what surprised you most when you first started working?

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A friend and I were talking recently about what surprised us about the work world when we started in our first post-college jobs. I told her how how surprised I was by how tiring it is to work a full eight-hour day (and I remember finally understanding why my mother seemed so tired after a day of work; as a kid, I once snottily said to her, “It’s not like you’re doing manual labor or anything physical”). She told me she was surprised that a “lunch hour” wasn’t a universally real thing like she’d seen in movies, and that most people took 30 minutes or less and often ate at their desks. And we both agreed that we were shocked to discover that we were supposed to call old people by their first names.

I want to know what surprised you the most when you first started working. What shocking discoveries did you make that you didn’t know before that?

{ 766 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Cat

    And we both agreed that we were shocked to discover that we were supposed to call old people by their first names.

    This, and that they were just normal people who you could chat with about TV or sports rather than constantly be deferring to as authority figures.

    Reply
    1. Elysian

      My first job was teaching, so I missed this surprise because we still called everyone by their last names. I think I didn’t even know some of my colleague’s first names.

      Not all teachers do that, I don’t think, but my school was a last-name school.

      Reply
      1. Erin B.

        I teach too, and at both the schools I’ve taught at, my colleagues do first names. It was always several weeks of kids talking about Mrs. So-and-so before I made the connection to “Oh, you mean Jane!”.

        Reply
      2. Chinook

        My first job was teaching too but as a sub in my old school (and at another place where a former teacher became my principal). It didn’t shock me to be asked to call them by their first names but it did weird me out.

        Reply
    2. KJR

      My mom is/was a psychotherapist, and I briefly worked in her office doing phone intake and administrative work during the summer. She had me call her by her first name! Talk about WEIRD!!

      Reply
      1. ali

        I was a student worker in the university department that my dad was the chair of. Most students called him “Dr. (Last Initial)”, colleagues and some grad students called him by my first name. We compromised, and I started calling him “Dr. Dad”.

        Reply
        1. Wubbie

          I had a class in high school with a guy whose mother was our teacher and he called her mom in class. Seemed normal to everyone.

          Reply
      2. Prickly Pear

        I worked with my dad once and couldn’t bring myself to call him by his first name for love or money. I could manage it with paging or referring to him, but in front of me…
        Our compromise was “Sir”. Sounds all formal, but it was mostly me being my snarky self, and we both got a kick out of it. I still call him that, along with “Daddy” interchangeably.

        Reply
    3. Anonymous

      this has always been true.

      attempting to force young adults to treat older people as authority figures is the cause of much suffering.

      Reply
  2. EM

    A little of an odd one maybe, but I was surprised in my first real job about how clique-ish and like high school adults could still be.

    In my first job, I was given a cubicle/desk in a room that housed a different department than my own (my dept was really small and the other 2 people in it already shared an office that wasn’t big enough for a 3rd person).

    Unbeknownst to me, this department had lobbied hard for me to be seated elsewhere as they didn’t feel anyone not in their department should sit in “their” room. They would often completely ignore me and do things like all get up as a group and leave for lunch without saying a word to me or inviting me along.

    Now something like that wouldn’t phase me, but as a 22-year-old, I remember feeling a bit hurt.

    Reply
    1. AnonEMoose

      The cliqueishness and high school (actually, sometimes even less mature than that) behavior really surprised and disappointed me when I started working in the so-called “adult” world.

      Luckily, my current job mostly isn’t like that…one of the reasons I’ve stayed here this long.

      Reply
    2. AnotherAlison

      There was once a battle royale at a big professional engineering firm that I worked at in my first job because I was sitting with one guy’s project team and spending 50% of my time on another guy’s project. Fortunately, he yelled at the other PM, not to me directly. I ended up staying seated where I was AND continuing to split my time on two projects.

      That guy was such an asshole.

      Reply
      1. Glorified Plumber

        Hah…

        I JUST went through a similar situation (Engineering as well), except, in this instance, we had a guy sitting with us, but still 100% owning (via delegation that was working wonderfully) his old role with the other project.

        The PM on that project didn’t even notice… until a client noticed that someone who wasn’t this guy responded to an RFI/Submittal and just utterly FLIPPED OUT.

        We ended up having to STOP the delegation, move him back to the other project, and scramble to backfill him for our project (also for the same client).

        PM’s are awesome… Clients are awesome.

        Reply
      1. De Minimis

        I also used to think that the junior high type behavior was solely in more blue-collar type environments….”if I could just get an office job, it would be different.” Ha!

        Reply
    3. A Bug!

      Not odd at all, in the sense that I had the same experience. I made the mistake of looking to my peers for behavioral cues and ended up with some unprofessional habits and attitudes that I had to unlearn. It wasn’t really until after I left that employer that I started to gain any real insight to the experience.

      I still have some difficulty when I’m faced with petty office politics, because if it’s present in a workplace, it’s hard to stay above it effectively – if you don’t opt out just right, you end up suffering for it anyway.

      Reply
      1. EM

        Office politics are definitely still tricky & I hate them.

        I’m better with cliques/silly high school behavior, because I now subscribe to the “work friends are not real friends” theory pretty much 100%, so I’m not as bothered/hurt and don’t take things as personally as I did when I first started working in the real world.

        Much of this learning experience and subsequent growth came from that first job, so I guess it was helpful in some weird way!

        Reply
    4. Drew

      I totally agree! I felt so hurt when I realized this since I’d spent a lot of my childhood looking forward to when everyone was respectful and responsible.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        My version of this was discovering how many things were supposed to come with more consequences once I was in the “real world” came with fewer consequences. Not only were people still disrespectful, they didn’t even get detention!

        Reply
        1. Jamie

          And there is no permanent record. I could have been so much naughtier in grade school if I knew that then.

          And I mentally deal with seeming lack of consequences by assuming that the people seeming to benefit from immoral or unethical behavior and have horrible consequences that I can’t see.

          Reply
    5. SK

      YES. Still makes me sad to this day. Esp for the holidays – everyone should get to spend time with their families if they want to.

      Reply
    1. Penguin

      This This This!!

      How long an 8 hour day really feels like. You have to book time off for holidays. And they can say no to your requests for days off.

      Now I’ve learned that being a great worker you can get a bit more flexibility when needed (within reason) but then I thought it was super rigid and was very suprised and confused by trying to find a work-life balance.

      Reply
      1. mirror

        Haha, this comment reminded me of something my best friend said when she started out in the working world. She’s several years younger than me and I remember her calling me up after she just got her first “real” job and was annoyed that they wouldnt give her two weeks off to go on vacation a month after starting her job.

        “I have to build up vacation days?!”

        Reply
    2. Catzie

      +1 I remember I was shocked that I didn’t get a Christmas break. My mother worked in manufacturing, so they always shut down the offices during Christmas and New Years, and she received pay for that time. In my first job, I was surprised that it wasn’t a universal thing and that I had to save vacation time if I wanted to be off. Not only that, but as the low man on the totem pole I couldn’t expect to get it off anyway!

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        I still have to explain to my mom [former teacher] each year that I don’t get any extra time off for holidays, and don’t get Easter off at all.

        Reply
        1. anon-2

          De M- I get the same thing. In my mid-career, I only had 10 days vacation – TOTAL – per year.

          The installation did not shut down for 4th of July week, or Christmas week — we only had that holiday off and nothing more…

          Very hard for a family of school teachers to understand.

          Reply
          1. anon-2

            OH also very hard for them to understand … you have no protection from layoffs – the concepts of “tenure”, “bumping rights”, ” grievance processes” , “seniority”, and so forth do not exist in the private sector.

            Reply
      2. Liz in a library

        My first full-time job was in a university that closed two weeks at Christmas. I’m embarrassed to say I was in my early 20s before I realized that mandatory holiday vacations for all were not a thing.

        Reply
    3. esra

      I think I’m going to miss summer vacation for the rest of my life. My dream is to segue into freelancing full time and make enough to take a month or two off camping every August/September.

      Reply
      1. Mephyle

        Sadly, there are is a lot of scope for cornering the freelance market during holidays because everyone else is off on vacation.

        Reply
    4. AnonAthon

      Oh heck yes. I’m the child of two teachers, and didn’t realize for quite some time that their schedule was atypical. It was not fun when I realized that most people don’t have summer break and extensive winter vacation. (That said, I know now that they did tons of work in the summer; but they often did it from home.)

      Reply
    5. pgh_adventurer

      Yes. Summer now means sweating in your work clothes. I always feel so bad for the guys I see in full suits outside on a 90-degree day.

      Reply
    6. MaryMary

      And that not all bank holidays are observed by all businesses. What do you mean we have to work on Martin Luther King Day? And President’s Day? You mean I don’t have a holiday between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day?!?!

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        That one has been weird….now I’m learning that kids today get out of school for a lot of those holidays that we did not get out of school for when I was a kid!

        I’m a government employee so I do get out for them now….we’re currently in the most miserable time of the federal calendar, that loooong stretch between President’s Day and Memorial Day.

        Reply
        1. A Teacher

          Actually, we get out for the same holidays now (or less) than when I was a kid in school. The only weird Illinois specific holiday is Casimir Pulaski that a lot of schools opt out of. My district is waiving it for a make up snow day but we usually get it off.

          Reply
          1. Judy

            I don’t remember getting the additional holidays when I was in school, but I also don’t remember “snow day makeup days”. Many of the days like President’s Day are marked on our school’s calendar as snow day makeup, and the kids have to go this year because of how January was.

            Reply
        2. Catzie

          I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels that way about the time between President’s Day and Memorial Day. It took me a long time to get used to not having some time around Easter off!

          Reply
          1. De Minimis

            When I was a kid we only were out for the “major” holidays. I don’t know if MLK Day was even a holiday yet back then. I think a lot of the rural school districts in my state may still not have it as a holiday, not really sure.

            The plus side was that we often got a whole week off for Thanksgiving because the school superintendent was an avid deer hunter.

            Reply
          2. Emily

            I’ve always loved being pagan because our holidays are neatly spaced through the calendar. Every six weeks (solstices, equinoxes, and the midpoints between them) it’s time to celebrate!

            Now if only the federal government would follow the pagan calendar…

            Reply
      2. anon-2

        Here in Massachusetts, they have all sorts of contrived holidays.

        We do not get MLK Day, Presidents Day, Veterans Day, Patriots Day, Bunker Hill Day, Columbus Day — six holidays that state/muni workers enjoy, that the private sector doesn’t know about.

        Whoops forgot one – Evacuation Day. That doesn’t mean “Evacuate work”, it’s the day the British evacuated Boston. OTOH, it’s March 17, a secular holiday for St. Patrick’s Day.

        Reply
        1. bad at online naming

          Private sector MA worker here – I think we get 4 of those 6. ExJob was government/academic, and the only additional day off was Patriots’ day.

          Reply
        2. Jess

          I think Evacuation Day is only a Boston thing though, right? We got Patriots Day when I was in school in MA, but not Evacuation Day.

          (and I think all Boston businesses should get Patriots Day for the simple fact that it is impossible to get around the city between the Marathon and the Sox game and tourism).

          Reply
    7. KC

      YES. My very first job out of school, we had only 5 vacation days, plus a really small subset of national holidays off (and the vacation days only kicked in after you’d been there for 6 months). It’s shocking how draining it is to be “on” so long without a break.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        I still have a hard time with being required to work every day and not getting lots of holidays and breaks and summer vacation, and I have been working for 10 years! Ugh. Working is a lot of work!

        Reply
        1. Julie

          I took a day off from my first job whenever I needed a “mental health” day, and I got in trouble. Even though I had a certain number of sick days/days off, I wasn’t supposed to use them one at a time or unless I was seriously sick. I had no idea. I thought they were my days off to use when I wanted. Oh well…

          Reply
      2. Emily

        My first job out of college was as a 4 day a week teaching assistant in a public school in Spain. My days ended by 2:30, and every six weeks or so a holiday provided a long weekend (4 or 5 days instead of 3), plus a lengthy Christmas and Easter break. And those holidays were recognized by most businesses, not just the schools.

        I’ve been working an office job in the U.S. for two years now, and I still miss that schedule. Granted, I wasn’t making much, but it was enough to take cheap trips around Spain/Europe over those holidays!

        Reply
        1. Qwerty

          Auxiliar de Conversacion!? I’m doing that right now and the schedule is so much better than the one I was doing back in the U.S. I’m not looking forward to 5 day work weeks again.

          Reply
    8. HB

      YES! I remember the first holiday season at my first job. We were open Christmas Eve and someone from every department had to work. I realized that all my team members at 2+ hour drives home or were traveling to another state, and I only had a 30 minute drive to my parents house, so I volunteered to be the one to work. It was SO DEPRESSING. I think I almost cried! Luckily they let us leave at 3, but it was still really hard being in that office all day! I think it was compounded with the knowledge that I would be right back in the office a few days later. No more month long breaks!

      Reply
      1. anonintheUK

        It was a surprise to me, even in the UK with a minimum 20 days annual leave and 8 public holidays, that you would just turn up to the same place week after week, with no break unless you made the effort to take it.

        Also, work just takes up so much time. As a final year modern languages student I probably did do more than 7 hours’ work a day on average, but that would be 9-12.30, 2-6, then maybe 8.30-11. Not 9-5.30 with an hour for lunch. We do have some flexibility, but the options are along the lines of working 7.30-4 rather than 9-5.30, not the way I did as a student.

        Reply
    9. TychaBrahe

      One of my professors at college said that when you graduate, you MUST take a two week vacation before starting your job, because unless you are in a union, you will have no vacation or just one week’s vacation your first year. In some jobs, you may take three years to be able to earn more than one week vacation.

      Reply
  3. Rayner

    That being on time, actually means being 2-10 minutes early because everything starts at one pm, not everybody rolling in the door at that time.

    Calling people by their first names, even if they’re a manager or very senior staff member.

    Getting to grips with the unspoken office rules like, “Never take more than one ream of paper at a time,” even if it would be more efficient to take two, and “Carol always sits on that chair,” even if you’re going to be only five minutes.

    That lunch time is not at lunch time but anywhere between ten thirty and four thirty, even if you get to leave at five.

    That two weeks holiday when you start REALLY isn’t that long when you think about it. That was a hard one.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      The first name thing is still hard for me. I work with a lot of PhDs, and my natural inclination is to always use first names (that’s what all the professors at my undergrad did). But I worry about offending people.

      Reply
      1. Nikki T

        I’ve stopped being early around here. I’m always standing outside the conference room waiting for it to be unlocked or standing in the hallway waiting on people to show.

        I like being early so we can get started (and end) on time, but whatever…

        Reply
        1. AnonEMoose

          Yeah, where I work now, pretty much no one leaves their desk until it’s time for the meeting to start. And one of my coworkers is always going to be five minutes late.

          Reply
      2. Emmy

        I’m staff at a university and I have a pretty flat policy that I refer to all my colleagues by their first names. I don’t call my office mate Mrs. Smith, so why would I call a professor Dr. Jones? Obviously, I’m still respectful, but I have strong feelings that staff and faculty are more equal than some might like to think.

        Reply
        1. Grad school dropout

          In casual salutations and conversations I think it’s perfectly reasonable to call both Mrs. Smith and Dr. Jones by their first names, Jane and Liz. But if you were referring to or addressing them by their full names, although you probably would use Jane Smith over Mrs. Smith, you should still use Dr. Jones over Liz Jones.

          The reasoning is that Mrs. Smith didn’t spend 6-7 years of post-college schooling and tens of thousands of dollars and a terrifying thesis/dissertation defense or two earning the “Mrs.” in front of her name, and neither is the title relevant to her job. It’s not implying that PhD holders are superior to call them by their proper title, especially when it’s directly related to the job.

          Reply
  4. Samantha

    Completely agree on how tiring an 8 hour work day is, especially at first. During college I always held down a part-time job (at least 20 hours a week) and stayed pretty busy between that and class, so I didn’t think it would be a big adjustment, but it definitely was.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      For me, it was having to sit for 8 hours in the same place that really got to me. I was busy during college as well, and working a lot, but I didn’t have to stay anywhere for too long – my day had a lot of variety. Being forced to occupy the same chair for almost 8 hours straight was mind-numbing.

      Reply
        1. ETF

          I do interesting work most of the time, but some days I get so bored, especially when I’m working on something without a close deadline. Like today, for instance…

          Reply
          1. Joe05

            I have really learned something about myself and deadlines. The relationship is complicated. A looming deadline helps motivate me, even if it’s a stressor.

            Reply
      1. hilde

        That’s what I was going to say. I was pretty active throughout college, and had no clue what sitting and being sedentary was going to do to my body. And the bad habits I picked up (snacking at desk, less physical active because of being so tired) are SO hard to break now. I generally like being an adult in the workplace but I really, really hate this aspect.

        Reply
        1. Kirsten

          Yes. I don’t know what it is about sitting all day that makes me get the munchies, but having vending machines so close to my desk is not doing me any favors.

          Reply
        2. Chris

          Yes! This was one of the hardest things for me. And I worked near a universtiy as was so jealous when I saw the students outside walking around as they pleased. I felt so trapped in the lab all day.

          Made worse by the fact that we had about 25 hours of work to do a week but had to look busy for 35. I never got that.

          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            Yes, this! My first career was in banking and mortgages, and I always sat around trying to look busy because I had finished my work too fast. Now I barely have enough time, but I vastly prefer being busy!

            Reply
          2. Rebecca

            Having too little work for the number of hours I have to fill is productivity kryptonite for me. I have just slightly too much work to do at my current job and it’s fabulous- the day goes by so quickly!

            Reply
      2. Samantha

        That’s a good point. Changing classes, going to work, etc. helped break up the day, so it didn’t seem as long and tedious as staying in the same place all day long.

        Reply
      3. AAA

        Yes. Yes. Yes. Sitting in one place day after day for 8-10 hour stretches! As a grad student I “worked” 70-80 hours a week, but I could do a lot of that work from my sofa, or my dining table, or a local coffeeshop for a change of scenery. And I wasn’t nearly so sedentary! The sitting (and accompanying bad habits) have been terrible for my health, I fear!

        Reply
        1. MNJ

          I was the same! I struggled with 9+ hour days in an office with no windows (even in the lunch room!) then a one hour drive each way. I actually ended up suffering from Vitamin D deficiency from lack of sun exposure. I never thought an office job could be so detrimental to my health!

          Reply
      4. the_scientist

        Yes, this! In my first full-time job out of grad school I work less than I did as a grad student, because for the most part, I can leave my work on my desk at the end of the day and not think about it at home. But while I was always working as a grad student, I never worked in the same place for more than a few hours at a time- I would cycle through my office, my apartment, my second offsite office, the library, the coffee shop etc., plus I had classes, TA-ing and volunteering to get to, so I moved around throughout the day (and walked a lot more!). The not walking as much is KILLING ME- I am so fidgety all the time!

        Reply
    2. Tippi

      An 8-hour work day would be a vacation. At my office, we are expected to be there before the boss arrives and leave only after he leaves. That is always an 11+ work day, making work/life balance very difficult.

