When I graduated from college back in 2014, I didn’t really have a career path in mind. While that sounds a bit counterproductive as I was starting out in my career (I write more about that here), I will say that not knowing what I wanted out of a job really didn’t give me any expectations – good, bad, or otherwise. Do you know what to expect from your first job out of college?
Right out of college, I picked up an eight-month temp contract working in insurance. I was hired by a temp agency, and they had me doing some administrative work full-time. I knew pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be a long-term fit for me, but I kept at it until I made my next move.
Less than a year later, I started working in higher education. Still in administration, I knew this was more my vibe. I had a lot of love for higher ed (I still work in this industry today, although my carer has evolved a lot – in the best ways possible) and so I knew I would be much happier. Still, the role was entry level and was more about me gaining experience than setting roots.
Between my temp job and my first “real job” (as I call it) out of college, I learned a whole host of things a new professional might expect. If you’re fresh out of school and ready to work, roll up your sleeves and take notes.
Here are a few things you can expect from your first job out of college:
1. Expect to start from the bottom.
If you’re working in an entry level role (as most new grads do), you’re bottom of the totem pole, so to speak, and often treated like it, too.
Expect lots of grunt work – scheduling meetings, taking lunch orders, picking up said lunch orders, and delivering them, and lots of answering other people’s phone calls. Taking notes during meetings, chipping away at data entry tasks, and other menial duties will likely fill the long, excruciating hours of your work day.
When you’re in an entry level job, you’re not there to set roots and become a lifer; you’re just earning some money to pay your bills and get that line of experience on your resume.
2. Expect a low salary.
My first job out of college had me earning $14 an hour. Today, that’s minimum wage (or close to it) in some cities across America. The money wasn’t great, I didn’t have health insurance right away, and I felt overworked while being underpaid.
Truthfully, entry level jobs are not money-making positions. Depending on what industry you work in, and what company you work for, you should expect a low salary or hourly rate to start.
3. Expect to learn from others.
While the menial tasks you’re stuck doing may not interest you, try to use this opportunity to learn from other people you work with. At both of my first jobs out of college, I didn’t learn much from the work I was doing firsthand, but I learned a lot watching others. I paid attention to what kind of work my colleagues got assigned and how they filled their days. Try to watch other people to pick up on where you see your own career headed. It will help to give you direction and a clear path forward.
4. Expect that your boss is not your teacher.
If you happened to love your college experience and all of the wonderful faculty there, you might be surprised by how different a boss treats you. Teachers often inspire, guide, and motivate their students. Bosses don’t always operate this way.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get an awesome boss who makes working this entry level job bearable. If not, you’ll be disappointed to learn that your boss is not your teacher. They’re not there to inspire, but rather delegate. They’ll probably be ordering you around and adding more tasks to your endless to-do list. Just remind yourself that this person probably won’t be your boss forever.
5. Expect you’ll need time to adjust.
What surprised me most about my first job out of college wasn’t necessarily the work at hand, but rather my schedule. In college, I had a few classes each day with plenty of breaks in between. I didn’t have a super rigid calendar each day.
Work is completely different. You have to be available, at your desk from start to finish, working and motivated during your entire shift. Depending on the nature of your work, this type of schedule may work for or against you. I had to train myself to go to bed earlier each night and wake up earlier each day to accommodate my 8am to 5pm work schedule Monday through Friday. You might need to do the same.
While this probably isn’t the most inspiring way to send you off into your first job out of college, we can hopefully agree that it’s a logical approach to this next phase in life. First jobs aren’t meant to be your forever jobs. It’s the gateway for all of the success and money to come in your career ahead. Attitude is everything, so head into this first professional role eager to learn with a smile on your face. Remember that every experience will teach you something, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Everyone has to start somewhere, so even if you’re beginning your career at the very bottom, you have nowhere to go but up.
Good luck, college grad. You’ve got this!