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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Full-Time Job

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Full-Time Job
You may not stay at your first full-time job very long, but the lessons you learn there can be invaluable to your career later on. / Credit: Busy employee image via Shutterstock

This time two years ago, I, like many other members of the Class of 2012, was anxiously awaiting my college graduation. At the end of April, I had officially signed an offer letter and accepted a full-time job at a marketing company in midtown Manhattan, just a short subway ride away from the East Village I'd come to know so well during my time at NYU. In a few short weeks, I would be a degree-holding college graduate, ready to start my career and take my first steps into the long-awaited "real world."

I'd done a couple of part-time internships during college, so I assumed I'd already have the hang of working in an office. How different could it be? I'd arrive at 9 a.m. sharp, sit down at my desk, do my work and go home eight hours later. I'd get a steady paycheck and paid vacation time, and make some great new friends. That's what I thought, anyway.

I had a lot of expectations going into my first day on the job. Some of them turned out to be correct, but many of them were quickly shattered. The year that I spent at this company taught me a lot of valuable lessons — both about my career and life in general — that I took with me when I began working for Business News Daily last summer. Here are five things I would go back and tell myself before starting my first full-time job. [Smart Job Search Tips for New College Grads]

Work might follow you home … Many first-time members of the workforce make the naïve assumption that work will end when you leave the office. This is how it was at my internships: I never had to worry about what happened once I walked out the door. But when you're a full-time, salaried staff member, your responsibilities can and will extend outside the confines of your desk. With today's cloud and mobile tech, people don't follow the "9 to 5" mentality anymore. While you shouldn't be expected to respond to your boss's emails at midnight, there are going to be times when an after-hours emergency pops up, and you may need to be the one who deals with it.

… but don't let work become your life. Just because you can work from anywhere at any time absolutely does not mean you should. Yes, you will have to stay late or come in early sometimes. Yes, you may have to miss out on some social events because you have a big project to do. But you're an entry-level employee. You're not running the company, and the company certainly isn't paying you enough to spend every waking moment doing work. Set a time each night when you'll stop checking your emails. And please don't spend your whole weekend working in an effort to make Monday morning easier. Mondays will never be easy, and if you don't have that work to do, something else will come up, anyway.

Communicate (but don't gossip). Entry-level jobs are notorious for being a bit thankless, but if there's a serious problem with the way your boss is running things, you need to speak up. Ask for a private meeting with him or her, or if you're too afraid to approach your boss directly, bring it up to the next person in command. If you don't say something, how do you expect the situation to change? What won't help anything is gossiping with your fellow low-level colleagues about how you're planning to apply to other jobs just to get out. You never know who's listening, or who will bring that second-hand news back to the boss.

Always give 100 percent, even if there's no reward. You're not always going to get credit for the work you do. That's just the way of the world. As frustrating as it is to receive little to no recognition for the hours you spent slaving over a project, don't use that as an excuse to slack off and fade into the background. Believe it or not, your bosses and colleagues will notice, and when it comes time for evaluations, promotions or even future job recommendations, you can forget about a kind word from any of them.

Have an exit strategy. Unless you hit the corporate jackpot and find a job where you can swiftly move up the ranks, it's more than likely that your first job is just going to be a stepping stone to bigger, better things. There's nothing wrong with that, and most companies have come to expect high turnover rates in their lower-level positions. Keep an eye on companies you might want to work for in the future, and network with other people in your industry — both great ways to begin planning your exit, even if you're happy where you are for the moment.

[Thinking about a career change that requires going back to school? Visit our partner site's "Classes and Careers" calculator to figure out which school and program is best for you.]

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.