Most of us are taught to believe that every part of our education (and for some of us, it's an extremely long education) is designed to prepare us for our jobs, especially those first few years of our careers. Turns out that is almost completely untrue. Being a great student, even if you happened to attend an Ivy League school, actually teaches you very few of the most essential things you need to know for that first job.
In a 2013 study out of Northeastern University, 62 percent of the people surveyed, which included 1,000 U.S. adults and business leaders, rated colleges' efforts to prepare graduates for the economy as "poor" or "fair." Half said the quality of preparation had declined over the last 10 to 15 years, and nearly as many said colleges aren't in tune with today's job market.
Fortunately, there are experts who do know what skills you need to excel as you enter the workforce. Here are seven things no one tells you about your first job:
There are no grades, and there is very little teaching
Ron Culp, Professional Director of Public Relations & Advertising Graduate Program at DePaul University, told Bustle, "Unlike college, in the 'real world,' there are no As, Bs or Cs. New employees soon learn that it's only pass/fail. Most entry-level employees receive less training now than at any point over the past 20 years. Employers expect you to hit the ground running — already expert in the position you're expected to fill. So, don't over-reach for a job that requires more skills than you currently possess."
Not everyone you work with wants to be your friend, and that's not a bad thing
Ilkovich says you're going to work with all kinds of difficult personalities, and that's okay! Offices are complicated places. "In many cases, you spend more time with your co-workers than your family, and just like your family, you don't usually get to choose who you work with," she says. "You will encounter challenging personalities in the workplace — a mean boss, a [colleague] who stabs you in the back, a lazy cube-mate — so it's really important not to just automatically get annoyed with, fight back against, or completely disregard annoying co-workers. Spend time learning each co-worker's style and try your best to work with them in a way that supports their work style along with helping you succeed."
Office politics can be a rude awakening for recent college grads. Tron Jordheim, CMO of StorageMart, told Bustle, "No one prepares you for the different political structures or conditions one could walk into when taking on a new position. You are a threat to some and a savior to others. But who is who? Which alliances are against you? Which alliances are going to be with you? There are cliques and gangs and double and triple agents roaming the halls of every corporation." He suggests learning how to support the person that hired you without alienating anyone else who could be important to you succeeding.
You may have to manage your manager
Ilkovich says you can't control who your manager is going to be, and you just have to deal with that. She told Bustle, "The thing you can control is how you 'manage up.' Managing up can mean a lot of things, but overall it is working with and supporting your manager to help him/her get their job done as well as possible. Some keys to successfully managing up are understanding your manager's work style, asking to help (rather than waiting around until you are asked), and setting clear expectations with your boss so you understand how to do your job effectively."
You don't have to stay later than your boss to prove you are working hard
Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, Vice President of Student Affairs for New York Women in Communication, regularly gives career advice to young professionals and students. She told Bustle that you don't always have to stay later than your boss. "It's possible that your boss will work very late. That might be because of the nature of their job or even a personal preference. Many job newbies feel that in order to be seen as successful, they need to stay later then their boss but often end up just sitting there doing nothing. Make sure to have an open conversation with your manager from the beginning and discuss things like this. If the expectation IS that you need to stay until they leave, but you find that it doesn't make sense based on your job, definitely revisit the conversation after a month or so. You deserve to have a life outside of work, and you need to manage it by voicing your (appropriate) needs."
You represent your entire company
Yes, we're all free to be you and me, but the minute a company employs you, you represent it. That means every tweet, every Facebook status update, every Instagram post, and anything you say in front of clients or higher-ups reflects not just on you but on your employer as well.
Because you're now an ambassador for your company, make sure you believe in its mission, says Julia Gometz, founder of the human resources consultancy The Brandful Workforce and author of a book by the same name. "Nobody tells you that you represent the brand of the entire organization, whether you are at work or at home. It's not just about your individual job anymore. Make sure that you are signing up for the entire company, not just your specific job. For a good first job experience, it's best to choose a brand that aligns with your passions," she told Bustle.
It is not about you
When you are in school, you are working for yourself to get ahead. When you get a job, you are working for the good of a company. Laurence J. Stybel, Executive in Residence at the Management & Entrepreneurship Department of Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University, told Bustle, "It's not about you anymore. One of the problems of education is that its focus is on individual accomplishment. That doesn't help much in a team effort called business. There is a reason why business leaders like hiring people who have been involved with team sports or have been in the military. They 'get' that it's not about them faster than a recent college graduate."
Your job description is not totally accurate
Professor Matthew Ratz of Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland told Bustle that the job description you've been handed is not even close to what your daily duties will be. "While you may be evaluated (annually, semi-annually, quarterly, etc.) on the items listed on that document, most of your daily activities will involve significantly different tasks. This is true across industries and across employment levels, and it provides a great opportunity for young professionals to differentiate themselves through side-projects and relationships that will advance their careers," he said.