go into work the next week.
If you are spending so much time thinking about calling in sick that it's actually making you sick, it's time to put your own health first.
Money isn't everything, but…
You should feel like you are properly compensated for your work.
We all wish we could have a pay raise. However, if research shows other entry-level positions in your field are offering several thousand dollars more than what you're making, don't stick around while you contemplate why.
At my first job, salary negotiations were always hushed. We weren't supposed to talk about what we were making with other employees, which is usually a huge sign that someone isn't getting paid what they deserve. Don't let it be you.
Vacation is not just a privilege.
You cannot be expected to work 52 weeks a year with only weekends off.
Even if you don't have an extensive vacation planned, things will come up. At my first job, I got one day of vacation per month. This sounded pretty good, until I realized that I didn't get any sick days or personal time off. If I called in sick or had a family emergency, I had to use my vacation days.
No one should have to choose between attending a loved one's funeral or taking a much-needed three-day weekend the following month. And no one should be coming into work with the flu because they used all of their vacation time visiting family the week of Christmas.
A solid benefits package can be just as important as an adequate salary.
Watch the turnover rate.
I watched many people quit or get fired within my first six months of employment, and eventually, I lost count.
Once, an entire department disappeared overnight because the CEO decided they weren't needed any more. Some of the employees in that department had been hired less than two months prior.
People should not be hired and then fired just because someone higher up is having a bad day. After less than a year of working full time, I was the second most experienced person in my department. Everyone else had quit.
If the shelf life for someone with your position in the company is less than two years, start looking for a more stable job right away.
There will always be someone with a worse job, and there will always be someone with a better job. The most important lesson I learned in my first year of post-graduation employment is to always push for the better job.
Don't ignore the red flags for one year or even for one day. The second your gut tells you it isn't right, it's time to start looking for something better.
The real world can be tough to tackle, but if you arm yourself with the lessons from past experiences, you are on your way to a better future.