      Reply
    3. Jake

      I had the opposite feeling. When I was a student, all my time felt like I had to be “on”. Especially in grad school. Having an 8 hour work day, and then getting to come home and not worry about it again until tomorrow morning is _such_ a relief for me.

      Reply
      1. Matteus

        Exactly. In grad school, you are never ever off. When you aren’t in class or at work, there’s a paper to write or studying or homework to do.
        This is why it was very very important to me for any job I consider to allow me to stop thinking about my duties when I am out of the door.

        Reply
      2. Anonymous

        +1. Being able to go home and chill, without worrying about due assignments, or reading set texts etc was very liberating for me.

        Reply
        1. WM

          I do remember the “no homework” and “no studying” when you came home from work was very freeing. Granted, this was before husbands and children and pets… all I had to do was care for myself, and wow was that easy!

          Reply
      3. Kit M.

        I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I was shocked how tired I was when I began working full time, but also completely relieved to be able to come home and be DONE. Being in school is taxing in a different way than working full time. However, I definitely prefer the bone tiredness of coming home from a day of work to the constant, harrying demands of school — which are always looming in the background even when you have some time to yourself.

        Reply
        1. Sascha

          That’s true, I don’t miss having that feeling hanging over me of “what homework am I forgetting about.” I had dreams for several months after I graduated where I would go to class and the professor would tell us to turn in our papers, and I had totally forgotten about the paper. :)

          Reply
          1. Melissa

            Ugh, is there no escape? I’m working on my dissertation and I defend in June, and I would really like the escape the “Oh crap did I have a deadline today?!” random feelings.

            Reply
            1. Victoria

              My university gave me a pretty glass paperweight when I turned in my final dissertation, and oh my goodness was I glad! Because when I jolted awake at 3 am wondering what I had to do next, I remembered…the paperweight. Sometimes I would go and look at it to make sure! Then I went back to sleep.

              Reply
          2. Naomi

            Months after I graduated, I had a dream I missed a math final in my last semester that was so real I tried to look up my grades online when I woke up, before I remembered I hadn’t even taken a math class that semester.

            Reply
      4. Elizabeth West

        That’s one thing I’m struggling with being in school again. It’s just never-ending, and right now, I’d rather spend my time writing my stuff than writing school stuff. I have to force myself to split time so I don’t let my stuff slack like I did when I was in school before. If I had done that then, I would have written this book a lot sooner!

        Reply
      5. abby

        Maybe it depends on your job.

        I returned to school for a second graduate degree after working for over 10 years. As busy as I was in this new program, it was still much less pressure than working ever was. Mainly because if I screwed up or missed a deadline in school, it was only on me. If I did that at work, it affected others.

        Been out of this program for over eight years now, and I still agree work is much tougher than higher education.

        Reply
        1. Kit M.

          Oh, yeah, of course it does. I chose a low-pressure career that pretty much can’t follow me home. When I screw up in my job, it’s almost always something I can fix on my own, and that matters a lot to me.

          Reply
    4. Anonymous

      I had the opposite reaction. I worked almost full time through college along with a full course load, and I remember coming home from work at 5:30 with nothing to do felt AMAZING. No homework? Free time?! What is this? It felt like the world was my oyster! Of course, 10+ years later I now work in an industry where 10+ hour days are the norm, and I managed to fill all that time back up and feel just as crazy busy as I did back then.

      I also remember hating that I couldn’t go home and change my outfit if I made a bad selection. I always lived on or very near campus so I could run home if I needed something warmer or spilled on myself. Now I’m stuck (says the girl who had to wear sneakers with her work pants all day once last week because she forgot her heels at home).

      Reply
    5. littlemoose

      I’ll join that chorus. I’m so tired after work (at my office job) sometimes, and my boyfriend, who has a physically demanding trade, doesn’t understand it. I’m working too, even if I’m exerting brainpower rather than muscles.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Not getting a lunch break, never getting a holiday off, being hassled about being sick, bosses telling me I’m stupid (which happened zero times in school), having to pretend to look busy, the list could go on forever.

    Reply
  6. Anne

    I was surprised that there are so many professionals with terrible spelling and grammar. I shouldn’t have been, but I confess that I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi, and a Philosophy student entering an IT office. I just assumed that intelligent, successful people in professional environments would use perfect English unless, say, they were dyslexic or it was their second language. It took a little while for me to adjust to the fact that my co-workers can do things like say “pacific” instead of “specific”, and use incorrect punctuation all over the place, and no one pays it any mind because their code is fine.

    I’m a bit less of a snob now.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      I was surprised by that, too! I wasn’t expecting perfect, but some level of professionalism. I’m still baffled by some of the higher ups at my university (a UNIVERSITY!!!) who write like 6 year olds. I can understand writing a quick message on a tablet or phone or something doesn’t need to be stellar…but I’m talking about professional documents.

      Reply
      1. Anne

        Yeah. A quick email from a phone, okay, but… I had one co-worker who was particularly bad. Reading her emails, I would have thought English was her second language, but it wasn’t. She once asked me (as a semi-technical person) to go over a proposal and put it into simpler terms, because the clients said they didn’t understand all the technical terms. Reading it over, it was pretty clear to me that they just didn’t understand her English! (I actually advocated for a professional writing workshop for my office at that point, which my manager seemed keen on, but the aforementioned co-worker left before we got it scheduled in…)

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          I am still shocked by the horrible grammar I see. Not only did I get an email from a co-worker (who is at a much higher pay grade than I) where he wrote, “him and I,” he also used the phrase out loud during out meeting.

          Reply
          1. Jen S. 2.0

            I am positively gobsmacked at the number of people who do this, period, professional or not. Was EVERYONE ELSE sick on the day in 5th grade where we learned that the pronouns never change, even when there’s someone else in the sentence?

            Why do people who correctly say “talk to me about it,” suddenly think it’s “talk to Mary and I about it?” If you wouldn’t say “talk to I about it,” then Mary’s presence makes no difference. If “I went to the store,” it’s not “my boyfriend and me went to the store.” If “she walked down the street,” it’s not “her and him walked down the street.”

            WHY is this so difficult to remember?!

            **banging head on desk**

            Reply
            1. The IT Manager

              I KNOW! It is so easy to take “and ” out of the sentence to check for grammatical correctness and people don’t do it.

              Frankly I was shocked last week about the grammatical weaknesses of an employee when I noticed (track changes not accepted yet) how many basic grammar mistakes his co-worker had to correct in his minutes.

              Reply
            2. Anon

              I think that some people think it sounds smarter. I know a TON of people that do this, despite not making many other mistakes.

              Reply
              1. Broke Philosopher

                YEP. I think people believe that it sounds smarter. I’ve heard people correct others who are actually using the pronouns correctly. I tutor high school students, and I make sure to beat this into their heads.

                Reply
                1. Bar

                  I disagree. I think it’s because that’s how we hear things in conversation. I know when to use “I” and “me” in written communication, but after years and years of feeling out of place, I am starting to slip into the speech patterns of others around me. I think that’s pretty common.

              2. fposte

                Right. It’s a hypercorrection–what they absorbed is that “me” is incorrect. It’s the same hyper corrective impulse that drives people to say “I feel badly about this.”

                Reply
                1. Jamie

                  You’re the one who taught me that one. Whenever I start to say “badly” I think of you comparing it to “sadly” and I self correct.

                  I was pretty embarrassed I didn’t know that, but thought it was a very cool thing to learn.

                2. Anonymous

                  as long as people understand you the idea of ‘correct’ grammar is mostly a joke.

                  “I feel badly about this” is perfectly understandable and clear.

                3. Windchime

                  Yeah, I hear people doing the “I feel badly” all the time. But the one that gets me is the misuse of “myself”, such as: “If you have any questions, ask Jane or myself.”

                4. Jamie

                  as long as people understand you the idea of ‘correct’ grammar is mostly a joke.

                  I don’t think so. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, but however understandable one is bad grammar can hurt you.

                  I knew someone who regularly used “me and him” and “them” instead of “the” or “those” (as in, “them boxes”) and things like “Bob seen it” instead of “Bob saw it” in writing as well as verbally.

                  It was a road block to a promotion which would have had him emailing customers directly. It needed to be addressed.

                  There is a difference between a one off or even casual writing/speech. I know my too frequent use of ellipses and dashes in casual writing isn’t even close to correct, but you won’t find them in my professional correspondence.

                  How well spoken/written you are does create an impression and people are judged on that. It’s not the nicest thing in the world, but it’s true and having a good grasp of proper grammar and an above average vocabulary will give you a leg up.

                  You may not be one whit smarter than someone who has bad grammar – they may trump you intellectually on every field – but you will sound more intelligent and people will treat as such…and with that come more opportunities.

            3. Aunt Vixen

              Hypercorrection is the name of the game. (NB My spell checker hates the word “hypercorrection”.) People get scolded every time they say “Sam and me are going to play baseball” – ~wristslap~ “Sam and I, please” – that they overcompensate and produce things like “Want to come play baseball with Sam and I?”

              The other day my fiance copied me on an e-mail in which he asked someone a question pertaining to “Vixen and I’s wedding”.

              I adore him, and the world is not going to end, so I’m letting it go. That is not a hill I’m prepared to die on.

              Reply
              1. TK

                This is a much clearer explanation of what I was saying below– I didn’t see it til after the refresh to see my comment.

                Reply
            4. TK

              This happens because saying “me” in place of “I” when you’re talking about multiple people is a far more common error than the reverse, and thus what people absorb from their childhood grammar lessons is that “I” is always the correct form in these instances. That’s not right, but it’s easier to remember “always say I” than “take out the ‘and’ and see what sounds right.”

              I don’t know if a linguistic study has ever been done of this, but I would guess that children frequently say “Mary and me went to the store,” but almost never “talk to Mary and I about it.” The latter error comes from adults who have incorrectly absorbed grammar lessons meant to remedy the former.

              Reply
              1. meetoo

                THIS! I was absolutely taught that “I is always correct and me is never correct in any situation” I now know this is not accurate but I don’t know what the real rules are so I avoid the whole thing.

                Reply
              1. Steve

                This one for me. I had a manager proofread a memo I was to send and he changed the “me” to “myself.” I left the correct “me” in there when I sent it. He had a huge hissy fit about the fact that I ignored his correction and made us both look stupid.

                Even when I went online and showed him the grammar rule he insisted it was one of those outdated rules that no one follows because it was always awkward and wrong.

                Reply
              2. literateliz

                Omg. I was reading all these and feeling all superior about my ability to let these things go in emails (and I am an editor!), but THIS one is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I guess we all have our pet peeves!

                Reply
              3. Stephanie

                This one drives me so crazy. A project manager I work with overflows with jargon and incorrectly ‘formal’ constructions like this.

                Reply
            5. VintageLydia

              I know the rule but I screw this up all the time. It’s my second worse grammar offense. (The affect/effect is my worst but I never learned the rule in school so I find myself looking it up at least once a month now. And was in honor’s and college/dual enrollment English!)

              Reply
              1. Diane

                Oh, I know this one!

                Affect is an active verb. The A looks like it’s going to leap into action; it looks like a superhero with a cape. “The results affect our jobs.”

                Effect is a noun. The e just sits there, and the e looks like an o as in outcome, which is also a noun. “He fell asleep during the presentation; our meetings have that effect on people.”

                Reply
                1. Jamie

                  But isn’t “affect” also a noun when it relates to facial animation?

                  Doctor’s will say someone has a “flat affect” when speaking of someone with less than typical facial expressiveness.

                2. doreen

                  “Affect” is a noun that refers to emotional expressiveness , but it’s pronounced with a different emphasis than the verb and is basically jargon . It’s the verb “affect” that gets mixed up with “effect”.

                3. Jamie

                  Thanks. I know it’s pronounced differently…I’ve never been good at knowing the names for those relationships. Spelled the same, pronounced differently, different meaning. Spelled differently, pronounced the same…etc.

                  I still can’t diagram a sentence either.

                  I have always had a fairly good ear and read a lot as a kid so I was strong in vocabulary and structure, but awful at knowing the rules.

                  I never care until it comes up here and so many of you know so much that I never bothered to learn.

                4. Editorial Assistant

                  And “effect” can also be used as a verb, when you’re talking about bringing something about.

                  A manager can effect change in their office by bringing problems to their employees’ attention.

                5. Anne

                  Jamie, the only one I know is “homonym”. That’s for words that are spelled differently, but pronounced the same. Rains, reigns, and reins, for example.

                  I love that word a little.

                6. TK

                  As noted above, affect and effect is super confusing because both words can be both a noun and a verb (though for “affect” the noun and verb have different pronunciations).

                  I saw a comment on Reddit the other day where someone noted, with examples, that you can affect an effect, effect an effect, affect an affect, and effect an affect.

                7. Diane

                  Yeah, I wanted to keep it simple, though there are exceptions.

                  Tidbit: When we teach things together (like they’re, there, and their), our brains lump the rules together. Better to present them separately first.

            6. Stephanie

              Overcorrection. Early on we tend to use “me” for everything, even when it should be “I,” so the correction we hear most often is to change “me” to “I” in our construction. Over time, some people develop a habit of overcorrecting themselves preemptively and end up with it incorrect in the opposite direction.

              Reply
    2. Kelly L.

      Me too! I was working at a college some years back and noticed some of the students using bad grammar and thought “Well, they’d better work on that before going into the workplace”–and then I’d get emails from successful industry professionals that were spelling/grammar nightmares. And I figured maybe the students would be OK after all. ;)

      Reply
    3. Evilduck

      I have a coworker with an MBA and many years of experience who says “supposably” instead of “supposedly.” I was dying to know if she writes it correctly, but alas, I got an email a few months ago and she had written “supposably.” At least she’s consistent?

      Reply
      1. Anne

        Oh man, I would twitch so hard. I’ve yet to see my colleagues write down either “specific” or “pacific”, I’m not sure I want to know which one they use in writing.

        (Okay, maybe I am still a little bit of a snob.)

        Reply
        1. LP

          My boyfriend had a lady draw him a “diaphragm” of his new office that showed where the cubicle “petitions” should go.

          Reply
          1. saf

            I worked in an office where the hot water went out in the kitchen. It was out for a week.

            This annoyed one of my co-workers. She decided that we should all sign a partition about getting it repaired.

            Reply
    4. Nusy

      I still grapple with that. I’m a fellow grammar nazi, and I work in law. I presumed that attorneys and law clerks – people with law degrees, or on their way to law degrees – could spell, punctuate, and write coherent sentences.

      Boy, was I in for a surprise in a few cases.

      For me, the other big one was/is the lack of time. Admittedly, I’m still in school at the same time, but I work 8-5 every day, drive to school, then go to school 6-9 on four days of the week. It feels like even if I sleep through the entire weekend (which is a luxury I cannot afford – laundry rarely washes itself, and the house isn’t self-cleaning either), I will never get rested.

      I also happened to transition to my first “grown-up job” from two terrible, terrible, toxic work environments, where I couldn’t ask for quite literally anything, couldn’t call in sick, and wasn’t treated like an adult (or sometimes, not even like a human being). The sincere concern of some attorneys when I came in sick one day was astonishing, and a pleasant surprise. I still have to deal with a weird supervising OA, but since I don’t report to her, I can generally avoid having to deal with her at all.

      Reply
      1. Personal Injury Lawyer

        “I presumed that attorneys and law clerks – people with law degrees, or on their way to law degrees – could spell, punctuate, and write coherent sentences.”

        Haha, oh, you.

        Reply
      2. Hunny

        Same thing with one of my former bosses. Who knew that a literature buff with a PHd in English would be unable to write a complete sentence in emails?

        Reply
    5. SevenSixOne

      I’m consistently disappointed by how many alleged professionals can’t write AT ALL.

      There was a company-wide email that went out the other day from one of the higher-ups that should have just said “Employees, the front lot is for customers only. Please park in the rear or side lot during normal business hours.”, but instead it was a page-long garbled mess.

      Reply
  7. Sascha

    I was surprised by how tired I was after an 8 hour day as well. Up until about age 24 I had been working part time and going to school, and had a lot of flexibility with my schedule. So having to do a set 8 hour schedule every single day took a lot of getting used to.

    Reply
    1. TychaBrahe

      I must be the outlier in this exhaustion thing. I had worked in my parents’ office and as my high school’s weekend receptionist, plus worked front desk at my dorm in college. Sitting perfectly still with nothing moving except my fingers on the keyboard feels perfectly normal to me.

      Reply
  8. Mallorie, the recruiter

    I was and still am shocked to see just how lazy people can be. I know that seems really cynical, but, I’m still completely baffled by it sometimes.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      Yeah, not having any desire to do a good job whatsoever. I’ve had coworkers who didn’t even do the bare minimum to keep their jobs. Isn’t getting fired and finding a new job more effort, and certainly can be more stressful?

      Reply
      1. Broke Philosopher

        It is if they are actually going to be fired. I was surprised at how much you can get away with and still not get fired. I actually left a job last year because the administrative support was so awful (for example, telling a client the wrong time to meet me–making me look late–and then, when asked to apologize to said client by Boss, telling the client that she was sorry that I was so late to the meeting).

        Reply
    2. Anon

      This was really disheartening to me because I had so many friends in those early years from my grad program that were super-passionate about our field, and couldn’t get a job (this was also in 2008) while there were super-lazy boomer-aged folks at my organization just not contributing to the work at all! I would have traded 5 of them for a passionate not-very-experienced person any day!

      Reply
  9. kdizzle

    I was surprised at how people were impressed with a simple pie chart.

    I had just gotten out of grad school, and had a rough time of it. Inferential statistics, regressions, computer programming, etc. I’m good at math, but it really truly tested me. My confidence was pretty low.

    When I got to the job, I was shocked at how easy the work was, and that they were so impressed with my ability to do it. It’s just a pie chart, folks.

    Reply
    1. Gail L

      +1

      People think I am a wizard with Excel. I just have problems and I use google until I can solve them. Charts, formulas. Such great tools, and so easy to learn. Why don’t more people do this??

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        I have been told I knew “magic” based on (a) loading the paper into the copier and (b) scrubbing old dry erase marker off a whiteboard.

        Reply
      2. Rebecca

        Haha, this is so true of any technology. If I can’t find the answer, I’ll just play around until I can figure it out. You’re not going to break it!

        Reply
        1. Kelly L.

          I have been known to save a copy of a file under the name “the one I’m going to mess up,” play around till I fix it, and then do the same thing in the real file.

          Reply
    2. AAA

      +1 !!
      I know I’m possibly overqualified for my low-level government job (I have a Phd, my job does not require a BA–what a lovely job market I landed in when I graduated…), but seriously, excel does all the work for you. Pivot tables are magic. I am not a statistical genius, and yet I get a lot of credit (for things anyone moderately competent at using Google should be able to figure out how to do).

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        They’re even more gossipy, they’ve been around longer and have more to gossip about, especially regarding kids and grandkids!

        Reply
    1. Jen RO

      I think you’re jumping on Rin unnecessarily. I read it as “I thought people gossip less as they become more mature”, not as “OMG older people are actual humans, nowai!”.

