07 Jun Five Reasons Why Your First Job Out of College Sucks
It finally happened.
It’s been a few months (or maybe even a few weeks or maybe a few years) since you’ve walked across the stage to Elgar’s graduation staple, ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ to earn that coveted piece of paper: your degree. You’ve searched (maybe even frantically) to find a job in your chosen field of study. You’ve e-mailed, you’ve called, and you’ve even been to a few interviews. You’ve worked a few odd jobs or maybe you were lucky enough to travel or maybe you sat on your parent’s couch to pass the time. You’re desperately trying not to give up – to not think all of your hard work in college and in internships and volunteering has been in vain. You’ve done all you know to do. It seems as if all is bleak and then, it finally happens.
You get the job.
Now, you can go be the professional you always dreamt you’d be. You’ll be earning a great salary in no time. You’ll be successfully integrating your work life into your personal life. You’ll be able to easily afford a new car or a new apartment and your busy social life.
Then, you realize you actually won’t be earning six figures within your first year. You quickly learn that the fancy car and apartment may take more time to acquire than you initially imagined. You also realize that working 40 plus hours every single week is tiring. That social life you had in college has slowed down some. But you’re rolling with the punches. All is well, right?
You begin to think that your job sucks. Or, at least it seems that way. Your boss and/or coworkers are always on your case about the tiniest things. So what you didn’t respond to that email? It was Saturday! Your boss asked you to handle a client call on a Monday – well that seems fair until you realize that Monday is Labor Day. No deal, boss. Labor Day is a holiday.
Your boss is worrying you about meeting deadlines. That’s tough, you believe. It’s hard for you to get anything done because you can’t seem to concentrate – you’re working in one large office with several people typing and talking all at the same time. You don’t have the same luxury of four walls and a door like your boss – s/he totally doesn’t understand.
Everybody gives you nasty looks when you dart out the door at 5 p.m. on the nose. You don’t get it; you’ve already worked a full eight hours for the day.
You think your job sucks. Big time. You’ve been had. You spent at least four years earning a degree and months looking for a job. You finally land a gig, and you thought you were doing exactly what you were supposed to be doing – being fabulous while working in your chosen career – only to realize that working sucks.
What you probably fail to realize is that your boss and your workplace also probably thinks they’ve been had, too. Here they were giving some newbie a chance to make a name for herself/himself, and all they’ve gotten is a mistake-prone, clock-watcher who lives for socializing, time off, and the weekend – everything except what they hired you to do: work.
Think of it this way: It’s almost like being told every day that you’re destined to become a model. You have the right looks. You look good in clothes. You’ve got a killer walk. You know all the right angles to pose your body. And you’ve studied every fashion icon known to mankind.
But then the unthinkable happens.
You finally get your big break at modeling, but the photographer and fashion editors discover that you have a hard time standing up straight and taking pictures with both your eyes open. Yeah, you came to slay, but if you can’t stand up straight and hold both eyes open simultaneously, you won’t make much of a model.
Going through college and internships and finally landing your first gig out of college is the same way. You come to work to slay, but if you don’t master certain other skills that aren’t necessarily mapped out in a textbook, you won’t make much of an employee.
Here are the top five reasons why your first job out of college sucks:
You lack the soft skills necessary to succeed. Sure, you’ve had internships and you’ve volunteered and you’ve earned the right degree. But that is only a small part of the battle, newbie.
What you need to learn now is how to:
- Respond to emails in a timely manner,
- Answer phone calls professionally,
- Treat clients or customers like royalty,
- Be a good team member or coworker so that they love working with you,
- Manage your boss so that s/he stays off your case,
- Understand when it is time to speak,
- Understand when it is time to be quiet,
- Navigate your workplace so that you avoid the landmines,
- Take initiative at the appropriate time,
- Follow directions when given,
- Understand when it is the appropriate time to request time off or vacation,
- Keep your emotions in check at all times, and
- What to do when the going gets tough.
It is not enough to master the concepts you’ve studied in a textbook. It is not enough to be good at whatever task you do. It’s not even enough to do what you’re told.
You’ve got to do all of that and more.
If you haven’t mastered the aforementioned skill list above, you’re more than likely doing the opposite, opening up yourself to be incredibly inappropriate at work. If you’re unsure or need help, ask a coworker or a mentor for guidance. I am certain they’d be more than happy to help.
You’ve got everything figured out. Your way is the best way, and you think the old dinosaurs still using notepads, sticky notes, and Facebook don’t have what it takes to succeed. YOU are good. After all, you are younger, faster, and maybe even smarter than many of the old coots you work with.
You believe wholeheartedly that all you’re expected to do is your job. You don’t believe there is anything else required of you. Moreover, you don’t understand it when there is more being asked of you. You’re actually annoyed when your supervisor or coworker asks for extra support. And, whenever you think you’ve done something amazing, you don’t know why your coworkers and supervisors aren’t lining up to give you the glory.
That’s because you lack the maturity level to understand what it really takes to be successful, oh Great New One.
You might be smart and fast and good. But you don’t have it all figured out. There are both value and institutional knowledge in the old foggies still trying to figure out what the heck Instagram is. They’ve likely forgotten more than you may ever even know. Do yourself a favor and soak up all that knowledge. What they lack in speed, they probably have double in skill. Sit at their feet and learn their ways. Who knows? Maybe you all could learn from each other.
