Starting A First Job? Here’s What You Should Know

Written by

Claudia Rojas


October 6, 2018


Tips for starting a first job

For most people, getting a job is an important milestone. Your first job has the potential to shape the rest of your career and life. So what do you need to know if you are starting a first job? Wherever your first job takes you, here are some tips that will help you take greater control in getting the most out of the first experience.

1. You’re Going to Make Mistakes

This is your first job. You can’t foolproof this one. Mistakes will happen but be aware and catch them yourself first. Be proactive about it. You might notice there’s some unspoken dress codes. Find out what exactly qualifies for casual Fridays. Maybe you weren’t supposed to send an email to that customer or offer that discount. You might not learn you made an error until someone else finds it.

What will you do if you make a mistake? Apologize through “I” statements, identify the error, and find a way to correct it. Apologies are hard, so people will perceive you in a better light if you offer one.

2. You Will Spend Money

A first job is great; you’re making money! The paycheck has your name. Mark these words, if you don’t budget, you will be spending money. 

Some expenses will be part of the job. A new wardrobe or new shoes. Some employers may require that you stock up on certain, uniform items. Lunch? You’re on your own. You might get lucky with office lunch parties. A celebration here and there. Then lunch falls on your wallet. Certifications? You might need to spend on a few classes—and if you do, find out if those expenses are reimbursable.

3. The Work Day is Over When the Meeting’s Over

There’s a regular work schedule and several companies will require meetings or training activities. Your boss will spend more hours in meetings than you, if that helps. The number and length of meetings will vary from a few times a week to once a month. Your employer will have updates and announcements. Colleagues may need to debrief or provide feedback. Some meetings will be booked into the workday, though sometimes they spill over, or the nature of the job requires the meeting to be after business hours.

As much as you want to end the day, the meeting is part of the job. You signed up for a team, and though it’s tempting to walk out the door, this is part of the teamwork.

4. Time Flies: Prepare Ahead for Lunch time

In high school you may have had an hour to eat. In college, lunch was anytime, however long. When you have a paid job, lunch is not the employer’s priority. In fact, federal law doesn’t require employers to offer “meal breaks,” which is why lunch is short and unpaid. That lunch time goes by quickly if you spend it on getting the food, or worse, deciding what to get.

It’s more effective to make lunch at home, at least a few days a week. You will save money for sure. Ruth Umoh, a millennial in New York, tracked her food habits for two months for a CNBC news segment. She spent $1,327.59, so what’s your average food expense?

Find some easy lunch recipes. If you think about it, a lot of the food you buy tastes better because of its fancy name or presentation. Next you buy a sandwich from a restaurant, remember a sandwich is a salad all dressed up! Still not convinced? Whatever your hesitation here’s a blog post dedicated to resistance to home lunches.

5. Some Things Are Simply Off Limits

There will be rooms or parts of the office reserved for certain employees, this especially applies to the fridge. Don’t take people’s food because it might happen to you! Maybe it happens by accident: there’s two containers that look the same or two of the same sodas. Whatever the story–and there are reasons someone might take a lunch that’s not theirs–look for labels. Some offices use color coding for items that are shared by the office.

If your workplace has a kitchen, you’ll need to know what to do with the dishes. Don’t leave them lying around the office. That’s going to upset someone, and you’re going to hear about it. Run out of supplies? Make sure you know what supplies are yours for the taking, and which ones are not so much. Limits apply to jokes, too. Watch what you say because someone will always be listening.

6. Phone and Email is a Whole New Experience

Your employer will have a preferred method of communication, and you should learn it and be responsive. If there’s an important message, you don’t want to miss it because you were expecting it via text instead of email. The employee handbook or orientation from your first day will provide this information. If not, go ahead and ask by the end of your first week.  If your boss uses text, are emoji’s okay? What about acronyms in your emails? Take a cue from the communications you are directly sent and team emails.

If your first job is in an office space, your inbox is going to be full. One mistake is to read them all in one sitting. Several of the emails may not even require action from you, but may have been sent for awareness, or co-workers simply wanting to be inclusive. Learn to skim, especially for your name or department. You don’t want to spend hours on email, and it’s actually not hard to do so; studies show that on an average week, people spend about 12 hours on email.

7. Bonding with Colleagues Will Happen Outside of Work

You’ll probably get in the most conversation in the mornings as people start coming in and getting off work. Monday’s and Friday’s people will share the most, talking about the weekend and weekend plans. The rest of the week will be all work, or how Friday isn’t there fast enough.

After a few weeks, send your colleagues invite to your LinkedIn profile. If you’re comfortable, connect via social media. If you do none of these, connect at a happy hour or work event. No work events? Find out what your colleagues do on the weekend. Do you have shared interests? Ask questions and go places together. This is important for building your network and establishing a place in the company.

Looking for more resources? College Mouse offers a wealth of career resources. 


Written by:  Claudia Rojas

Claudia Rojas is a freelance writer and a poet with a Bachelor’s in English from George Mason University. She is a proud first generation college student. Claudia’s poetry appears in The Acentos Review, Poetry is Dead, and The Bookends Review.

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