      Reply
  10. Ali

    How much employers care what’s on your social media. I graduated in 2008 (what a great time) when employers were just getting into this, and I was definitely called into HR for complaining about my job on Facebook. I mean, I worked in a call center and all so it wasn’t the best environment anyway, but I remember just thinking how ridiculous it was that they were so obsessed with my social media account.

    To this day, yes I make better use of privacy settings and I don’t complain about work on Facebook unless I’m private messaging a friend. But I still think social media checks should be left out of the job hunt. What you do on your personal time is none of an employer’s business IMO. Well, I mean it would be a problem if you were arrested for some reason, but overall, I find people who complain too much about what I write on Facebook generally have a lot of time on their hands…almost more than they should.

    Reply
    1. Anne

      I’m kind of back and forth on this one. I think if they’re actively monitoring your accounts while you’re working there, that’s pretty ridiculous. I would have said anything turned up in googling them during hiring should be ignored too, but…

      We just took on an intern, and after they interviewed him, my managers googled him. First thing that came up was his Twitter, which was entirely public, and included political statements with obscenities in every other word (even though I agreed with the statements), things that ought to have been very private (involving… well, privates!) but also a tweet to the effect of “Lady who set up the interview for me has been calling all morning but I’ve been asleep, who has an excuse for me so I don’t look lazy?!”

      We took him on anyway, because it’s an internship not a permanent position, and it’s supposed to be a learning experience, right? But at our urging, he’s now locked his Twitter to just friends. He can say whatever he likes in private, but I can see why my managers were concerned about what kind of messages would be broadcast about our company and employees if he’d kept it public.

      Reply
        1. Anne

          Yeah, it definitely changed my mind on the issue. But I guess everyone needs to learn that no, really, the internet IS public. And the point is to teach this kid about general professionalism and how to work in an office, so…

          I have to say, I’m supervising him most days and it was pretty weird knowing what I did about his *ahem* health status. If keeping that private is the only thing he learns, it still will have been valuable!

          Reply
          1. the gold digger

            I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing I would expect to teach an intern, i.e., to be careful about what he posts online.

            PS Sincere question – not snarky – would you have been as forgiving of his obscenity-laced political statements if you hadn’t agreed with him?

            Reply
      1. Meg

        When I was in college, I worked in the admissions office, and I would get a list of prospective students to Google and find on social media. This was mostly for athletes or students awarded specific scholarships. If it was private or restricted, it got a pass by default. If it was public but “tame,” it passed. But if there were photos of the student drinking or partying or illegal activities and whatnot, and public, we could revoke the scholarship and deny admission. I’ve only seen it happen twice, and both times were to athletes who violated aspects of their scholarship or athletic requirements in general.

        Reply
          1. Saturn9

            If the requirements for receiving the scholarship are so unreasonable one would not be able to abide them, one should not accept the scholarship and risk having it revoked.

            Reply
    2. Anonymous

      I think you mean convicted, not arrested.

      Police arrest innocent people all the time. We convict innocent people too but not as often.

      Reply
    3. KCS

      Nowadays, under the National Labor Relations Act, employers can’t censor your Facebook posts or retaliate against you if the posts are about wages/working conditions (e.g., “We’re so underpaid,” or “This break room is dirty”). But if it’s just regular venting (“My boss is a $#!%”), then that speech is not protected.

      That said, even if they can’t fire you for complaining about work conditions, it might get a little chillier at work. Sorry to hear you had to go through that in 2008.

      Reply
  11. Bryan

    I’d second how tiring it can be. I hear students say how busy they are, they’re going to be in for a surprise.

    How brevity is preferred. In school it’s narrow the margins to make it longer, at work it’s widen them to get everything on a page.

    Finances and insurance. Complete game changer when you have to manage everything.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      In contrast, I’ve only been working full-time since September after a ridiculous number of years in grad school, and I still can’t get used to how short the days are. You mean I can leave at 4:30, 5 if I want to show that I’m putting in an extra effort to get something done, and… I don’t go back to work after dinner?

      Reply
      1. LV

        I feel the same way, a year out of grad school and 10 months into my first “real” job. My workday ends at 4:30 and the fact that I can just *leave* at tha time, be home by 5, and then have the evening to do whatever I want – no more assignments or readings, ever! – still seems almost miraculous to me.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          I hope to never lose that sense of wonder. :) Especially in the summer, when I walk out of work and it’s still light out! What kind of black magic is that, having daylight hours to spend at ones leisure?

          Reply
        2. N.J.

          I have only had one job like that. The growing trend, I’m sorry to say, is for jobs that don’t end at 4:30. I work 60+ hours a week and know several other people who do. I was also in two graduate programs and they were a lot of work, but I had more free time then than I have seem in most of my jobs so far. Count yourselves very lucky, as not all jobs end at 8 hours.

          Reply
          1. Marie

            Yep – I wish my job ended at 4:30. I leave at 7pm with a laptop to take work home. Not that I always DO work once I get home:)

            Reply
      2. NK

        I completely agree. Being able to leave and knowing I’m done for the day was awesome compared to undergrad and grad school, where I constantly had that lingering feeling that I should be working on something.

        Reply
    2. Goofy Posture

      Yes to brevity! I’m much better at brevity, though, so that was a pleasant surprise.

      I remember at an internship when I didn’t have quite enough to do, I asked a friend how people handle 8 hours a day of it. I was actually terrified of full-time office work because my attention span isn’t the best. She said it’s much easier when you have lots of projects, and that is SO true.

      Reply
      1. Goofy Posture

        Also, I was looking forward to not having “homework” and my time being my own. Alas, I suck at leaving work behind at the office, emotionally, so that didn’t quite pan out the way I’d expected.

        Reply
        1. Chinook

          I am the opposite – it has been 10 years since I have been either a student or a teacher and I still marvel and having no homework, no calls to make and weekends free of any work duties! This office work concept definitely has its perks!

          Reply
    3. Gene

      I guess not going to college has served me well. :-)

      I spent 7 years in the Navy as a Nuclear Propulsion tech and brevity was the name of the game. In my 30+ years of work after that, pretty much all in the same field, I’m still told that my letters and memos are too brief. When I ask if there’s information that ws not included I typically get told’ “No, but it is just too short.” And that’s from *engineers*.

      Reply
      1. Liz

        Ha! I used to get comments like “too concise, explain” on my papers. I had to train myself to spell everything out, even though the steps were blindingly obvious. Served me well in my later incarnation as a technical writer!

        Reply
    4. Marina

      Agree about brevity. I had an internship in college where I presented my boss with a three page marketing plan in paragraph form. She very kindly told me to cut it down to half a page and make it bullet points. :)

      Reply
    5. Xand

      Contrarily, I couldn’t believe how much easier it was! <10 hours a day of work. Less juggling. Less rushing. More time to devote to specific projects. One boss.

      Reply
  12. Evilduck

    I was surprised that those “old people” I can call by their first names didn’t know the “right” answer and sometimes knew less than I did about something. At first it felt like a betrayal, sort of like when I figured out that doctor’s don’t always know the right way to “fix” you–sometimes they’ll tell you to come back if it gets worse or give you some pill to take to see if it gets better, without knowing for sure what “it” is.

    But then I realized that the old people not knowing the right answer gave me the chance to show what I know and have my ideas and suggestions taken into account, instead of just being dismissed because I was just an intern. Which is an awesome feeling.

    Reply
    1. kbeers0su

      This. Not that you couldn’t have an opinion in a classroom setting, but you were never totally sure that you were right. Assuming that your supervisors would know all the answers and be able to give you direction on anything…but finding out that you have room to make decisions yourself, set your own priorities, etc.

      Reply
  13. Canadamber

    Well, I’m still working retail, but even there, a learning curve happened. :P

    Let’s see…

    You have to keep on a cheerful face even when you just want to spaz out.

    You can’t just call in sick a few hours before your shift, even though you can call in sick to school a few minutes before (in high school), or just not show up to classes at all (in college/university).

    They don’t always follow safety regulations…

    Reply
  14. Anon

    That the stupid and annoying people I thought I would be rid of after finishing college and grad school are still around in the working world — and there’s no summer break or new class to look forward to that would give you a break!

    Also, that even at the age of 24 I was looked upon as a professional and expected know how to lead a team and manage 100k+ budgets.

    Reply
  15. HR lady

    Speaking about my first post-college job: I was surprised how easy some of the work was. It can feel like you’re not using your brain in an entry-level job. Lots of routine work (copying, filing, data entry, etc.). I expected that from the retail/part time jobs I had in high school, but not from a “real” job after college.

    Also, I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time I got paid for a day I didn’t work (such as a paid holiday or paid vacation day). That is a huge difference from part time/retail jobs.

    Reply
    1. Lindsay

      +1 to getting paid for days I don’t work! I think it’s hard for me, though, as a salary employee now after years as an hourly employee in the service industry to not be able to just take random unpaid days off. EVERYTHING has to be accounted for with a sick/vacation day. That sucks.

      Reply
    1. The IT Manager

      My job only authorizes a 30 min lunch. And that is not enough time to eat out anywhere even the “campus” cafeteria.”

      Of course it is nice that my duty hours only total 8 and a half hours instead of 9.

      Reply
    2. AdAgencyChick

      At my office, people keep scheduling meetings between 12 and 2, so sometimes it’s grab what you can, when you can.

      And on the days when I *don’t* have meetings scheduled, you’d best believe I’m taking a whole hour!

      Reply
      1. Sharm

        I would do this if I could, but at most of my work places, people take very short lunch, or no lunch at all, and still leave at the regular time (if not later).

        I really appreciate that my current job is cool with people taking lunches. It’s a first in my entire career.

        Reply
    3. KC

      Don’t feel bad!! I didn’t used to feel bad about it, either. Then got into the habit of eating at my desk, people will schedule meetings during that time, and it’s a RARE day that I take more than 30 minutes on lunch. It’s hard to go back to actually getting out of the office. Use your lunch hour, enjoy it!

      Reply
  16. The Other Dawn

    This didn’t happen when I was in my “first ever” job, but when I moved from being a teller manager in a branch to being head of a department in the admin office (in my late 20s). I was surprised that I couldn’t just be myself, that there was a different way of behaving when you’re working in an office vs. bring behind a teller line with “the girls.” I was always saying something inappropriate. Not sexual, but basically asking questions I shouldn’t ask. Stuff like that.

    Reply
    1. The Other Dawn

      I was also shocked that I could ask for help when I was new to the department and not be looked upon as not knowing my job. So many hours spent struggling on something that should take an hour, when all I had to do was ask someone. Nowadays I do take time to figure something out myself, but don’t waste a lot of time when it’s obvious I need some help.

      Reply
  17. ND

    I hardly took any initiative. Maybe I was still in a student mindset, and I expected my supervisors to consistently give me “assignments” rather than have my own running to-do list or take assignments given a step further.

    Reply
    1. Leslie Yep

      Yes! This was a totally mind-blowing idea to me, even as someone who did a lot of independent work and political organizing in college. It look about a year of work to realize that if I saw something that needed doing, I could just do it; I didn’t have to wait for someone else to set a vision for it or decide it was my job.

      Reply
      1. Karowen

        This! When I was interning, my boss gave me a project and said she needed it soon. I completed it…and then left it on my desk until she asked about it.

        I’ll never forget the incredulous look on her face when she asked where it was and I said “Oh, it’s right here, I didn’t know when you wanted it back.”

        Reply
    2. Whippers

      Related to this, in my first job I was always expecting praise for learning something quickly or doing something well. This obviously came from school when you were constantly getting feedback and being marked on your work.

      I quickly got out of that habit. Although, I think it has made me more motivated now because now I do things well because it gives me satisfaction and not because I think it’s going to please someone else.

      Reply
    3. themmases

      Yes, definitely. It took me a long time to internalize that I wasn’t “bothering” the busy people above me if I checked in with them on the project they asked me to do in the first place, and even many projects with someone else’s name on them would die if I didn’t drive them myself. It was even longer before I felt sure I could go ahead and improve processes I was in charge of, on my own.

      Reply
    4. Anonymous

      Interestingly, I had the opposite happen. I had all kinds of initiative but my manager needed to reign me in. I had a ton of ideas but I had to prove I had follow through as well. I also had to wait until I knew how to “get things done” in my office. It was weird to unlearn going after new ideas until they were ready to happen.

      Reply
    5. Hunny

      I had a ridiculously hard time with this in my first job. Didn’t know about professional environments, or my specific job responsibilities, and had no management. It was really hard for me to think of things to do, and I demonstrated boredom rather than initiative.

      Reply
  18. Anoners

    Finding out how heavily taxed bonuses are is what really shocked me when I first started. It works out to be about 50% where I live (in Canada). Still totally loved getting it, but it was a surprise for sure.

    Reply
    1. Chrissi

      That was one for me too! I got a signing bonus (!?) and was horrified when I received less than half of it. Now of course I know how lucky I really was, but at the time…

      Reply
      1. MM

        I found it mind boggling how much came off my cheque for income tax, Canada Pension Plan, my benefits, etc. I was expecting a big fat cheque – nooope. My takehome amount wasn’t even close to what I was expecting to get.

        Reply
        1. Anon

          second that — I had no idea how to calculate my take-home pay during my first salary negotiation and ended up having to keep my part time job on the weekends just to make ends meet for the first couple of years!

          Reply
            1. the gold digger

              Yes! My first job out of college paid $20,000 a year, which, even back then, was not that much.

              I divided $20,000 by 52 to figure out how much I would be getting every week.

              Boy was I shocked when I saw how much I actually got. Made me re-think a lot of my political views.

              Reply
        2. Anlyn

          The cartoon ZITS had a good strip about that one time, where the kid started working and was shocked at the actual take-home pay. My mom busted her gut laughing at it, because she said I did the exact same thing.

          Reply
        3. FormerNewsDirector

          When I got my first job, I already had my paycheck figured out: 40 hours at $12/hour meant I would be getting a check for $480. Right?

          Hey, what the hell?

          Reply
    2. Meg

      On the other side of this, filing taxes and still having to owe after having a significant chunk taken out.

      What do you mean, you didn’t take enough out? Hmph.

      Reply
  19. Louisa

    I was shocked by how rude people could be! My first job was in a very fast paced industry and I didn’t realize how coddled I was in the polite world of students and professors. Also sitting/staring at a computer screen for the majority of the day was a big change from biking between 45 minute lectures.

    Reply
  20. MJ

    What others have said regarding work being exhausting, adults being overgrown high schoolers, and, the biggest one for me: some people actually DON’T have a sense of humor! They will take your really obvious sarcastic comment at face value! They will think you’re unprofessional and not a hard worker if you try to joke around with them! I’m not some kind of class clown who can’t maintain any kind of gravitas in the workplace, but I think it’s pretty normal to laugh or lighten the mood now and then. It shocked me to meet people who seem like they never, ever have a lighthearted moment, and don’t appreciate it when others do. I still can’t figure out how anyone can live without laughing occasionally.

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      Oh man, one of my first bosses had no sense of humor whatsoever. It was so uncomfortable. I really don’t know what to do around people who have no sense of humor, except get awkward.

      Reply
  21. Jen

    I had a really great experience at college – I was close with my Dean and was student government president, I sat on the Board of Trustees and was given a lot of freedom to try things and was given a lot of responsibility.

    I was surprised how the working world was far less like college and more like high school. I worked in a newsroom (which was a pretty terrible environment) and the older more experienced workers talked down to me or would call me “New girl” rather than learn my name. I was an eager kid and would want to try new things and would be told “Pipe down, new girl, no one wants to hear from you.” There were cliques and people could be really abusive (physically abusive, like throwing things at co-workers).

    There wasn’t a lot of autonomy and there was a lot of clock-watching at my first job. “You are supposed to be here at 9 a.m. not 9:05″ even if I had worked 12+ hours the previous day.

    Reply
    1. Adam

      Not to mention that in most work forces you’re stuck being around the same people everyday, sometimes for years on end. In college you have the luxury of getting regular shake ups to your routine that facilitate meeting new people. Anyone you like you can keep in touch with, and anyone you don’t like if you’re on a decent size campus you likely don’t ever have to interact with again once the semester changes. In the work world your pretty much stuck with what’s there, good and bad.

      Reply
  22. Bunny Manders

    Having to book time off for the holidays surprised me. My parents were professors, so their winter vacation usually lined up with mine when I was a kid. I just assumed that all non-essential services shut down for the week.

    On a more positive note, I was always the kid who was getting in trouble for having a messy locker and forgetting my homework. So many teachers told me I was disorganized and lazy that I started believing it, but when I got a job as an admin I had to be the one who was always on top of things in the office. It turns out that when my job’s on the line, I can be meticulously organized and I get a lot of work done with minimal supervision.

    Reply
  23. kdizzle

    During the orientation at my first job, I asked…

    “I see here that we get 10 days of vacation per year, but when I was interviewing, they said it would be two weeks.”

    Uhhhh…I guess I was surprised to learn that 10 days is actually two weeks.

    Reply
      1. kdizzle

        Quite alright!

        I cringe just thinking about it. All of the other people at the orientation simultaneously jumped right it to try to explain it to me.

        How did I not know?

        Reply
        1. Rayner

          Because you were used to thinking of a week as Monday to Sunday – including your weekends. A work week lasts just Monday to Friday (typically). Because you get the weekends off anyway, your work gives you two /working/ weeks off, not two full weeks.

          Which still sucks because that’s two weeks out of 52 you have to work but eh. There you go.

          Reply
    1. Nonprofit Office Manager

      In your defense, I strongly believe that employers should NOT say they give “2 weeks” of vacation if they really only give 10 days. 2 weeks = 14 days, and I already “own” my weekends, so they should not be included in calculation. I don’t know how employers get away with this!

      Reply
      1. Aunt Vixen

        Okay but – conversely, when they say you work fifty weeks a year, you know that means fifty five-day periods, right?

        In the context of work, a week is a work week. How they get away with it is that that’s what the word means. A rookie can get a free pass for missing that on the first go, but once you’ve made manager, come on.

        Reply
        1. Nonprofit Office Manager

          “when they say you work fifty weeks a year”….

          I’ve never had an employer say “Just to be clear, you will work fifty weeks a year.” However, I have had many employers say “we give 2 weeks of vacation.” In the context of life, 1 week = Mon – Sun. Of course I know that in the specific context of work, 1 week = 5 days. But I still think employers say “2 weeks” because it sounds like more than “10 days” sounds. It would be more accurate to say “we give 2 weeks of vacation if you include the weekends.”

          Reply
          1. Aunt Vixen

            I don’t know, dude. There are two weeks when you don’t have to come to work. That’s ten days you don’t have to come to work. I totally see your point, but it sure doesn’t look to me like anyone’s being dishonest in any way.

            At my newest job, all the leave is discussed by the hour instead of by the day. Obviously accruing it and taking it in smaller-than-eight-hour increments makes sense, but I mean at the interview when they (thought they) were bragging about their generous leave policy, and at the orientation when they were explaining it, all they talked about was how many hours of PTO we get per year. I had to do some math to work out how many weeks that was. (But the weeks I was thinking about were five-day ones. ;-) )

            Reply
          2. AnonHR

            It’s not a trick though, it’s just an easier framework for most people to work with in conversation.