Yes, you are absolutely, positively supposed to do your job. But sometimes, you’ll be asked to do more than your job. You might even be asked to help do someone else’s job. Sometimes, you might not be asked, but it is up to you to realize that something needs to be done and it would be great for you to take the initiative to help. Sometimes this might mean giving up a weekend or an evening. Sometimes this might mean missing out on a few social functions. It’s not your place to be annoyed. It’s your place to get it done. Being that it’s your first (or second) job out of college, you haven’t yet earned the right to turn down these additional opportunities to shine (yes, doing extra work is kind of like extra credit – it definitely gives you room to show what you’ve got and earn a few brownie points along the way).
And yes, your boss is supposed to recognize you, occasionally and within reason, for doing good work. But here’s a thought: what if the work you do isn’t actually good? What if it’s just mediocre or average? More than likely, if you’re just out of school or in your first professional job, then your work probably isn’t that great just yet. Before you start wondering where your applause is, be sure you actually deserve it.
YOU BREAK EASILY.
The world ends when you don’t get the recognition you think you deserve. You’re visibly upset when your boss snaps at you. You lose your words when asked a very direct question. You want to cry when you’ve made a mistake.
You’re full of emotions all the time, and you allow them to lead you in your work decisions. You’re always second-guessing yourself or showing up in a ball of nerves.
Get over it.
You are going to make mistakes. You are going to fail. It’s part of the process. Your boss will snap at you. You won’t always be acknowledged for your contributions. Things will not go as planned. In fact, there are a ton of things that won’t happen for you when you get your first job. And that’s OK.
If you need to, seek professional help from a therapist to help you get over your jitters. That’s a perfectly acceptable decision. You might also try asking a mentor or a coworker or maybe even one of your college professors how to navigate some of the emotions you feel. That’s fine, too.
Otherwise, suck it up, and move on.
YOU DON’T FIT IN.
Most everyone else in your office arrives at work around the same time, but you notice that you’re the first person to leave, and hardly – if ever – anyone else leaves with you. This is a clear sign that you don’t fit in.
If you notice that you’d prefer to take a 30-minute lunch break, and everyone else seems to prefer to take an hour break, that’s a sign you might not fit in.
If you’re in a meeting and you notice that all of your other team members are taking notes, while you’re checking Snapchat, you’re most definitely inappropriate – and you probably don’t fit in.
If everyone else is wearing dresses and skirts and blouses and slacks and button-up shirts and pearls and you show up in jeans and a t-shirt every day, not only are you probably inappropriate, it’s also a sign you don’t fit in.
It’s not that you don’t really fit in. It’s that you haven’t paid attention to all of the subtle clues around you that indicate what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. Instead, you’re doing your own thing. Stop it.
The personality of workplaces can vary for company to company. Not every place is going to look like Google or Facebook, much like how others won’t look like Letter Logic or Deloitte or the White House. Each one is different. Sometimes, different types of workplaces work for different types of people. Some people can excel in an open-concept environment, while another may excel in Cubicle City. Some jobs may be flexible about time and attendance, while others may adhere to strict rules about when you come in and out. Some places even allow employees to take naps or get massages. Others are run more like a boot camp.
There is room for all of it in the world. The key is finding out what works for you. The other key is to adjust your behaviors so that you appear to be an asset and not as if you stick out like a sore thumb.
YOU’D RATHER BE DOING SOMETHING ELSE.
So, you didn’t exactly land your dream job. Instead of being Vice President of Operations or Senior Account Manager, you’re a staff associate. Or, instead of being in the Outreach Department, you’re in the Internal Operations Department. You’re bummed out that you didn’t quite get what you had hoped for.
Instead of learning what you can in your current role, you’re busy trying to figure out how to get into the next one. You’re so miserable at your current station that you can’t see past your feelings to learn how to leverage the experience you are gaining as a platform to get to where you want to be.
In your eyes, the gig sucks. But you should focus on using the time you’re spending wallowing in suckdom learning as much as you can as fast as you can.
There you have it. Those are the top five reasons why many college graduates – at least the hundreds I encounter each year either during the interview process to work at DENOR or speaking to new graduates or even those who have worked in my own office – seem to believe their jobs suck.
Here is the hard truth: Most people don’t find themselves in tough personnel situations because they aren’t intelligent or because they lack the skills to get the job done or are incapable of doing the actual job. Most people find themselves being fired or in other tough work situations because they can’t master the soft skills necessary to keep a job.
Being smart is just the foundation to having a successful career, and ultimately, a successful life. Obtaining a college degree does not make you special or guarantee you anything – not a job, not a great salary, not a fancy house or car. Getting a job and keeping it amounts to more than your ability to complete a four-year program.
Remember, the folks who got eliminated on America’s Next Top Model weren’t axed because they didn’t have the looks. In most cases, it was the other stuff that kept contestants from success – like not being about to stand up straight and hold their eyes open at the same time.
Want to know the even colder (and maybe even harsher) truth?
It’s not your job that sucks. It’s probably not your team members. It’s probably not even your boss.
More than likely, it’s you.
Here’s my advice: get over yourself, and get to work. Instead of wondering why your first job out of college seems to suck, shift your energy to learning how to excel in those valuable soft skills so that you begin to show up as a winner; try working on your emotional fortitude and strengthening your mental toughness so that you can get by without breaking down; and do more to understand your workplace culture so that everyone knows you belong there just as much as anyone else.
Now, check yourself, check your attitude, change your perspective, and go be great.