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5 Big Things You’ll Learn From Your First Real-World Job

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working during college

When you graduated from college, what did you imagine the corporate world would be like?

Maybe you fancied yourself sashaying into the office in a nice suit, surrounded by likeminded people and finally — finally! — buying that sports car/gadget/designer outfit you always wanted.

Well, that’s certainly part of the package. But there’s more. No matter what field you work in, you’ll be presented with some of the same challenges.

Once you spend enough time in your cubicle, you’ll quickly learn these things that few (if any) college professors teach you:

1. Getting hired is just the beginning

Of the thousands of applicants who applied for this one opening, the company chose you. That gives you every reason to act like a complete braggart on the first day on the job, right?

Hold your horses. Remember, your coworkers also had to go through a rigorous application process to get where they are now, plus they know the ins and out of the company. You don’t. You’re not exactly on equal footing with them.

Plus, you still have to comply with company rules, learn the organizational culture and figure out how to get along with difficult coworkers, just to start. Speaking of which…

2. People skills are (almost) everything

If you’re shy and reserved, you may have a little more trouble in an office environment than your outgoing office mates. After all, you have to spend at least eight hours with them, and face-to-face interaction is inevitable.

It’s tempting to just bury yourself in your work and wait for the clock to signal “Logout time!”, but you’ll find everyday life more bearable if you make the effort to be friendly with your coworkers.

3. Monotony is part of the job

As with starting anything new, finding your footing at first will be tough. You’ll have to learn the processes, sit through meetings in which you have no idea what’s going on, figure out how to read your boss and navigate the best way to work with your team.

Once you iron everything out, you’ll find the challenge shifts from adjusting to the corporate culture to ensuring that no workday becomes boring (at least, for you).

Find ways to break the monotony. Look for new challenges to keep learning. Don’t succumb to the Internet vortex and spend all day glued to your computer scrolling through Buzzfeed or online window shopping.

Add choice mementos to your workspace (e.g. pictures of loved ones, inspirational notes, small toys) and get up from your desk, move around and chitchat with coworkers when you have a break.

4. Accepting any job is risky

Surprised I just described employment as a risk? Contrary to what you may have been taught, having a job does not guarantee financial stability. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

If the inflation rate outstrips your annual salary increase or if you get handed a pink slip, you’re in a dangerous situation. So it’s a good idea to have a backup source of income, such as savings, bonds and stocks or a side job to bring in extra income.

Living below your means also helps.

5. Always think two steps ahead

There’s no need to feel stuck in your job, even in a bleak labor market.

You can stick it out and hope your three to five years will count for something. Or, you can leave right now — but not before landing another steady source of income with the help of good networking. You can also start a side business, and if it seems to have a promising future, you can kiss your employer goodbye.

I’m not suggesting you bolt every time you get a corporate job offer. Far from it. I’m saying it helps to think realistically when it comes to dipping your toe in the “real world” water.

Issa Mirandilla writes about freelancing, writing, marketing, careers, personal finance and other business-related topics. Give her a nudge on Twitter or visit her website here.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Jagoda Perich-Anderson

    Good reality check, Issa. I’m so glad you included #2 People Skills are (almost) Everything. This can make the difference between being noticed favorably by your manager and considered as a high value employee or not.

    • Issa Mirandilla

      Thank you for the comment, Jagoda! :) Yes, people skills do make you more “visible” in the office, and that usually translates to increased chances of getting promoted.