            We actually present time off by the hour to employees, but it is confusing as crap to most people without a calculator in front of them until I say “hey, what this 128 hours actually means is that you get a little over 3 weeks of time off”. So, for the sake of clarity, a lot of places just give you the easy version.

            Reply
  24. Kirsten

    Coming from a part time retail job, I was surprised that I didn’t have to ask for permission for everything little thing! Need to go to the bathroom? Just go. Time to leave at the end of the day? It’s okay to leave without asking your boss first. Definitely an adjustment to stop feeling like a kid and start feeling like a professional adult.

    Reply
    1. thenoiseinspace

      This depends on the office, though. In my last position, my boss took me aside and said that it was rude of me to leave at the end of the day without talking to her and saying goodbye to everyone else. My current company is much more relaxed.

      Reply
      1. Sascha

        Yep, at my last job, the director told us she hated it when we left right at five, because it made it seem like we wanted nothing more than to get out of there. She told us we should linger a few minutes because that looked better to her.

        This came from the woman who would leave right at five most days, and often left early for nail appointments.

        Reply
      2. doreen

        Did your boss just want to know you were leaving or did you have to actually ask permission ( as in your boss might not allow you to leave)? It’s two different things.
        I had the same experience as Kirsten when I started my first “job that isn’t commonly done part-time”. My first full-time job was as a bank teller, and it worked much the same as my previous part-time jobs. Couldn’t use the restroom, take a break, go to lunch or leave for the day without actual permission. It was shocking to me that I could go to the vending machine for a soda or even outside to the coffee cart without needing permission.

        Reply
    2. Diet Coke Addict

      Oh my, this too. Need to work on a different project? Fine. Get something out of the supply cabinet? Do it. Need to leave a little early? All right. Not having to ask permission for everything (“it’s slow, can I run to the washroom?”) was a big one.

      Reply
    3. themmases

      Same! I started my current job as a part-timer, too, so it was especially awkward for me to leave without telling my boss for a while. I think for a few days I tried to. And I would tell him about every little proposed change to my schedule, until he stopped responding to those emails.

      Reply
    4. Emma

      +1 on it depends. My first two post-college jobs were as a receptionist at a large medical practice and a call center wienie, respectively, where I did need to get the OK to leave my desk, use the bathroom, etc. due to needing coverage for the desk/phones. I felt like Brooks in his post-prison life in The Shawshank Redemption.

      Reply
    5. allreb

      Oh heck yes. Whenever we have a new entry level person start, I find myself letting them know they don’t need permission to take a lunch break, they can just go when they have time and are hungry.

      Reply
  25. Chrissi

    I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was to be able to leave work at the end of the day and not have something I was supposed to be doing during the evening, thereby leaving times for things like reading books that hadn’t been assigned and watching TV without guiltily feeling like I ought to be doing something else. I think 16 years of doing homework or activities at night made it seem like a luxury.

    Reply
    1. Bwmn

      I was a graduate student for a while- and like others here who mentioned how a long an 8 hour day can be, after adjusting to that the mental freedom of a job vs school was wonderful.

      Sure some work had to be brought home, but there was way more “I am not working and can truly leave that behind”. With grad school especially there was never a weekend or vacation or break without “a,b,c,d,e, and f need to be read and x,y, and z need to written”. No matter what kind of work comes home with me or even when I’ve had reports to finish on a vacation – it’s never felt as oppressive as when I was in school.

      Reply
      1. Jax

        Exactly! After years of homework (and my mom the teacher with her Sunday night OMG LESSON PLANS! meltdowns) I was shocked when I realized I never have to take work home with me.

        In all of my jobs (office/admin stuff) I’ve never had to take a single paper home. My day ends at 5, and I tidy up the stack of papers on my desk and face it again tomorrow. It’s so freeing. My nights and weekends are 100% my own.

        Reply
    2. Leslie Yep

      Yes, totally agree. I routinely work 12+ hour days but even that isn’t as exhausting as it was to study and research all day, then write all night like I did in college and grad school.

      Reply
    3. O

      After finishing grad school last year it was like “freedom!”..but now the evening/weekend boredom has set in, and I’m realizing now why so many people have hobbies, mines always been reading, but now I feel like I need to find something else.

      Reply
      1. Whippers

        Oh God, I’m giving this up now as I’m going back to study part-time in addition to working.

        Yes, the freedom is bliss.

        Reply
      2. kbeers0su

        When I finished grad school, this was me. I even thought about starting another graduate degree (I work for a university, so it would have been free). Then I decided not to :)

        Reply
  26. bad at online naming

    I guess I’m the oddball here – I think I’m less tired now than I ever was after freshman year in college, and I frequently work more than 40/hrs a week. I also read a lot more for pleasure. And eat better.

    I was surprised at how hard it was as an adult in a new city to find friend or activity groups (especially outside of work). Or try new things. No more the campus clubs I can stop by to just randomly try a new thing!

    I was stunned by the disgusting language and activities that can be allowed by a (bad) employer. Luckily, job #2 is better.

    Reply
    1. Felicia

      Definitely once you’re out of school it’s so much harder to make new friends! Or keep up with the ones you made in school after ou don’t see them everyday

      Reply
    2. Adam

      Definitely agree with the social aspect. If you go to college the regular shake ups of your classes and schedule as well as campus activities mean you meet new people all the time. Once you get into most jobs you spend the majority of the week around…gulp…coworkers…

      Reply
    3. CTO

      I agree! My first out-of-college job was limited to 40 hours a week (comp time for the occasional overage), and that felt so luxurious. I slept a lot more, read more, exercised more, took up new hobbies… it was great. I hadn’t realized how tired and busy I was in college–I thought it was normal to feel that way!

      It’s also definitely a lot harder to make friends as an adult than it was in high school or college. I felt it took about 4-5 post-college years to really feel that I had the friends, social life, and activities I wanted to have.

      Reply
      1. bad at online naming

        Ha, I didn’t even remember sleep, probably because now it’s been a given in my life for awhile. So nice!

        Reply
  27. Alex

    I still find that I’m surprised at how many jobs are very ambiguous in terms of what the company actually expects of you. I’ve literally not had a single job with a clear outline of expectations, and not for lack of trying! It’s just crazy to me how few employers can answer the question of “What are your expectations of me in the role and what objectives are you hiring me to accomplish” or “What does a successful person in this job role look like”.

    Reply
      1. Alex

        Totally! It also makes me crazy to have zero direction on something and then finish it and have it picked apart and have to spend more time going back and fixing it – if I’d have been given clear expectations before starting, I would have been able to do it to your specifications the first time around.

        Reply
        1. Ornery PR

          Yup, this. I have learned at this job that no matter how many questions I ask at the start of a project, I get very little direction. Then when I create something it will get picked apart, when it would have been way easier to do it that way in the first place. But I’ve realized that some people don’t have a clear idea of what they want until they see something even partilally completed. I’ve learned to treat all new projects as a first draft and not put so much energy and worry into it until I get the feedback I’m looking for. That took some time to learn – that not all bosses know what they want until they see something they don’t want.

          Reply
        1. De Minimis

          This one has always been an issue for me for almost all jobs other than the more repetitive/manual labor type jobs. It’s actually gotten worse the more I’ve worked.

          Reply
          1. Emma

            I struggle with this problem, daily. If the work isn’t procedural or distinct tasks, I’m just floundering for how to even begin! Especially since my field is so new to me, I feel like I spend a lot of time thinking “I don’t know what I don’t know and I’m unsure how to even proceed on this project.”

            Reply
    1. Laura2

      Yep. This is most frustrating when I don’t have the actual authority to put a plan into action, but can only recommend options. It surprises me how many people are unwilling to say either “Do what you think will work best” or “Do option 1″.

      Reply
  28. Yup

    Meetings.

    The frequency. The length. How difficult it was to tell whether it was going well or poorly. The weird stilted way that people acted in meetings versus everywhere else. The obvious dysfunction that ruled 80% of the meetings I saw.

    I had to learn a whole new skill set for maintaining my “politely interested” face, listening to subtext, steering the conversation, shutting down detailers, etc.

    Reply
    1. MaryMary

      Having to develop my meeting face was a big one. Apparently I should not play poker, my face clearly shows what I think and it’s much more obvious in a meeting than a classroom.

      Reply
    2. Hunny

      This didn’t happen until a couple years into the workforce, but the realization that *I* could ask people to come to a meeting, for something *I* wanted to discuss, was a big revelation.

      Also, sitting politely through meetings only to have an experienced coworker tell me afterwards how poorly run it was. So even though I had been to very few good meetings,she raised my bar for what a meeting could be.

      Reply
  29. Adam

    Probably that working “9 to 5″ was not as uniform as I was led to believe. Every full time job I’ve had has been more like an 8-5 depending on how long the lunch break was. When I was a kid I remember my folks having time do crazy things like “read the paper” in the morning before work. My morning is perfectly timed so I just barely have enough time to roll out of bed, eat breakfast, dress myself, and shuffle out the door.

    Also that term “dead end job” could apply to much more than just stints at fast food joints.

    Reply
      1. Hunny

        My hours are 9-5, 40 he’s per day, 30 minute lunch. I didn’t realize until reading AAM comments that 9-5 (or 8-4, 10-6, etc.) wasn’t universal.

        Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      +1. I wish AAM had been around when I started working! I might have figured out, instead of having to be told so at my first review, that you stay until the work is done, NOT 5:00.

      Reply
    2. Nikki T

      I don’t even breakfast eat at home, I make it and eat it at my desk or stop and pick up something. If I didn’t have to be here until 9…that would be so nice.

      But I don’t complain because I have an office waaay in the back, so I can eat at my desk.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        And I wish I could say my breakfasts at home were relaxing affairs, but I’m always standing up and simultaneously packing my lunch for the day. I only eat breakfast sitting down on the weekends.

        Reply
    3. Kacie

      I really did have a 9-5 office job once in the mid-90s as a paralegal. With an hour lunch. And overtime. Oh, those were the days!

      Reply
    4. Rana

      I was also startled to realize that “9-5″ doesn’t really exist, and that lunch breaks weren’t counted as part of that.

      Also: how utterly boring work can be if you’re too efficient at your tasks. In school – especially grad school or while teaching – the reward for being efficient was having a bit of extra time to do something fun or to run errands. As clerical staff, having extra time meant either (a) less pay, as when I was a temp, or (b) more boredom, as when I was an office assistant.

      I had to learn to be inefficient, and, wow, was that a bad lesson to have learned when I shifted to freelancing.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Oh man that has been a challenge for me. It was immensely frustrating to get all my regular stuff done, approach my manager about having extra time and needing something productive to fill it with and the best response I could get was “Look busy”.

        Reply
  30. MM

    How high school doesn’t stop in high school – it continues into adulthood and the workplace. And some people never grow up – they’re still children stuck in adult bodies.

    Reply
    1. en pointe

      I’d have to say this as well. I have no idea how prevalent this is in any other offices, but I work in an office now, while a student, and far out, I was shocked by the gossip and behind-the-back stuff when I started. For some reason, I expected that adults in professional jobs would all be mature and have respect for each other’s feelings or something. Like they would have grown out of the high school stuff by now?

      I don’t know, but I do know that I have / have had some pretty bitchy friends, and even they have nothing on some of the people I work with. (Both men and women FTR.)

      Reply
    2. Lindsay

      yes yes yes. I still can’t get over my retirement-age coworker gossiping about me. I just don’t understand! Why be mean to people?

      Reply
    3. Cassie

      Totally – just because everyone in the office is an adult (legally) doesn’t mean that they are all grown-ups. I’ve seen some really childish behaviors like throwing tantrums when you don’t get your way.

      At the same time, I see people who act deferentially – “oh, I can’t speak up because it’s not my place”. You’re not a 6th grader who’s worried about “snitching” about a classmate. If it’s something that is negatively impacting the workplace, just speak up already.

      Reply
      1. MM

        Agreed, Cassie! So many people don’t want to be “tattle-tales”. But then they complain about something or someone and wonder why no one is fixing the issue. If you don’t speak up, expect nothing to change.

        Reply
        1. MM

          Complain amongst their coworkers, I should say. They don’t bring the issue up the ladder to someone who can actually do something about it.

          Reply
  31. thenoiseinspace

    How expensive it is to work.

    I had always thought that jobs are to make money, but with buying a new (and sometimes specialized) wardrobe, paying for gas and parking, getting any equipment you need, etc, it’s an incredibly expensive process. I’ve had one part-time job with lots of up-front expenses, and in the end, I barely came out on top.

    I wish I could go back and tell myself to start saving more earlier – last year I had an opportunity, but because it was in a new city and I only had $2,000 in savings, I couldn’t afford to take advantage of it. Yes, I might have profited eventually, but there are so many up-front costs with a new job that I couldn’t make it work.

    Reply
      1. thenoiseinspace

        Exactly! And it might take a lot longer than one paycheck to even out again. For me, the biggest thing has been clothes. Obviously, I knew that I couldn’t go to work in the jeans-and-t-shirt outfits I wore in school, but I really underestimated how expensive it is to get an entire new wardrobe (and how pricey professional clothes can be.)

        Reply
        1. Bryan

          In my current job I started in the middle of the month, worked two weeks and lived on savings. Got paid for that work on the 31st, had to make that half paycheck last the whole month as I only get paid once a month.

          Reply
    1. Anonymous

      +1

      That was an eye-opener for me too. For my first professional job, I moved from a really small, isolated town to a fairly large city. I had never had to pay for parking before, and paying over $100/month to park JUST TO GO TO WORK was such an insane thing to me at the time, especially on my very meager salary.

      Reply
    2. Kacie

      I was impressed that when we moved to a new city with low income areas, my husband got a stipend to buy equipment or clothes for work as a nurse as a head start. It was a great program.

      Reply
  32. Anlyn

    I remember being surprised that work hours actually started EARLIER than school hours. I remember thinking, “wow, it will be nice not having to get up so early for school”, never realizing that work actually started half and hour earlier.

    Also echoing another poster’s surprise at how “high school” adults could be.

    Reply
      1. Anlyn

        Ours started at 8:30, but lasted until 3:30…I remember thinking it was really unfair that a lot of schools in the country got out at 2:30. :)

        Reply
        1. Camellia

          Mostly this is controlled by the size of the bus fleet. The same set of buses first picks up and delivers the high school kids, then the same set of buses picks up and delivers middle school kids, then elementary. Hence the staggered starting and ending times of schools.

          Reply
    1. Laura2

      Yes! I’ve worked for companies that spent a ridiculous amount of money on weird crap and apparently expected employees not to notice that clients received brand new iPads, but there weren’t going to be any raises this year.

      Reply
      1. TK

        This is one thing I think will shock me if I ever work in the private sector (which, given what I do, is pretty unlikely). In government/universities– or at least in the departments I work in– not much gets spent on weird crap.

        Reply
        1. Xand

          Really?

          In my experience, government can be even worse because coming in under budget can make it harder to secure that budget. And heaven forbid you spend it on some food for an event for the hungry volunteers/interns/per diems who pay to work. But there’s plenty of keychains and mousepads and other garbage thrown in at the last minute.

          Reply
          1. Gjest

            That hasn’t been my experience in government or academia. Usually if I’ve been working on a grant or budget that was expiring, we would buy supplies for the lab that we would need anyway, or office supplies, maybe you could buy a new piece of lab equipment that would allow you to do a pilot project which you could then maybe write a bigger grant from…

            There were all sorts of crazy restrictions on buying food, though. It was absolutely not allowed. One PI I worked for would pay for a dinner for everyone out of her pocket because she felt it should be done, but was absolutely forbidden from using grant or state money to buy food.

            Reply
    2. Mints

      Oh me too!
      I worked childcare at a nonprofit, and we literally got talked to for eating snacks that were meant for the kids. And not like we were binging, but just, take three or four more than 20 meant for kids to feed the staff. (snacks bought in bulk btw, which probably ended up to like $1)
      And now my job spends literally thousands for dinners that maybe hopefully lead to new clients but is mostly schmoozing and drinking with acquaintances.

      I went from one extreme to another

      Reply
  33. Chrissi

    Oh, and I also was shocked – SHOCKED – that people could drink during their lunch hour (and my boss kept a bottle of whiskey in his desk drawer). It was only on Fridays that they would do it, and they weren’t allowed to call clients when they came back (if they came back), but still.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      How very Mad Men of your boss. My work cafeteria sells beer and wine. During a particularly busy and tiring period during the summer my coworkers and I joked about getting beers during lunch and then going back to work with our clients for the rest of the day. Not a good plan!

      Reply
  34. Lucy

    When I first started working, I didn’t really know how to be my own advocate and spent a lot of time in a job with little advancement assuming that I would be recognized for good work with promotions or raises!

    Reply
    1. Sharon

      I spent about 20 years doing that! Jobs that have a position ranking, like programmer 1 – 6 are especially deceptive. I think they strongly imply that if you do good work you’ll be promoted up the ranks from level 1 to 6. Uhhh, Nope! You still have to advocate for yourself. (I foolishly spent 9 years at level 3 that way – hired at that level, left the job at that level.)

      Reply
      1. anon-2

        In our business – counter-offers are common … you have to demonstrate talent and exploit it, and have a strong work ethic – and be willing to resign if things are as they should be.

        Sad reality – but that’s the IS/IT/computer business. It’s not the way it SHOULD be, but it is what it is. If you allow yourself to be low-balled, you will be low-balled.

        Reply
  35. Diet Coke Addict

    How difficult it would end up being to arrange things around a work schedule and how little time is left over. When I worked retail I could arrange for things on a Wednesday morning or Thursday afternoon or whatever and it was fine–then a 8-5 job and making appointments with the doctor/dentist/insurer’s office/bank/government office/etc. suddenly felt like juggling six balls at once.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      The one thing I like about my stupid hotel job is getting two weekdays off to do stuff. I did the monday to friday thing for about two weeks and it drove me crazy.

      Reply
    2. hilde

      Very true! I work 8:00-4:30 with 30 min lunch. With young kids doing drop off/pick up and cooking dinner and an early nighttime routine I have to do those things during the day but take leave for them or work adjust. But there’s not much time in my schedule to work adjust! It sucks. Definitely hard to schedule all the other things that have to keep being done, too.

      Reply
      1. TK

        I also work 8:00-4:30 and have no children or pets or other commitments that involve being responsible to or for other people. I am shocked at how little time I feel I have. I don’t know how people do it who have these commitments.

        I also don’t have much frame of reference, since neither of my parents had jobs with traditional schedules– my mom had/has a job with extreme flexibility in hours, and my dad was/is self-employed. It was rarely a problem for either one of them to arrange their work schedules due to family commitments, or any commitments really.

        Reply
    3. Mints

      True!
      I used to be able to plan things like “I’m going to the mall Wednesday morning because it won’t be crowded”
      I actually really do miss this

      Reply
    4. SevenSixOne

      And if you want to make plans with friends, you have to do it weeks in advance, since none of you have the same schedules and you’re all trying to squeeze the same non-work stuff into your days off anyway :(

      Reply
    5. Dani

      I was going to post the same thing! I was so confused–when do people go to the bank, post office, or vet? I still hate that 9-12 on Saturday morning is the only time to run these kinds of errands. And of course, if I am free everybody else is too, so stores are crowded and the lines are long.

