You’ve crossed the stage, thrown your hat in the air, and entered the real world. You’re probably eager to get your career started and are already thinking ahead 10 years when you’ll be running a company, saving the world, and making wads of cash. But slow down there, new grad. Your criminal justice career, liberal arts career, engineering career, math career, etc., starts with baby steps and avoiding some of the common mistakes young workers make. If you follow these tips and stay away from some pitfalls, you’ll be in that corner office in no time.
We’re not saying you should jump at the first offer you get or immediately start applying for hourly wage jobs, but it’s important to start working as soon as possible even if it’s not in your dream job. Though the job market is improving, there’s no guarantee that the job you’re thinking of turning down won’t end up being your best option.
How to avoid it: If you’ve got a job offer that is related to your dream field in some way and will teach you some transferrable skills, you should strongly consider taking it. You won’t be stuck there forever, and the experience you gain might get you closer to the qualifications for that perfect job.
When you were a kid dreaming of being a fireman or ballerina, you weren’t choosing those goals based on how much money you’d be making. But now you’ve probably got student loans to repay and a much firmer grasp on the reality of money. You might be tempted to go with a company that has different values than you, or take a job that you know won’t be fulfilling or lead toward your goals just so you can start making bank. But will doing so make you happy in the long run? As a new graduate, you can probably convince yourself that you can tolerate any job for the right amount of money, but trust us: working day in and day out at a company or in a position you hate will really wear on you, no matter how big the paycheck is.
How to avoid it: Really think about how the high-paying job’s duties and advancement opportunities line up with your long-term goals. If the only thing that appeals to you is the salary, you’ll be better off finding a job you feel good about and working toward raises.
We’ve all got Facebook, Twitter, and maybe a personal blog floating out there on the Internet, and it’s easy to forget that they can be accessed by just about anyone. Sure, you may only have 30 followers on your blog, but that doesn’t mean a co-worker won’t stumble upon it and see everything you’ve written. You may have had a rough day at work because your boss is a complete moron and doesn’t know what he’s doing, but leave your boss out of anything you write online. Some people — Heather Armstrong and Ellen Simonetti, for example — have even been fired for things they’ve posted on social media.
How to avoid it: Don’t post anything about work on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog that you wouldn’t be OK with your boss seeing. Tweet about how great your team is. Blog about the exciting (non-classified) work you’re doing. But think long and hard before you say anything negative about your job or anyone who works there. It could have some serious consequences.
You’ve probably heard this word thrown around describing young workers and Generation Y in general: entitled. To older generations, new grads entering the workplace often appear to act like they deserve everything that older workers have earned. High salaries, traditional hours, vacation time: you name it, young workers seem to want it. Many have speculated about the reason for this attitude shift between generations, but whether it has to do with changing perspectives about work-life balance or just the way Gen Y was raised, no employer wants an entitled brat on payroll.
How to avoid it: Stay humble, particularly around those who have longer careers than you. Just because you’ve earned a college degree doesn’t mean you deserve more than an entry-level position or extra privileges. Most of the people you’ll work with have degrees, as well as decades of real-world experience. So stop yourself before you complain about not having as much vacation time as them or about having to do grunt work. You’ll earn the same perks once you’ve put in your time.
It’s not a bad idea to get to know the people you work with who are close to your own age. They could make awesome lunch buddies, great friends, and life-long career connections. But many new grads make the mistake of only building relationships with these same-generation peers, when they could be finding mentors in their older co-workers or supervisors.
How to avoid it: Occasionally sit with older colleagues in the lunch room if your company is casual. Learn about their interests and families and start building a relationship just like you would with anyone else. If your company is more formal, determine who might be a good role model for you and ask if they’d be willing to answer some questions about how they got to their position. Grow the relationship from there; they may even become an official mentor for you.
We told you the nine-to-five grind would wear on you! Now it’s only been a few months and you’re burnt out on your new job. Don’t quit yet! Unless you plan to leave this position off your resume completely (and are prepared to answer for that gap in your job history), holding a job for just months can be a red flag to potential employers that you’re a job hopper.
How to avoid it: If the job is tolerable, try to stick it out for a year. You can use that time to plan your next career move and gain useful skills that will help you make the transition. If you’ve already ditched a job quickly or hate your job so much that you just have to leave ASAP, it’s important to stay in your next job for more than a year, preferably two or three. This will make up for your job hopping and show later employers that you are stable and loyal.
When you’ve got a boring job, there will be many days when you just want to call it quits and walk out the door. And if you’ve put in enough time (see above), you shouldn’t feel obligated to stick around if you’re ready to move on. Being "ready" doesn’t just mean that you’re sick of working, though. There’s no telling how long it will take you to find your next position, and you’re going to want that steady paycheck coming in while you job hunt, so don’t make the mistake of leaving without having your next job offer.
How to avoid it: Start looking for another job before quitting, but do so carefully! Most people consider it a bad idea to let your current employer know you’re looking around because they may treat you differently or push you out before you’re ready. With this in mind, don’t post on social media sites that you’re looking for leads and definitely don’t look at job posts while at work. Keep your job hunt as private as possible and do it on your own time. Only when you’ve received a job offer you want to accept should you tell your boss you’re leaving.
There are some truly awful bosses and coworkers out there — incompetent, arrogant, or even abusive. If you’ve decided to leave the company, you might feel like this is your one chance to tell them exactly how you feel about all their annoying habits and bad management skills. You may even consider making your resignation a dramatic affair by yelling, storming out, and then sending a company-wide email detailing how horrible your supervisor was. Don’t do it. Word could get around to your next employer and there’s always the chance that you’ll cross paths with this person again. You don’t want this resignation to come back to haunt you.
How to avoid it: Always give at least two weeks’ notice. This will keep you from having a rage-induced "I quit!" moment. When giving your resignation, prepare yourself to be as polite and professional as possible; if you’re afraid you might slip in some insults, make a list beforehand of things you don’t want to say and stick to it. Then just keep your head down and work hard until your time is up.