      Reply
  36. Steve

    I was surprised what a doormat I became … I’ve always been outspoken, championing what I thought was right; for myself and others.

    My first manager was The Anti-Christ. Truly the complete opposite of what Alison is teaching us to be. He treated people like complete . I needed a paycheck and I couldn’t find anything else so I cowtowed to him and did what I had to do to get by. I became a non-person and it screwed me up for a few years even after I started working for a decent group of human beings.

    I hate the idea that there are still people out there treating our young and/or inexperienced work force this way. Just because people really REALLY need a job and a paycheck is no reason to treat them like garbage and make them think they have to accept it.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      Right!!! I left my last job because the director was like that. She’d often remind us people would “kill, they would KILL” for our jobs, because we worked at Super Prestigious Small Private University (that wasn’t really that prestigious). She treated us like babies and was offended that we didn’t just love our jobs to death and want to devote all our time and energy to it.

      Reply
  37. kdizzle

    I was shocked to learn:

    a. what a “loaded rate” was
    b. what MY “loaded rate” was

    “You’re charging those clients WHAT for my time!? I could never be worth that in a million years.”

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Yep. As a lawyer I’m expected to bring in around 7 times my salary if I want to stay on promotion-track. Which means for every hour I work, I am billed out at 7 times what I make for that hour. I earn decently (by the standards of my country – no doubt US lawyers would laugh at my salary), so there is no resentment, just incredulity.

      Reply
  38. Camellia

    It’s been 29 years since I joined the work force and my first job out of college was with a nationally known insurance company, as an exempt IT professional. I had cut my teeth on the ‘Dress for Success’ book and had nothing but suits to wear to work so that I would be dressed appropriately. Imagine my surprise when NO OTHER WOMAN wore suits. Most of them looked like they were getting ready to wash their car. Eight floors in the building and everyone knew who I was because I was ‘the girl who wears suits’. Yes, ‘girl, it was 1985 after all, pretty much in the middle of the Women’s Lib movement.

    I continued to wear my suits and as others out of college joined the workforce the custom of women wearing suits became more common place.

    Reply
    1. NWanalyst

      I love suits. Imagine my surprise upon graduating from college quite recently, and going to work at an insurance brokerage. Women still don’t wear suits. The men (some of them, and not every day) do. After some consideration, I’ve settled on suiting separates most days and a proper one on occasion. Casual may be the norm, but I’d rather be known as “the girl who wears suits” than “the girl who wears leggings”.

      Reply
      1. Kirsten

        This! I’m shocked on an almost daily basis at what people consider to be business attire. The sheer shirt that you wore to the club on Friday with the low back and bra straps showing is not okay, even when paired with dress pants!

        Reply
      2. Jen RO

        But… why? Standing out by being overdressed *or* underdressed is just as bad, in my opinion. There *is* a nice middle ground and I know a lot of women who get it right – professional and polished, without going overboard.

        Reply
  39. Receptionist

    How much taxes come off! And, how carefull you always had to be when you said anything. It was like school, but worse.

    Reply
  40. Ollie

    I see a lot of people saying how hard it was to adjust to 8 hour work days. Does anyone have any advice for preparing for this or transitioning to this?

    I’ve never had anything more than a part time job, and I haven’t had work at all for the past several months, so I’m worried about it. I’m on a horrible sleep schedule right now (going to bed at 4:00 am and getting up at noon), so that doesn’t help either.

    Reply
    1. Elysian

      I don’t think you can really adjust for it unless you have something you need to do, 8 hours a day, every day. Getting on a regular schedule, etc, would be good, but I can’t think of anything that would have prepared me for it. It’s not so much the length of day as it is the monotony, every day, all day. I love my job, but sometimes just doing the same thing drags so much.

      Reply
    2. AnonHR

      I’d just do your best to get on a better sleep schedule by turning of the electronics at a certain point and getting a routine down (however, I’ve been working 8-5 for 6 years and still haven’t fully accomplished this), and when you start a job that requires the longer hours just remind yourself that you WILL get used to it and try to keep scheduling things on your time that you enjoy (even if it feels like you no longer have any of “your time”). Letting your life be all work will definitely make it worse, but it’s easier said than done!

      Reply
      1. Ollie

        I definitely need to set an alarm to remind me to get off the computer by a certain time or something. It’s really easy for me to get on the computer, intending to stay on for 10 or 15 minutes, and then not realize 2 hours have passed.

        Reply
    3. Sascha

      I would start adjusting your sleep schedule to something more like 10pm-6am. If you end up working in an office, drink LOTS of water and stay hydrated. Office air is horribly, horribly dry.

      Realize that you will be super tired for a while, and that’s okay. I got freaked out by how tired I was, and it caused a lot of anxiety and I thought I wouldn’t make it, but my husband lovingly reminded me that 1) everyone is tired, all the time 2) it’s okay to be tired, and you’ll get used to it. That sounds sort of defeatist but when I accepted the fact that I would be tired, it made it much easier to handle. And you do get less tired after a while. :)

      Reply
      1. Ollie

        Oh! Good point about drinking water. I think being dehydrated also contributes to tiredness?

        Accepting the idea that I’ll be tired and that it’s normal sounds like a good idea. :]

        I remember being tired a lot during college/grad school, so hopefully the new tiredness of a full time job won’t be too different than that.

        Reply
    4. Samantha

      Definitely fix your sleep schedule first. If you’re going to be working a job with an 8 or 9 start time, slowly start going to bed and getting up earlier until you’re at a point where you’re able to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep and still be up and ready to go in order to get to work on time.

      If you have a desk job, as many here have said, 8 hours in your chair can be tiring. I exercise at least three times a week and I find that it gives me more energy to get through the day.

      There will be an adjustment period for you just like anyone else, but I think making these changes might make it a little easier for you.

      Reply
      1. Xand

        I have a sleep disorder and am a real night owl. Without a schedule of outside commitments, no amount of sleep hygiene will keep me from slipping into pattern. If you have a good few weeks to experiment, perhaps try staying up LATER and later, until you eventually reach the desired goal. It took me almost a week to do this, but the results lasted for almost a month. Obviously it’s not the easiest plan to test, but if you have nothing to lose…

        Reply
        1. Ollie

          I’m exactly like that–without outside commitments I quickly slip into a pattern of going to bed late and getting up late. Have trouble going to bed early even when I get up very early and didn’t get much sleep. I don’t have a diagnosed sleep disorder, but I often wonder if I have delayed sleep phase disorder.

          I’ve always wanted to try the staying up later and later thing (or just spend the next day awake like Rana suggested below). I would totally do it, but I have interviews lined up for next week so I can’t chance screwing myself up more at the moment.

          Reply
          1. Marie

            I also slip naturally later and later. If I HAVE to sleep way earlier than normal (like for an interview the next day), I take melatonin. Swallow a tablet 20 minutes for bed, then sit up in bed with the lights dimmed and read a book (nothing with a glowy screen though). At the end of the 20 minutes, you won’t necessarily feel tired, but if you turn out the lights and lie down, you will sleep almost instantly.

            It’s dangerous to do every day, by the way, or your body will stop producing as much natural melatonin. But for once-offs, I have found it amazingly effective.

            Reply
    5. GL

      Find out what the laws in your state are regarding workday breaks, and be sure to take every minute you’re entitled to. You can also get up from your desk for bathroom and to get water. Have something at your desk you can play with (squishy ball, etc.) while you think over things. And of course, get on a better sleep schedule :o) If you’re one of those people who have to go to bed late, try taking a nap after work. Work in exercise somewhere in your day (wherever it fits best–for some people it’s before work, some after, some spend their lunch break taking a walk, etc.)

      Reply
    6. Sunflower

      You will pop out of it sooner than you think. I used to do that in college and my first job I had to be up at 6:15 and I transitioned into it a lot sooner than I thought. But be prepared to see your body adjusting to that and find yourself self waking up around 9am on the weekends(which is actually a change I secretly love)

      I also advise to stop drinking caffeine after around 3pm. If I have it after that, it tends to keep me up later than I want to be.

      Reply
      1. Lizard

        For me, it’s been over 6 years, and I still can’t make myself go to bed early. And I’m still late to work most days. Luckily, my boss doesn’t seem to mind. And I do make up that time and more at the end of the day.

        Reply
        1. Anon for this

          If you do nothing else this year, learn how to go to bed early and be. on. time. to. work. It may seem like a super hassle now, but you’ll be saving yourself all kinds of grief and stress later in life.

          Reply
    7. Rana

      Re: the sleep schedule – sometimes it’s easier to just spend the next day awake and restart your sleeping that way, than it is to try going to bed earlier and lying there awake, not sleeping. The day you stay up will suck, but it’s a pretty decent reset.

      Reply
    8. Marie

      Also: quit coffee a few days before starting work (at least 3 days before – it takes some days to work its way out of your system, and you do not want to be bad-tempered still when you start work). Then, when you start work, drink it only in the afternoons when you hit slump time. This should tide you over the worst of it. For some reason, coffee has far more effect on me if I don’t need it to wake up, even if I drink it regularly in the afternoon.

      Reply
  41. Jubilance

    I learned this in my first internship – that there isn’t an “answer guide” to work questions, especially in a corporate research lab. The whole point was to try things so that we could learn & understand. I remember the first time I completed my synthesis sequence and showed my boss my analysis results. I asked him if it was right and he shrugged & I was blown away. I always expected there was a right and a wrong because that’s all I knew from school.

    The science folks may appreciate this one – in grad school we were constantly told that we needed to learn how to interpret spectroscopy results on our own to prepare us for the real world in a corporate lab. In my first job, I ran an IR spectrum and was all set to pull out my reference books to interpret it, when my labmate showed me how to use the spectral library to identify my compound. My mind was blown – I couldn’t believe there was software that could do this stuff for us & that my school had lied to me! That night I called up all my friends still in grad school and shared that tidbit with them.

    Reply
    1. Sunflower

      +1000 about ‘no answer guide’. I think the hardest transition from college to the real world is dealing with that- in all aspects of life. You slowly start to learn that there isn’t a right/wrong or black and white answer to everything and for me that’s something I’m struggling a lot with

      Reply
      1. Zelos

        Really? I hated mass specs more. All those pieces fragmented in a thousand different ways and you’d see ONE small blip that was your target mass and hoping against hope that it was your product and not just some random background noise. Or finding a bigger blip that’s higher or lower and trying to divine out what kind of fragmentation pattern or addition of particles might cause that blip.

        I miss chem a lot, but I don’t miss that aspect of trying to divine out the results of your magic soup in the flask.

        Reply
  42. Felicia

    You never had to call old people by their first names before working? I was expected to call my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends by their first name growing up, because they told me to. And then in university we were expected to call all professors by their first name, which seemed to be fairly common in university. If you called your professor by Professor so and so, they would usually correct you with their first name

    Definitely how long and tiring 8 hours actually is was surprising for me.

    Reply
    1. Anne

      So was I. But I mostly went to Quaker schools, which usually make a point of having teachers called by their first names. (And being Quaker we did the same thing at home.) It always seemed really cool to me to “get” to call people Ms. So-and-so.

      Reply
    2. Diet Coke Addict

      I was certainly not ever expected to call friends’ parents or ESPECIALLY parents’ friends by their first names. Not ever. And I am only 25. In university, some professors didn’t care, some were sticklers for “Dr. X,” and some would correct you to go by their first names.

      Occasionally it would be “Miss Firstname” or “Mister Firstname” for a close friend or neighbour (“Miss Sue” lived two doors down, and was married with kids), but never first names alone.

      Reply
      1. Karowen

        I think that depends on where you’re from. I’m from NJ and all of my parents’ friends are known by their first names only. Now that I live in SC I still call everyone by first name but feel weird because everyone else calls the building manager Mr. Bill instead of Bill.

        Reply
          1. Jamie

            Midwest – and me too. Every adult had a title and those who were close enough family friends where Mr./Mrs./Ms. etc was too formal because dutch aunts and uncles.

            It wouldn’t have occurred to me as a kid to call an FOP by their first name. That said, I always introduced myself to my kids friends by my first name. I just never cared that much.

            Reply
      2. Judy

        Data point: Midwest childhood, graduated high school in the mid-80s. We never called an adult by their first name, either it was Mr. X, Mrs X, Miss X. Sometimes with my parents friends it was Aunt/Uncle Firstname, and some neighbors were Miss/Mr Firstname. I think the first adult I called by firstname was a Jr High Sunday school teacher, and probably during high school the Sunday school teachers and youth directors. But school? No way.

        Reply
      3. Rana

        When I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s, it was definitely Mr. and Mrs. Whatever for almost all adults. One of my friends’ parents were a bit of hippies, and insisted that we call them by their first names, and most of us kids thought that was weird. (And this was in California, for another data point.)

        Reply
      4. Dani

        Same here (grew up in AZ). It didn’t matter how much the other adult insisted, we were not allowed to use first names ever. Even when I was in college, my parents introduced themselves to my friends as “Mr. and Mrs. Lastname.”

        Personally, I plan to teach my kids to use Mr./Mrs./Ms., unless the adult asks them to use his or her first name. In that case, I think it’s polite to call people by the name they prefer.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          My dad was in the military. My parents are from the upper Midwest. It was always Mr and Mrs, except for very close family friends, who became Aunt Nina and Uncle Fritz.

          Now, I will call my mom’s friends by their first names, but the parents of my friends are Mr and Mrs until I am invited to call them by their first names.

          Reply
    3. Mints

      This is something I continually struggle with. Especially because my family speaks a language with a formal “you” but as a kid, I barely used it so I feel award about it like 95% of the time. When someone says “Please call me (first name)” I’m like Oh thank God. What usually happens is I’ll use first names and then panic and wonder if I should have gone Mr/Ms instead

      Reply
    4. Liz in a library

      As a southerner…I don’t think that I ever really referred to any adults by their first names until college. Growing up, very few people were Mr Jones as we weren’t that formal, but almost all were Aunt Vicki or Mr Dan.

      Reply
      1. Felicia

        Another thing that happens in the South that isn’t the norm in other places is the use of sir or ma’am for all adults rather than just people you don’t actually know the name of.

        I am from Toronto, and if I had tried to call a friend of my parents, or the parent of one of my friends by Mr. X, or used anything other than their first name, they would have thought it was a little weird, or I had especially strict parents. In university if you were older than first year and called professors by anything other than your first name, people would also find that weird

        Reply
        1. Felicia

          Generally the only friends of mine that tried to address my parents by Mr and Mrs had grown up in other countries where this was the norm

          Reply
    5. TheSnarkyB

      I’m not sure if anyone has said this, but in my experience, callin older people/friend’s parents/etc by their first names is largely a white people thing. And I say this as a person of color who was raised using first names. (All of my black friends thing I’m weird.) I’m also encountering this working in an environment where most people are people of color and are considerably older than I am and first names are not how it’s done (but they don’t call me by my first name either- it’s fair across the board).

      I actually think this is another one of those things that prepares young white people (vs young non-white people) better for the work world. It’s possible that that’s why it’s done. But it does affect discrepancies/experience of culture shock.

      Reply
      1. TheSnarkyB

        (It’s also regional- so white people from the South don’t jump on me about forgetting that The South is the Homeland of Manners! :) I like to think you all balance out the rude rest of the country (Midwest excluded)

        Reply
  43. badger_doc

    I was most surprised at how fast my paychecks went. In college, I remember living off of $10k per year. That covered rent, food, books, gas, insurance and some tuition. Now I make way more than that and I feel like I have no money at the end of the month! Between a 401k and IRA, buying a house, car, and all the other monthly things going out the door (cable, internet, gas, electric, water…) I have nothing left for fun! That was the huge shocker…

    Reply
    1. Lindsay

      I was gonna post this! I used to think that 30k was an amazing sum of money, and holy crap it doesn’t cover anything at all. It’s so disappointing to have a “real” job with benefits and a salary and have less time AND less money for fun outside of work.

      Reply
  44. Jessica

    How wasteful businesses and organizations are, enviromentally speaking. Private individuals can recycle to their heart’s content but it’s just a droop in the bucket compared to all the waste companies create. It’s depressing.

    Reply
    1. Z

      Yes, my old boss used to print out emails, and a co-worker joked that she could see the trees dying in my eyes every time it happened.

      Reply
      1. Catzie

        This still shocks me. At my OldJob, they were really big into recycling and reducing waste. At my NewJob (which overall is leaps and bounds better than OldJob), everyone is so wasteful! And granted, we are in a paperwork heavy industry, but I wish people would at least make an effort not to print so much.

        Reply
      2. The Other Dawn

        UGH I had a coworker that would print emails all the time. I would send him an email with some questions. He would print it out and bring it to me saying he got my email and would then answer the questions and leave the printed email on my desk. I hated that! So wasteful.

        Reply
      3. Parfait

        I had a boss in the 90s who wanted me to print out web pages and file them in the cabinet. I managed to talk him out of this.

        Reply
  45. TheExchequer

    That stickering things and alphabetizing them without singing the song would be, so far, my most valuable abilities and that nobody puts either in a job description.

    That going to the same place day after day, even if it’s a good place, can sometimes get depressing.

    That having a 40 hour work week means you can’t do other stuff your unemployed/underemployed friends are doing.

    And then there was the business that bounced my paychecks, but I’m pretty sure that was an anomaly. :P

    Reply
      1. TheExchequer

        I confess, I have oft been tempted to put an alphabet strip up on the filing cabinet because others don’t seem to know which letters go where. (I suspect they mostly don’t care, so the alphabet strip would be fairly useless).

        Reply
  46. J

    How unreasonable and unprofessional a lot of people are.
    After a couple of years, it still baffles and frustrates me when the people (mostly lawyers) that I work with can’t be bothered to return emails or phone calls, get furious at me when they don’t have some piece of information (that I invariably have sent to them no fewer than three times already), and casually ruin my day by not following through on a commitment they made because they just forgot, without the slightest indication that they’re sorry about it.
    Obviously not everyone is like that – some of them write back within minutes, read everything I send them, and are mortified if they need to be five minutes late. But I would have expected the ratio to be much more in favor of the well-organized and polite people than it is.

    Reply
  47. Purr purr purr

    I was shocked that I was answerable to someone else. It sounds weird because it’s so obvious but knowing it and actually living it are two different things. All through education, I was answerable only to myself and if I slacked, I was the only person that suffered. Not so in the work world – colleagues suffer, the managers suffer, the business suffers, and your own reputation suffers. (I should arrogantly add that my slacking is some people’s idea of working hard!)

    Reply
  48. A Jane

    How to manage UP! As an office intern, life was pretty easy for me — always had something assigned, people were really nice and made themselves available. Definitely a 180 when I became a full-time employee. Suddenly, people weren’t as available.

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Yes, this. Also, that managing up was part of my job, not a nice-to-have. For example, if my boss gave me a piece of work that a client wanted by a certain time, and then didn’t get around to checking it before the client’s deadline, it was part of my job to follow up.

      Reply
  49. TBoT

    I was completely surprised that being an overachiever was simultaneously a huge hindrance and not enough to get a job. I was an exceptional student and had really excelled in college, and even though I’d gotten some work experience and had great references, it took months and months to get my foot in the door anywhere. And then once I WAS in the door, I was unchallenged and frustrated by the types of work companies would hire me for because I was so used to being pushed and challenged.

    I was also used to being surrounded by hyper-motivated high-achievers, and I was completely surprised to learn how annoying that could be to a manager and how many of my peers were more oriented toward doing a baseline of acceptable work.

    One of the things I have loved most about being a hiring manager has been hiring exceptionally motivated, high-achieving new college grads for jobs that had a high degree of challenge and autonomy. After that experience I felt like I was a magical wish-granting job fairy.

    Reply
    1. Name

      same. it took me a long time to learn to change my pace and stop working so fast and hard. really baffling that people prefer i slack than want to get the most things done during my shift.

      Reply
      1. the_scientist

        This is a HUGE adjustment for me. I’m still working in research, so I’m more challenged than I was elsewhere, but still feel like I’m not being challenged enough.

        And the working too fast thing? As a student, I did a co-op term at a huge biotech company. They didn’t *really* have enough work for another full-time tech, so I would often finish most of my daily tasks by about noon, and when I would be a diligent employee and ask for more things to do, nobody could give me any! I literally could have napped under my lab bench for two hours a day. I fairly cried with happiness on my last day at that job.

        Reply
    2. kbeers0su

      And if you’re an overachiever, sometimes that works against you. Your supervisors see that you’re willing to work hard, put in the extra time, make sure it’s done right the first time, etc. So you end up doing more work than your counterparts. And, yes, this should come back when it comes to raises and promotions, but if you’re in an organization (like me) where raises and promotions really don’t exist…what then?

      Reply
    3. Xand

      “I was also used to being surrounded by hyper-motivated high-achievers, and I was completely surprised to learn how annoying that could be to a manager and how many of my peers were more oriented toward doing a baseline of acceptable work.”

      Sometimes I feel like I have a catch-22 because I’m not a high achiever academically, but in part because I was so focused on my extracurriculars and jobs. So I feel like I can’t compete for those jobs. In blue-collar work I find that the hustle is appreciated. But my internship was shocking. I couldn’t believe how hard people resisted against any new ideas or projects and just wanted to watch the clock for $75K a year. I definitely struggled with having to aim low.

      Reply
  50. Mel

    In my first few jobs I got antsy after the three or four month mark, because I was used to switching to a completely different set of responsibilities and people every semester. Being in the same place doing mostly the same sorts of things for years at a time took some getting used to. (And I still don’t like it as much.)

    I’ve also been shocked by the number of bad bosses out there. Is a 60% jerk rate about on par with other people’s experiences?

    Reply
    1. thenoiseinspace

      Mine is higher, but I have a theory that lower-level jobs have a higher jerk and weirdo rate. For example, my part-time work as a hostess (my boss complained that I used too much conditioner on my hair) or starting off as a freelancer (a lady wanted me to design her animal charity’s website and was insistent that it have a page for Elvis. I thought it might have been a “Hound Dog” reference. It wasn’t.) But once I broke through to more professional jobs, that rate went down.

      Reply
    2. Chrissi

      I was also surprised that I couldn’t learn every nuance of the job in 3 to 4 months (like a semester). That you spend years building the skills you need for some jobs. Every new hire we’ve ever had straight out of college definitely seems like that as well – they’re used to learning quickly and then moving on rather than refining skills over the long haul.

      Reply
      1. Mel

        Yes, it’s definitely a different mindset. College focuses almost exclusively on being able to perform specific skills, and often misses the point that those skills are merely your toolkit for the workplace, not your actual job.

        Reply
  51. Zelos

    That HR wasn’t for the benefit of the workers, but for the company. (Although purposes sometimes do align.)

    That you should be friendly with colleagues, but not friends.

    That my fantastic work output didn’t make a lick of difference if management thought I was slacking.

    Reply
    1. Katieinthemountains

      Yeahhhhh, that last one. Here’s an actual quote from an early performance review:
      “Sometimes I feel like you’re leaving just because it’s five.”
      Pause. “Would it make a difference if you knew I usually don’t take lunch, so at five I’ve been here an hour longer than everyone else?”
      “No.”
      Well alrighty then, boss man.

      Reply
      1. louise

        Ack, yes! When I was hired, I was told the start time and end time was flexible. So I came in on the late end of the start time (because the person training me did, too~so why would I come before the trainer?) but once I was into something, I didn’t want to stop for an hour. And at the end of the day, I didn’t want to leave until I was at a good stopping place. So, a 9-6 day with only 15 minutes for lunch netted me 8.75 hours. But then I started getting emails that I had to be there at 8 no matter what. That’s when I started taking a full hour, right down to the minute, and leaving no later than 5:05. The flexible start and end time was the ONE perk that made that job worth it. If you tell me one thing to get me to leave a cushy job and then change it a couple months in, you no longer get the “above and beyond” me.

        Reply
  52. sapphire

    How much TV had spoiled me.

    In the TV world, people get up at 8 for a 9:00 job. They wear nice clothes (which in retrospect are totally inappropriate for the office), go out to lunch every day, leave at 5:00 on the nose, and have personal lives. They get raises, Christmas bonuses, and all the admins get flowers and candy on secretary’s day.

    In the real world? None of those things are true or even realistic. Eight-hour days take eleven hours of your time, restaurant lunches are expensive, no drycleaner in the world can get copier toner out of a cream-colored suit… and so on and so on.

    Reply
      1. Chocolate Teapot

        I got a bouquet on Secretary’s Day at a previous job.

        It was very nice, but it still didn’t make up for the hassle I got the other 364 days of the year.

        Reply
      2. CollegeAdmin

        Hey, they were (illegally) subletting it from Monica’s grandmother – rent controlled! :)

        God, I miss that show.

        Reply
        1. Aunt Vixen

          What killed me about that living situation was not so much that they had nine hundred or so square feet in the Village on their measly wages, because, as you say, rent control – it was that when the girls lost the bet and had to swap apartments with the boys, the six of them could pack and move two apartments’ worth of stuff in a single afternoon. As a veteran of many moves, I call SHENANIGANS.

          Reply
          1. Collarbone High

            And then they doubled down on those shenanigans, with the three women moving everything back while the guys were at a game. EVERYTHING — they even rehung all the pictures! In a few hours!

            Reply
          2. Collarbone High

            It’s funny you would mention this, because that episode was on a few days ago so I was JUST thinking about how much time the production crew must have spent moving the sets –twice — and how it would have required extensive photo-taking to make sure they got everything back in the right spot.

            (And I was assuming in my last post that Phoebe helped, but maybe not, because she had one of my favorite lines ever when Ross moved and she said, “I wish I could help, but I don’t want to.”)

            I’m guessing when the crew got the script for the second swap, they must have all thought “Are you freaking kidding me with this? Again?”

            Reply
    1. Bunny Manders

      This is so true! I was surprised to find that an eight hour work day also might require an hour of unpaid break and an hour to commute, plus any time you spend making yourself look presentable in the morning and preparing lunch for the next day. And this is just the bare minimum to get through the workday; actually showing up in TV-perfect makeup and clothes would take even more time.

      Reply
  53. Sarah

    Perhaps the greatest surprise I encountered early in my career was the misconception that higher roles/titles/pay grades do not correlate to the amount of daily work or knowledge an individual has. Some of the laziest, slowest, non-thinkers I’ve met are in executive or high-level positions.

    Reply
  54. Ann Furthermore

    Here’s what my 16 year old daughter learned after getting her first paycheck last summer:

    “Hey, if I make $10 an hour, and I worked 15 hours, why isn’t my check for $150?”

    And it was then that we taught her all about the tax man.

    Reply
    1. hilde

      I love it. I’m a big believer in teens working and learning some of these lessons early. Bonus points for awesome parents that take time to teach them about the real world.

      Reply
  55. Z

    I was surprised when I learned that my boss didn’t have a college degree. I’m over it now, but at the time, I felt like my parents and teachers had all lied to me growing up. “How did this woman get to be a boss without completing college?”

    I was surprised to figure out that I didn’t have to run to the bathroom and back to take as little time away from my desk as possible.

    I was surprised that 8 hours of “work” can include things like surfing the internet or chatting with co-workers at times. Your bosses understand that you’re not super-busy every single day. (In school, there would never be a class period where you didn’t have something to do. If there were, why would you even have the class?)

    I was surprised that you had to get approval for overtime in advance. I thought that I would just stay as late as needed to get my work done, and when I told my supervisor about it later, they’d pay the overtime. Um, they don’t like that.

    I was surprised that business travel actually means flying coach like normal people. Unlike in the movies, in the real world, most companies don’t pay for you to fly first or business class.

    I was surprised by how different a boss/employee relationship is than a professor/student one.

    I was surprised that, at least at times, answering clients’ questions can mean less problem-solving (“This is what I think is best to do”) and more reporting on established policy (“This is what our company says to do”).

    And yes, yes, I was surprised that sitting at a desk all day for five days in a row can make you absolutely dead tired by Friday evening.

    Reply
    1. Judy

      There was a time that the companies I have worked for would pay for business class for intercontinental flights. But for quite a few years now, they’ve either paid for only economy, or have rules like, on your third intercontinental trip of the calendar year, we will pay for business class. The new “economy plus” seating is being paid for by my current company. It’s just like economy except you get 3 more inches front to back between seats. I think it’s like another $100 to the flight segment.

      I flew back from Europe about 2 years ago in the same row as my director.

      Reply
  56. ClaireS

    I just had another rude reminder of how exhausting an 8 hour day can be. I’m 5 years into my career but I was recently promoted. I love my new job but sometimes it hurts my brain. It takes a lot of energy to think so hard. :)

    Reply
  57. Anonymous

    I was surprised that work was so tiring as well. I was also surprised how the world runs from 9-5. also how mean and cruel people are

    Reply
  58. Nonprofit Office Manager

    I was surprised that I don’t actually enjoy doing creative work as my job. As a creative writing major, I thought that working at a strategic communications firm would be fun and interesting, even though it didn’t involve writing poetry. I quickly learned, though, that while the work was interesting, the client aspect sucked all the fun out of it. Late nights. Constantly changing deadlines. Unreasonable clients. The realization that traveling for work actually sucks. Watching the partner of the firm schedule things like “tuck [daughter's name] into bed” into her calendar. After about a year, I realized that I’d rather do “boring” work and live a sane life, than do fun/creative work yet be constantly at the mercy of the all-mighty client.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      I feel exactly the same way. I love doing graphic design as a hobby, but when I tried to make it my career, all the joy and creativity got sucked away. I’m now a database analyst and I love it. I unleash my artistic creativity at home with other hobbies, and I use my problem solving creativity at work, so my brain is happy. Most of the time. :)

      My current manager puts things like that on his calendar! Drives me crazy. Do people really need calendar reminders for that?

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        No. It’s to keep other people from scheduling over them. In my previous job, I had 11:30 to 1:30 blocked every day so I could go to the noon step or spin class at the Y across the street. I wasn’t gone for two hours every day, but I wanted not to have meetings right before or right after the gym.

        I just found out that the former admin (who was always nice to my face) told the other people in the office that I shouldn’t be taking a two-hour lunch and that she deliberately scheduled meetings with my boss and me to start at 1:00 or run until noon so I wouldn’t be able to attend the class.

        Reply
    2. Nonprofit Office Manager

      Also: A lot of people here are mentioning how tiring an 8 hour day is, but for me, the general unrelenting nature of work is more difficult to cope with. Working week after week, month after month, year after year, is what kills me. I wish work operated on a punch card system: work 3 years, get paid for 1 year free!

      Reply
      1. louise

        In fact, I have to elaborate on this: one afternoon I was SO overwhelmed and several co-workers from another department were ready to leave and realized I was sort of panicking. One of them came over and said, “Just head out. It’ll all be there tomorrow.” I burst into tears and said “That’s the problem! It NEVER GOES AWAY!!” Yeah, not too long after that I got medical help. Turns out depression and anxiety can actually make work more overwhelming than it needs to be. :)

        Reply
        1. Goofy Posture

          I’m pretty sure I’ve done exactly this too (maybe with the convo just in my head instead of with coworkers). Also agree about depression and anxiety making it so much more than it needs to be!

          Reply
      2. Collarbone High

        This should be implemented immediately. Worldwide.

        I’m turning 40 this year, and I realized I’ve been working full-time for 25 years and I’M ONLY HALFWAY DONE. I have another 25 to go. At least. It’s sometimes too depressing to contemplate.

        Reply
  59. Joey

    1. How impressed people were with what I considered pretty basic technology/excel/word skills.

    2. How people who worked so slow and with so few computer skills could survive in their careers.

    3. How appearances mattered more than actual performance.

    4. How people had the money to eat out every day.

    5. How small my paycheck seemed.

    Reply
    1. AnotherAlison

      #2 surprises me NOW, 15 years in. My first jobs were all engineering, and yes, there was the occasional not-going-to-use-the-software-when-I-can-do-it-by-hand guy back then, but now I work with several non-engineering folks who can barely turn on the computer and write an email.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        This is one thing I recommend to everyone – a basic stat class. It’s the easiest way for people to think you’re a genius.

        Oh – and accounting. I can’t think of one position in my office where those two things wouldn’t be a huge benefit.

        Reply
        1. Marie

          Even just basic arithmetic skills seem to surprise people. And the ability to learn to use new computer programs. I find it really odd, specially because I consider those the easy/fun parts of my day.

          Reply
    2. HR lady

      My husband goes out to lunch every day, and goes out for (cheaper than Starbucks) coffee every day. Even though I earn more than he does, it still surprises me that he spends that kind of money every day. (And the calories! But that’s a different story…)

      Also, this reminds me that, in my first job, it surprised me that women in entry-level positions would get fake nails from a salon and update them every week (I don’t even know what the right word is! Update?). I grew up in a single-parent household where we always struggled to make ends meet (and sometimes didn’t). It was shocking to me that people could spend so much money on such a “luxury.”

      Reply
      1. Marie

        Absolutely. Coming from a family where both parents were teachers, I considered myself well-paid right from my first entry-level professional job, and have always saved 20%, avoided debt, stayed in the cheapest livable place I could find, stayed away from the fancy clothes shops and fancy cars, more on principle than need. 4 years later I have a nice cushion of savings and almost no disaster knocks me flat. It still shocks me when I hear colleagues complain about being underpaid now that we earn nearly double what we did as entry-level people. Especially when I then see them drive off in a BMW.

        Reply
    3. Anonymous

      #3 – This may not be what you meant, but I definitely struggled with suddenly having to do my hair and makeup EVERY DAY in order to seem professional. At my college, people not only didn’t care if you showed up in sweatpants, you were actually seen as vapid if you put much effort into your appearance for day-to-day classes (parties, of course, were another matter). So having to get up an extra 45 minutes early so I could curl my hair and put on foundation/mascara/lipstick took awhile to get used to and I still sort of resent it.

      Reply
    4. Anoners

      2. UGH YES! I was shadowing a librarian at my work before he retired (I was in another department), and his idea of teaching me his job was showing me how to attach a file to an e-mail. Not the simple drag and drop, but going to file, to attach, etc. Even the long way should have take like 30 sec, but it just went on and on. At the end I wanted to be like I KNOW HOW TO ATTACH A FILE UGHHRHHG.

      Reply
  60. Anon 2

    I was shocked to find:
    - VP jobs are hard to come by. I held lots of them in college clubs, but couldn’t find a job as a VP right after undergrad. Shocking, huh?!
    - How much free time I had. After years of working 30 hrs a week, volunteering, and taking 12 credits, I had to learn how to live life.
    - How many people have a “that’s not my job” mentality. Just do it!

    Reply
  61. octopodey

    My first boss at my first real job expected me to know how to fold letters properly to fit into envelopes and seemed surprised that I didn’t. They didn’t teach that in my computer science classes! It’s been ten years and I still only get it right on the first try 2/3 of the time. Every time I tri-fold anything to mail, I think of him.

    Not getting feedback as regularly as in school was very hard for me, as I’m the Lisa Simpson type.

    Reply
    1. Emma

      A simple trick from my envelope-stuffing days: open the envelope address-side down, lift the flap a bit and stick your piece of paper into the flap (like the envelope is nomming the paper OR the paper is wearing the envelope as a hat). Create your tri-fold by folding the paper back up until it meets the bottom of the envelope (which is about two-thirds back up the page). Voila!

      From the annals of Tips and Tricks You Never Wanted to Know About Grunt Work.

      Reply
  62. Sabrina

    I think I was most surprised when an adult didn’t come up to me and tell me to quit faking it and get back to school. Sometimes I still wonder why that doesn’t happen.

    Reply
  63. Sascha

    I thought of another one. I’m surprised by how important commute time is to me. I’m down to about a 15 minute, non-highway commute now and I’m loving it so much, it’s a big draw to stay at my job. I live in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex, so not having to get on highways during rush hour is glorious. I think I was more exhausted working part time where my commute was regularly an hour-an hour 15 min, and having to budget that extra hour or so into my day, than I am now working 40+ hours a week. Commuting can be so draining.

    Reply
    1. Samantha

      Another DFW resident here, and I completely agree. My commute is great, and it’s definitely a factor in staying at my current job. On days I have to travel further for work, it really makes me appreciate how short and stress-free my regular commute is!

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        We’re actually considering losing money in selling our house just for the sake of a shorter commute! When we bought, I thought I could handle it because I’m from a rural area and was used to driving a good distance for everything, but it’s getting to be too much to handle. The old commute was fairly long and I was handling that okay, but I’m in the “megacommuter” category now and really regret my decision!

        Reply
      2. Collarbone High

        *Waves to fellow DFWers*

        I work and live near downtown, and every time I have to go to the ‘burbs, I feel terrible for all my colleagues who commute every day from places like Richardson or even Fort Worth. They all think I pay way too much for my apartment, and I probably do, but it’s worth it to me not to spend three hours a day in traffic.

        Reply
    2. Kim

      This! The cumulative effect of a long commute is much worse than just the literal minutes you’re wasting in the car. It creates so much stress and really messes up your non-work life.

      Reply
    3. wanderlust

      I live in DFW too, and if your commute is that awesome, I have to say – DON’T EVER MOVE. I changed jobs this year and my manageable 25 minute commute became an hour or worse – traffic is horrible and when I calculated the amount of time I spent awake, not at work, and not driving, I just wanted to cry. Commuting sucks my soul away far more than anything I’ve ever been asked to do at work. I cannot wait until my lease is up so we can move closer to my job, and the only thing I hate worse than commuting is moving.

      Reply
      1. Sascha

        I am very fortunate in that I have a short commute and I work from home 3 days a week. A huge reason why I’ve put up with crappy pay and a ridiculous manager for so long.

        Reply
    4. Rachel

      I had 2 competing offers last time I was job searching. I took the one with less $ because it was 3 blocks from my house! The incredible impact less commute is so evident in many areas: personal health, gas costs, time with the kids, better marriage, even better work since a snow day doesn’t keep me from essential tasks.

      Reply
  64. Anonymous

    I can’t help but think that this is related to our earlier discussion on class and upbringing, and how it affects your later work experiences.

    I know this is going to sound cynical, bitter, and pity party-ish, but very few of the things mentioned here surprised me. I started working really young, and was over 40 hours by the time I was in college. In those early jobs, it didn’t surprise me that many co-workers were lazy, dishonest, and/or incompetent . It didn’t surprise me that labor laws and safety laws were ignored. It didn’t surprise me how much tax was taken out of checks. My mother had been complaining about those kinds of things my whole life, so I never expected any sort of fairness, equity, or meritocracy.

    And white collar jobs really didn’t seem that much different. Sure, they were definitely cleaner, but there were still lazy, incompetent co-workers. (If anything, white-collar jobs bureaucracize laziness and incompetence to a whole new level.) There were still companies/managers that were willing and eager to bend the law and treat employees like crap. And there were even more taxes taken out. At least white-collar jobs mean more pay and less work. For the first time I have one job and no school, so I can work *only* 40 hours and then be DONE for the rest of the day.

    Again, I know this must sound incredibly bitter, but I was raised to expect the some pretty awful treatment in the work world.

    Reply
    1. Anonie

      Ditto on all of it. I have been sitting here trying to come up with something that truly surprised me and none of this really did.

      Reply
    2. Chrissi

      I think a lot of us had had jobs before our first “real” job (i.e. post-college), it was just that we expected white collar jobs to be different than what we’d done so far. For me, that’s probably because I mostly worked with teenagers, so it didn’t seem “real”. But it also may be because hearing about something and experiencing it are two very different things. I used to hear my Mom complain about her job (she was treated like absolute crap at multiple jobs), so I have no idea why I thought my job would be different, I just did.

      Reply
    3. Brett

      Yeah, I came from a background where I had to work 50 hours a week while playing on an NCAA team with a full tuition scholarship and still taking out student loans because absolutely no one in my family had a cent to spare on my education.

      That grind was a little too much, and I dropped out, worked fast food full time and temp jobs for 8 years, then transferred to another school and finished.

      My first post-college had no real workplace surprises, other than just how purely sedentary it was compared to all the fast food and temp work that I had done. I gained a -lot- of weight in my first five years :/

      Reply
    4. anon

      My experience was similar, but I was still shocked because my mother led me to believe that a white collar job would be different. She continually told me, “go to college and work hard for four years and spend the rest of your life relaxing or skip college and work hard until you die.” I was really raised to believe that a college degree was an instant ticket to an easy job, so even though I worked all through high school and college, I wasn’t prepared for the white collar work world. (And let’s not even start on how hard it was to find a job. “You have a degree. You just walk in and they give you a job – it’s not that hard.”)

      Reply
      1. KM

        Yes to both of these. I was raised to believe that work was a monster you had to feed to stay alive while it slowly broke you down until you wished you were dead anyway — that completely agreed with my first full-time working class job (which was a real job — man, do I hate it when people say “real jobs” and mean “white collar office jobs” — that’s a topic for another day).

        Neither of my parents went to university, and I didn’t particularly want to go either, but I slogged through the first degree mostly because my mother was telling me all the time how it would rescue me from having to feed the monster. I think she meant well — I think she honestly believed it, because she had been frustrated for so long by the perception that people with degrees were getting promoted to better positions — but it was, not exactly a shock, but a bit of a disappointment to find out that the degree I forced myself to get did absolutely nothing for me. Even when I was really struggling to find work that would pay the bills, my mother was more willing to turn against me than against her idea of what education was supposed to do for you — kept telling me it was my fault, that I wasn’t ambitious enough; should be able to get whatever job I wanted. I guess that made her feel better than believing that we were just trapped.

        When I finally got a white collar office job, yeah, it was A LOT less work for A LOT more money, but that was disheartening, too. Management did different things to exploit us, but it was still exploitation — the difference was that office people were socialized not to voice their frustration as openly and to believe that they were actually cooperating with the people who were trying to take advantage of them — that they would ultimately win respect by going along with it.

        For the first two weeks, I kept laughing about it and telling my friends how it was just like a TV show but, after that, it made me sad.

        Reply
        1. Emma

          +infinity. I think a lot of us whose parents perform blue-collar work fell prey to and perpetuated this notion. It’s a canard that was still going strong back in the mid-00s when I went off to college. When were you guys fed this idea that degree=automatic job=easy street?

          Reply
        2. Not So NewReader

          Sad about your mom. But powerful story about how some people don’t want to be confused by reality. She hung on to the idea that “if only” she had a degree her life would have been better. As we are aware that may or may not be true. There are so many factors that go into how our lives play out. There is no magic bullet.

          Reply
      2. Karen

        That was the biggest shock to me– that a college degree would still mean you got to work food service and retail to make ends meet. That most of my friends were unemployed living with their parents.

        Reply
  65. CTO

    I was surprised at how many people out there are bad at their jobs and still allowed to have them. I didn’t expect to encounter so much mediocre or downright poor performance, and found it really frustrating when management didn’t intervene. (I still find that frustrating, in fact! Management who actually address poor performance and aren’t afraid to let people go when it’s a bad fit always earn a lot of loyalty from me.)

    And, like many people, I was horrified to realize that the working world can have as much drama and pettiness as high school. My first “real” job working around adults (a summer office job during high school) was a hard lesson in that one.

    Reply
    1. Mrs.Beaux-Beaux

      +1
      I was just venting to my boss about how much work I have to do and I can’t seem to catch up. He said to just do my best because my partner is lazy. Smh. I already know why she still had a job too. It’s because the job is too complicated to keep reading new people and be profitable.So it’s easier to just keep the the mediocrity.

      Reply
  66. Ethyl

    This is maybe industry-specific, and may be specific to the particular program I graduated from, but when I started my first environmental remediation job as a geologist fresh out of college, I was shocked at how much there was that wasn’t covered in my schooling — and shocked at how much I was told “you’ll use this all the time as a consultant” about stuff nobody EVER uses in the “real world.” I would much rather have spent less time on learning about hand-calculating K-test curves and more on learning, oh, just for example, what a monitoring well actually LOOKED like and the pros and cons of various sampling techniques (bailer? low flow? peristwhatnow pump?!).

    Aside from that, I was surprised at how much more than minimum wage even an entry-level “professional” salary felt like (mid $30K range). I had been working nearly full time at minimum wage and we were barely getting by. I had no idea what it could feel like not to be constantly worrying about money, bills, food, etc.

    Reply
    1. kbeers0su

      The first one isn’t just your field. Looking back at my graduate program, I would say that most of what I learned in the class hasn’t actually helped me in my work. Luckily I had a graduate assistantship where I was doing part-time what I wanted to do full-time. The experience I got there has been invaluable. But there is still so much that I had to learn later. I feel like everyone should have to take basic courses on things like navigating workplace politics, how to know when your opinion matters vs. when a decision has already been made, how to do your job when your boss is standing in the way, how to interview, supervise, evaluate and fire people, and so much more.

      Reply
      1. Ethyl

        Yeah I get that we don’t always learn stuff about how to work in the real world, but my experience was much more that there were a lot of things taught to me with the assurance that I’d use them every day, and when I got to my first job all the things I was doing day to day weren’t so much as touched on.

        An example: one of the main jobs of an entry-level geologist doing environmental remediation is to oversee the installation of groundwater monitoring wells. Well, my only experience of monitoring wells was as representations on diagrams of entire aquifers — I never even saw a picture of the drill rig used to install them, nor of the actual way they looked in real life. As far as I can tell, this is pretty common for my field, but it does feel a lot like doing the students a disservice. One day of class or maybe a field trip would have made a huge difference.

        Reply
  67. Sunflower

    I was shocked how stuck in old ways companies are. It still surprises me to see how many people know things aren’t working or could be improved but have no interest in even listening to new ideas.

    And +1000 on the gossip. In college, my roommates and I would watch the Real Housewives and feel bad for how sad it was that they were still concerned with dumb, petty stuff at that age. And it’s all the people who have been here for 5+ years that are whispering and talking ish.

    Reply
  68. Mike C.

    I was just shocked at how difficult it was to get my foot in the door. But once I did, everything is going amazingly well.

    Reply
        1. Kelly L.

          I feel pretty much like this too, and there aren’t enough spots high up on the ladder for everyone to climb there. I figure, let the people who like it, do it.

          Reply
      1. Zelos

        Well, this is a thread for things that surprised us, and I thought the same as Joey did. I always figured the workforce would keep on rolling on upwards, people would climb the ladder, etc.

        Reply
        1. Jax

          When you’re coming right out of school, you’ve spent the last 15 years of your life being focused on moving upwards to the next grade level / class level. Even sports are driven to move from reserve to varsity.

          So it is shocking to see people stop climbing and be satisfied where they are. It takes a few years to get out of the school mindset and realize that there is so much more to life than striving for the top rung.

          Reply
        1. HR lady

          I agree with Joey. I assumed everyone wanted to be more intellectually challenged than staying in an entry level job for decades. Now, of course, I know people who do want that, but the theme of the thread is “what surprised you.”

          Reply
      1. De Minimis

        It varies with the work environment…more corporate type jobs I’ve been in have the “up or out” mentality where you don’t get the option of just staying at a lower level job.

        Government tends to be the other way, you have a few ambitious people and then a large number who stay put. Even that probably depends on the agency and the location. Where I work, if people want to move up they would have to be willing to relocate and few want to uproot their lives and families.

        Reply
        1. Judy

          Yes, it just amazes me that corporations don’t see the benefits in engineering of having people be mid to high level individual contributors. “You’re at the highest level we can have an engineer, and you don’t want to be a manager?”

          What is wrong with wanting to have challenging projects with problems to solve forever?

          Reply
      2. Rana

        No, this wouldn’t have surprised me, either. Some of the happiest people at my first job (stockroom clerk at a department store) were people who’d been doing the same thing for decades. I hadn’t thought about it before then (so didn’t have a reason to be surprised) and their attitude influenced how I viewed people in similar situations at subsequent jobs.

        Reply
  69. Katie the Fed

    I found out the hard way that the day after Thanksgiving is not a holiday. I assumed it was because I’d come straight from school and we’d always had that day off, so it never even occurred to me that it wasn’t a holiday.

    I hadn’t requested leave for that day, but I’d made travel plans, and when I saw I was scheduled for that day a week before I was super confused. My boss was PISSED at me and kind of yelled at me for not requesting leave when other people had, and he couldn’t understand that I honestly didn’t realize it was a holiday :(

    Reply
    1. Chrissi

      Yeah, whenever my friends make comments about how many holidays federal employees get, I like to point out the holidays we don’t get that they might – Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, anything to do w/ Easter, floating holiday. I used to collect statistical information on employment benefits and so I have a pretty good feel for how many holidays various companies offer. There are 12 federal holidays and most (good, non-stingy) companies offer 10 or 11.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        When I worked for the Post Office, I often was forced to work during holidays—Christmas was the only exception. I worked graveyard shift in the processing facility and they only let the more senior people off for holidays.

        What I hated was that people on the other two shifts would get the holidays off, but the graveyard people had a larger workload. Also, in the post office world, the night before the actual holiday was considered your holiday if you were on graveyard shift, so Thanksgiving night, Christmas night, etc. were normal workdays.

        Reply
  70. JC

    I envisioned that an adult job meant doing complex tasks all day. And then I find out that a lot of it is to do the little things right, and maybe 20% of the time you do the big strategic, complex stuff (unless you’re the CEO, CFO, and etc.).

    Reply
  71. Mena

    I was SO happy to not be going to school full-time and working part-time (including weekends of work and school work) that working 40 hours a week was an enormously big break. And I had way more money now too! This seemed easy in comparison to my life of previous years.

    Reply
  72. Mike C.

    One other thing: as I progress through my career, I really feel like there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of work I do, and the amount I’m paid.

    Reply
    1. Joey

      Well yes and no. Generally as you progress to get paid more for your knowledge than what you actually do. It’s like the carpenter who charges $500 to fix the squeaky floor and it takes him all of 5 minutes and 1 nail to do it.

      Reply
    2. AnotherAlison

      I feel like inflation & increased expenses (a second kid) ate my raises, and similar to you, I look back at my first year on the job working 7:30-4:00 with no travel & feel like that was a pretty good gig.

      Reply
    3. Marie

      I heard somewhere that you’re paid for ultimate responsibility, not work. So if you’re the secretary and make a bad decision, the consequences are generally not terrible and you keep your job. If you’re the engineer and you make a bad decision, a building could fall on actual humans, and you get sued and lose your job. If you’re the CEO and make a bad enough decision, the whole company could go bust and everyone loses their jobs.

      Reply
  73. Katie the Fed

    I’ll also add that I was genuinely surprised how inept and inefficient much of government is. I guess I assumed that it just looked that way on the outside but on the inside it actually worked really well. No – it’s crazy. If this place were a private corporation it would never fly. It was SHOCKING to me.

    Reply
    1. De Minimis

      I think they operate almost the same way, though….the private sector has more than its share of waste, poorly planned ideas that waste money, etc., especially when you’re looking at bigger companies.

      From my experience, government is more about trying to do more with less–but I’m sure it really varies from agency to agency.

      Reply
    2. Mike C.

      I could tell you the very same thing about the huge company I work for. I really think it’s a factor of size more than anything else.

      Reply
      1. Katie the Fed

        Yeah I probably would have been equally shocked about private sector. It’s kind of like that day when you realize your parents don’t have all the answers. When you realize things somehow function despite being completely messed up – it’s shocking.

        Reply
        1. Chrissi

          Yeah, I was initially surprised at what I thought was laziness when I started, but I’ve transferred to another office/program and now I’m more impressed by how hard everyone works. That’s partially because I’m more senior now, and I realize that appearances can be deceiving, and just because I don’t see someone doing the work doesn’t mean they’re not doing it. But it’s also because the program I work on now is just much more demanding – the old program still has their fair share of slackers.

          Reply
        2. Judy

          I’ve never worked anywhere where I haven’t thought “Wow, look at what we get done. I wonder what we could do if we really had our act together?”

          Reply
  74. Gail L

    The greatest surprise of all: many, many people don’t know what they are doing, don’t know the answer, or just plain don’t know. You don’t magically become all-knowing when you grow up. And all these people run things.

    I know some people really do know things, but I’m still shocked at how badly people can mess up and yet the company still delivers products, gets things done, and the world still turns.

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      I remember the first time I realized I knew more about something than anyone else in the room. That was a scary day.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        This. The first time I was referred to as an expert in a professional capacity.

        Full on Imposter Syndrome hit me like a ton of bricks. I faked it till I made it on that one.

        Reply
  75. Amy

    I underestimated how important it was to be cheerful and smiling. I thought being efficient and working hard would be enough. At my first job at 16 I was an office assistant and one of the managers called me in to the office and reprimanded me for not smiling enough. I felt embarrassed and defensive and said something snotty about how maybe if the managers were nicer it would be easier to smile. He smiled and said, “I understand. But it’s really hard to find nice managers. However, it’s really easy to find nice assistants, so. . .”
    Point taken, and a big smile was plastered on my face every day from then on out. I thought it was stupid at the time, but I wasn’t going to lose my job over it. Now that I’m a manager (in another industry) myself, I understand more that it’s more than just doing the job well, it’s about how you connect with people, and something as silly as a pleasant disposition goes a long way.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      That was incredibly shitty of that manager to do. If your name were Dan instead of Amy, the issue would have never come up.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        Not quite the same, but my *son* is 16 and has been asked to smile more at his job at McDonalds. Repeatedly, actually.

        (Of course, his name isn’t Dan, either, lol.)

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          I think the service industry is different, though, since you’re often expected to be smiling literally your whole shift.

          Reply
        2. Xand

          Dans definitely are subjected to expectations of cheerfulness in customer service positions, but there is also a strong gender component to this.

          I’m a big fan of the “Stop telling women to smile” movement.

          Reply
  76. Katie

    This is mortifying but it was 6 months into my first ever job before I realised that turning up hungover / half cut to work was NOT OK. All my friends were working in bars so they were constantly talking about who was hungover that day and who threw up and all of this. So I figured that was how young people were in the first jobs and I’d grow up later when it actually mattered. My boss always asked if I’d been out but I thought she was just asking to be friendly and interested :-/ At my 6 month review she put me on a PIP and I cried and it was awful but in the 2 years I’ve been working since then I can count on one hand the number of time’s I’ve been out late drinking and had to go to work the next morning. And I managed to keep that job until the end of my contract despite the PIP!
    In fact, speaking of PIPs, I didn’t even realise they were a real world thing until I started reading this site. I had no idea how much trouble I was in. I just wish she’d told me straight out the first time, but she was a brand new manager and she was trying to be friendly. I wonder if she thought I had a drinking problem….

    Reply
    1. Sunflower

      Right out of college, I worked in a bar and my boyfriend had a corporate job that he had been in for over a year. I could never understand why he needed to be home by 10 during the week and I would whine about it. I feel pretty bad/dumb about it looking back now. And I know that I have an office job I understand why happy hour is so popular.

      Reply
    2. AVP

      I’m kind of impressed that it only took you six months to figure that out – it took me 3 years.

      No one ever expressly said anything to me, so when I finally figured that out on my own and got myself together, I was AMAZED at the turnaround and how good I could actually be at my job if I made an effort.

      Reply
      1. AVP

        I think that was actually the most surprising thing to me – I sailed through my rigorous high school and university and internships without ever really being challenged or having to work too hard, with an A- GPA. At the type of work I do, however, an A is the baseline effort and learning how to really work and get ahead was really difficult (but far more rewarding).

        Reply
  77. Sunnysideup

    What surprised me most when I started working was that people didn’t trust me. I was used to being given the benefit of the doubt (if my reputation didn’t precede me – small school) and being trusted to do what I said I would do. It was quite a rude awakening to learn I would have to earn trust in the first place.

    Reply
    1. Anon2

      The opposite for me, I found it weird that people DID trust me so much (not that I gave them reason not to). The supervisor gave me her company credit card to take the intern to lunch (she got caught in a meeting), someone else handed me her credit card to pick up some coffee on my way…

      Reply
      1. AVP

        I know! I routinely hand interns and brand-new assistants my corporate Amex and/or hundreds of dollars in cash to go on runs. They always look so surprised but really, there’s not *that* much damage you can get up to with that amount of money. And I figure if anyone I hire is willing to take $300 and run, it’s worth it to lose the money and the person.

        When I first started, someone handed me $10,000 cash to carry for three blocks. THAT was scary.

        Reply
    2. Chrissi

      Sunnysideup – I was the same. It took me a while to adjust to having to account for my time and whereabouts. The job I do involves travel and your workload is your own – no collaboration – so I thought I could just do my own thing and just turn in the work when it was due. My boss had to have more than one conversation about my level of communication. He would send an email and unless there was a direct question in it, I wouldn’t respond because I didn’t think I needed to. Bright, right?

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        I was the same! Don’t want to clutter up manager’s inbox= not sending what I thought were “unnecessary” emails. Now I know part of it is just acknowledging that you got the email.

        I also lived and breathed “brevity is the name of the game,” when it turns out I had a micromanager. She wanted serious details. I felt slightly insulted at first, that she didn’t trust me. Now I know it wasn’t personal.

        Reply
  78. LMW

    I’d been working at least part time since basically middle school, and when I started my first full-time job, I was surprised by how lonely it was. I worked with lovely, professional people who worked hard and were perfectly pleasant and respectful to one another, but relocating to a new/old area (home, after going to school out of state) after being a student and usually working the types of jobs and internships where you got to be very buddy-buddy with everyone (and most of my friends landing in positions with a lot of other young people starting at the same time – instant friends!), I was really surprised that I didn’t have any friends at work and that making friends as an adult was so much harder.

    Reply
    1. Nikki T

      Yep, I did have a work friend turned real friend, but that has fizzled. So, I don’t have any friends to hang out with and it’s so hard to find and make adult friends.

      Reply
      1. Ali

        I swear you are me! I work from home, so I only talk to work friends on instant messaging. No real in-person connections happening. Meanwhile, my non-work friends are all too busy to hang out. It’s a no-win!

        Reply
  79. Lori

    This may sound entitled, but I didn’t realize that I’d have to answer other people’s phones. My first job was the assistant to the creative department of a NYC ad agency, which basically meant I was a secretary. I had studied copywriting in college, had built a portfolio, and all I remember my professors ever preparing me for was actual copywriting/advertising work. None of them had mentioned the words “admin assistant”. Even when I interned the summer before at a magazine, I wasn’t answering phones – I was putting together press kits and doing more behind the scenes work that, while wasn’t particularly challenging, I still thought was helpful to building my skill set. So, I was in for a big slice of humble pie when I started my first job and realized it entailed answering phones, ordering food, booking flights, etc. After about six months of resentment, I learned to take pride in doing a really good job at it, but I still wish someone (professors, parents) had prepared me for what “starting at the bottom” really meant!

    Reply
    1. Jen S. 2.0

      This too. I didn’t realize that the word ‘assistant” in the job title meant I was signing up for the little tasks that weren’t worth their time to do, or that they could do, but their time wasn’t well spent on it. I was way big for my britches at first and didn’t get it.

      And I’m very nice to admins now. Not that I ever wasn’t, but I have a very healthy respect for people with the patience and attention to detail that job requires.

      Reply
      1. Hunny

        I had something like the opposite. I had an “Associate” position, which made me so proud… Then I had an interview for a “Manager” position and they were surprised with all the responsibilities my “Associate” position had had. So I realized that my proud title might have been communicating something less than the actual work.

        Reply
    2. AVP

      I think in a creative industry, we routinely give the interns the more interesting tasks because they’re not being paid – and it would be worse to not be paid to answer the phone than to work on press kits, which are at least marginally related to their education. So then it’s such a shock when you get that first paid job and it almost seems like a step down in daily tasks!

      Reply
  80. Sunflower

    Something else that shocked me that was more of a college to real world transition was how much money I DIDN’T have. I definitely had more disposable income in college than I have now. I couldn’t wait to get out of college and start making money and be able to buy myself nice things. Turn out now once the bills are paid, I am working with way less than I was in college.

    Reply
    1. Lizard

      Yep, this is the biggest one for me. I have a Master’s degree, so I thought I’d be making decent money if not the big bucks. I racked up a crazy amount of credit card debt thinking I could still afford to buy nice clothes and go on vacation like I could in college.

      Reply
  81. De Minimis

    Two main things…

    Being good at schoolwork did not mean I was going to be good at the work I was being asked to do on the job.

    That the people who supervised/managed me might not necessarily be able to provide any kind of guidance or insight. That one is still pretty tough.

    Reply
    1. Jamie

      That was a painful lesson…although for me it came up in adulthood long before my first job, which was late.

      I can see it in some younger people just starting out now, and it takes me back. If you’re particularly successful academically as a child you do tend to be treated like a special snowflake your whole life – school and family alike. And you realize the real world doesn’t care and there are no tests to boost your self esteem and the world doesn’t group people based on percentiles.

      It can be a rude awakening to realize that you can’t skate on academic achievement and some vague notion of “potential”.

      It’s humbling and really eye opening when you realize that there are a lot of people out there who don’t test as well who have a hell of a lot more skill, knowledge, and ability. Realizing you need to learn from other people and you don’t have all the answers is the key to getting past this painful transition as quickly as possible.

      Reply
      1. Anon

        On the other side of this, I was always a good but not great student (mostly Bs and some As), with no special coddling. But I participated in a few extracurriculars that helped boost my self-confidence (speech team and theater) that I think paid off way more than my $75,000 masters degree. I feel like I’ve proven myself to be personable and a hard-worker in my career and have gotten special privileges because of it, but I NEVER felt that way in school.

        Just goes to show that school bears little to no resemblance to real life!

        Reply
      2. themmases

        I was thinking this same thing reading through these. It was such a big deal to be inherently “smart” in school, to the point that I had teachers who definitely gave me a free pass on stuff like being organized, reliable, or respectful– just for being smart.

        At my job, I probably couldn’t even tell you who is intelligent relative to whom. There are a handful of people whose research is brilliant, but even the people I know not to go to with questions might not be incompetent– they could be lazy or my question could be a low priority for them or I could be totally misunderstanding what they can help me with. But I know all about who is honest, reliable, and organized.

        Reply
        1. Hunny

          This. I remember getting an award for leadership my senior year of high school with nothing to back it up. I was definitely not a club leader, president, etc. I think they’d already awarded all the likely candidates and I had good grades, so I was next in line. Now my company has a much stricter definition of what they’re looking for in a leader.

          Reply
  82. O

    How many people didn’t care about the job, they’d quit after one day or a couple weeks. Would get defensive when given suggestions/corrections on how to do things properly after only a week or two, like they had a better understanding than the people who’d been there longer. They never respected the fact that they were hired or because of their lack of doing the task properly the other shift would get impacted by it…Plus the fact that I managed to get up at 5:30 am to take care of dogs and I didn’t even mind

    Reply
  83. SevenSixOne

    In my first job, there was a woman named Judy who was awful to work with– not at all good at her job, rude and disrespectful to customers and colleagues, appalling hygiene issues, etc etc etc. Any complaints to management about her performance were ignored, and she never faced any disciplinary action beyond a slap on the wrist. I learned that Judy was somehow untouchable because she had been with the company so long and had so many personal tragedies and we just can’t let her go because She’s A Fixture, You Just Don’t Understand.

    I have since learned that there’s a Judy in many organizations, and there’s often not much anyone can do about it.

    Reply
    1. Jen S. 2.0

      My mom tells a horrifying story about the Judy in her office, who they had a hard time firing because of her constant threats of lawsuits.

      My mom FINALLY had enough of a paper trail to let her go, and because Judy was home sick that day — as she was 9 work days out of 10; she made it to work one day per pay period, which was juuuuuuust enough to keep the job — someone took the paperwork to her house, or called her, or had it couriered over, or similar (i.e., my mom didn’t have to do it face to face, and the termination didn’t happen in the office).

      Judy dropped dead about an hour later.

      Reply
        1. Jen S. 2.0

          Yes!!!!! And when she came to work, it was on a walker and in a diaper. She’d make a show of parading through the office, announcing, “I feel pretty good today!”

          I thought maybe she had enough sick leave (city government) that she was clinging to the job for the paycheck. My mom: “Um, no. I saw her last paycheck. It was for $34!”

          Seriously, my mom used her as a case study in a class she was taking for a management certification. Even the professor was like, “Oooo. I hope you find a solution. Good luck with that one.”

          (It’s a teeny bit funny when you’re not the one who has to deal with it. But when she’s your employee…)

          Reply
        1. Marie

          My guess is that the city had a policy that if someone has been on sick leave for an uninterrupted period in excess of however many days, that will be automatic grounds for termination on the basis that they’re incapable of doing the job they were hired for. She made sure that this TECHNICALLY didn’t apply to her, which meant that it wouldn’t be automatic, and nobody felt like doing the paperwork for a non-automatic termination. Only in government.

          Reply
  84. Jen S. 2.0

    My big one was how hard it would be to get things to someone else’s specifications instead of my own.

    I was very used to doing things my way — or the way I had already learned — and having people be pleased with me. When I started working, there was a LOT of “well, that’s not how we do it here,” and how they did it seemed to fly in the face of all logic, or seemed overly complicated, or had a bunch of silly details, or whatever. Then a month later, I’d forget to follow a detail of how they did it (because it was illogical and unnatural to me), and people would be displeased with me.

    Even if my way makes more sense to me, that’s just too bad. When you’re the boss, you can make the rules, but when someone else is the boss, learn how they like it done and do it. Maybe you can inch them toward your way over time, but don’t assume that you can roll in and start changing the rules to what you prefer. There often is a very good reason for the part that makes no sense to you.

    Note that I often get a lot of credit for finding a new, simpler, more logical way to do things. I am often told, “Wow, great idea! I never even thought of doing it that way!” So, sometimes my way IS better… but a lot of times, it doesn’t matter that my way is better.

    Reply
  85. The IT Manager

    I was so clueless and knew it that not a lot of things surprised me.

    I was surprised to realize that living expenses ate up all of my salary so that at the end of the month my account was less than $200. I imagined that my salary was so much money but moving from small college town living with roommates to rather expensive city ate up that “huge” paycheck.

    I was eventually surprised that bereavement leave came out of your regular leave bucket; the bosses just granted it at a moment’s notice.

    Reply
    1. Chrissi

      Or a “What do you wish you’d known before you started working” or “What piece of advice would you give someone starting their first job”.

      Reply
  86. Julie

    I was annoyed but not surprised by the attitude that I had to stay at my desk even if I had no work to do. I’ve always been very efficient, and got myself through grad school with the attitude of, “Once I get everything done on my to-do list for today, I can go do whatever I want.” The idea of sitting at my desk with nothing to do, but not being able to leave, is one that I have still not entirely adjusted to.

    Reply
  87. Jamie

    Shocked at how little of my first tiny check was after taxes. That was a sad day.

    But there was a big awakening on a couple of important points:
    1. I assumed that what I considered a basic level of competence in written and verbal skills was by no means as common as I thought and that even some wildly successful people making multitudes more than I were incapable of composing a grammatically correct sentence. I’ve also learned that it’s not indicative of intelligence – it’s just a skill.
    2. Ditto #1 for basic math. I had no idea knowing how to calculate a weighted average was noteworthy. I know that now.
    3. My assumption that skill and intellect would be the most valued traits and would hold the most leverage was shattered fast, and that scared me because I was late to the workforce and didn’t understand the unspoken politics right away. I also learned I had better people skills than I thought I did.
    4. I thought any employer would want to know when there are serious issues happening and that everyone welcomed transparency. I have since learned only decent employers want to right the wrongs and while ime they outnumber the bad by far…there are some out there who aren’t operating from a place of integrity.
    5. I’ve learned never to trust anyone who refuses to admit they don’t know something. If someone has all the answers all the time I take everything with several hundred grains of salt.
    6. I’ve learned the better you are at your job the more leeway you get …but taking advantage of that still makes you an asshat.
    7. I’ve learned that money isn’t everything and having a work place you love, autonomy, and working for and with people you genuinely like and respect can really complicate what should be simple hops for more dollars. The happier you are the more you have to lose.
    8. I’ve learned that staplers hate me – I go through them like disposable socks at every place I’ve ever worked.
    9. I’ve seen that no matter how good you are at your job if you’re not reliable none of the rest matters.
    10. I’ve learned that if you work your ass off and get a reputation if you need a little help during a medical thing, or work crisis, people will rally and have your back. Building up good will over the years is a real thing and reputation matters.

    Oh – and I’ve learned that I’m happier behind a bank of monitors than I am anywhere else in the world and I have way too much of my personal identity wrapped up in my job…but while I will never become rich or change the world or make a significant mark …I get to solve puzzles and make it easier for good people to do their jobs better. And most days that’s enough – even if I’m not leaving a legacy.

    Most days – other days…not so much.

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      Oh god, this:

      “1. I assumed that what I considered a basic level of competence in written and verbal skills was by no means as common as I thought and that even some wildly successful people making multitudes more than I were incapable of composing a grammatically correct sentence. I’ve also learned that it’s not indicative of intelligence – it’s just a skill.”

      I’m such a grammar snob. I get twitchy on the inside when I see bad grammar or writing. Now that I’ve worked for many intelligent people who are terrible writers, I know that they’re not necessarily linked, but I always thought they were.

      That being said, it was easy to weed out a lot of potential partners on online dating websites because of writing and grammar. My future husband emailed me such a well-written note, I was immediately and helplessly smitten. What can I say? I’m a sucker for good writing.

      Reply
      1. Camellia

        I met my now-husband of ten years in a book store and I told my best friend the next day, “How can I not like a guy who uses the word ‘commiserate’ correctly in a sentence?”

        Reply
  88. Lindsay

    I was surprised that having a college degree doesn’t get you a professional job – it only gets you a job waiting tables. That the American Dream is a giant crock. That even if you make enough money to do fun stuff – you don’t have vacation time to do fun stuff!

    Reply
    1. Jax

      For real.

      I remember a poster on my high school English teacher’s wall that had pictures of a Mercedes, a beach, a mansion, etc. Across the top it said, “WHY COLLEGE?” and at the bottom, “WHY NOT?”

      Only now do I get the joke of a master’s level high school English teacher bringing in a whopping $40,000 per year and driving a beater with THAT on his wall. The older I get the more I realize that bitter old sarcastic man was the best teacher ever.

      Reply
      1. MM

        Absolutely. As kids/teens, we were told that if you have a degree, you’ll get a highpaying job instantly once school finished. When we found out this wasn’t true, we went for the Masters, thinking that would guarantee a job. Still nada, and even more debt. Experience is the key – most employers want that over years of school work.
        Living in Canada, I found this to be especially true about University. If you went to College you were somehow considered “less” – University was more prestigious. I fully believe it’s the opposite. The kids who went to college for practical skills and trades are the ones with the jobs now, and making the cash. The kids who got an English degree or something of the sort at University are still living with Mom and Dad. It was big time misleading.

        Reply
        1. Vancouver Reader

          I wish someone had told that to me when I was considering what to do for post-secondary education oh so long ago.

          Reply
  89. SA

    My first post-college job was in 1990 before cell phones and emails. The two things I remember being surprised about most:

    1. I had my own phone at my desk with it’s own number and voice mail. We had one phone and an answering machine at home.

    2. Dialing 9 for an outside line is universal

    Reply
    1. Diet Coke Addict

      I was shocked at my current job where I DON’T have to dial 9 to get out. I still catch myself doing it now.

      Reply
      1. TheExchequer

        Funny story – My father had a job where he had to dial a number beginning with 1. He had to dial 9 first to call out. He ended up pushing the 1 button twice and was so flustered at getting 911, he hung up. When the authorities showed up later, his employers were a little less than amused, but they did understand the mistake as it had happened to the manager before.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          I did something similar when dialing a 391-1### number as a kid. I must not have hit the 3, because the call rang through to the police. The dispatcher was surprisingly understanding; I thought I was going to get into Trouble.

          Reply
          1. Kat M

            Me too! In 5th grade, gave the morning announcements every Friday morning. Part of my responsibility was to find out what the weather would be. So I’d call the number where you could get an automated weather report, 931-1212. Apparently I dropped the 3 one time.

            Dispatchers really are the nicest to panicked 10-year-olds who think they’re going to be arrested for a mis-dial. :)

            Reply
  90. ChristineSW

    Echoing the sentiments about the 8-hour workday!

    Another thing I was surprised about–and this is something that I learned over time, moreso than at my first job–that there’s not a lot of “hand holding” like you might have in high school or even college. I love the poster above who longs for the work equivalent of a syllabus. Most jobs require you to be able to work under minimal supervision, and I tend to need a bit more than “minimal”, a habit that I will need to get out of once I am back in the workforce. So yes, I am still learning that one. lol.

    Reply
  91. Celeste

    On my first job I was shocked that an employer would pay staff only once a month. I had never even heard of doing it that way.

    Reply
  92. Celeste

    The second thing I was surprised by was that I had some idea that everyone would want to be friends with the new girl, dinner invitations would be forthcoming, and so on. Not hardly!

    I thought of that the other day and realized how very put upon I would feel in my life now if I had some obligation to socialize with new hires.

    Reply
  93. Kat

    I was shocked by how little grown up adults have everything figured out. I’d always assumed that people knew what they wanted to be when they grew up and followed a pretty straight career path. And majority of the people I spoke with still couldn’t tell you what they wanted to be when they grew up. I found the people I admired the most in the work place followed their interests as they changed vs. following the same career path they thought of in college.

    I was also shocked by how much you needed to learn about yourself and your strengths in order to be happy and fully succeed in a work place. I’m in my second job since graduation (2008) now and I’m still figuring out through trial, error, and deep reflection what I need from a work culture.

    Reply
    1. Kat

      Oh! I was also surprised about how impressive I could be simply by googling things. To this day, people love that I’ll just google things to find out an answer rather than both folks.

      Reply
      1. Margaret

        I’m surprised by this as well. People at my office think I am some sort of savant and they can ask me anything and I’ll know the answer. I don’t know everything – I just know how to search for it.

        I mean, there is some skill behind knowing how to string together a search that will yield the results you are looking for, and discerning the credible sources from the non-credible, but overall, Google makes me appear much smarter than I actually am.

        Reply
  94. Katie the Fed

    I keep thinking of more things:

    I was shocked I had so much freedom, especially on tracking my own hours worked and things. Nobody was watching me – they just expected me to track my hours and do the right thing. I used to be so worried I’d be off by a minute on my hours worked.

    It just felt like way too much responsibility all of a sudden.

    Reply
  95. MaryTerry

    People are always willing to believe that you’re dumber than you are, so don’t play dumb, because first impressions last.

    Only 6 federal holidays paid, no sick leave, only 1 week vacation after a year completed. (What happened to a month at Christmas, a week in February, a week in April, summer vacation, many miscellaneous holidays, a week at Thanksgiving?)

    Companies can have unethical practices.

    Bosses don’t know how to make coffee.

    Work-friends aren’t real friends: they forget you after you leave.

    Reply
    1. Student Affairs Program Coordinator

      Yes, the friend thing was tough for me at my first job. I worked with a number of other young people right out of college and I wanted to be best buddies with all of them. We would often eat lunch together, take a cupcake break (there was an awesome bakery nearby) or get drinks after work. We got along really well and I considered them to be close friends at the time. It wasn’t until I moved on to another job that I realized we hadn’t developed a real friendship- most of what we talked about was work-related; sharing funny stories, complaining about the workload or management, etc. When I tried to stay in touch, it was difficult. No one had the time (or the desire I guess) to get together outside of working hours, and the one or two times we did get together, we didn’t really have much to talk about. The longer I was gone, the harder it was to connect. It was sad but helped me understand the importance of good boundaries. Now I aim for friendly working relationships, but don’t consider my co-workers my personal “friends.”

      Reply
  96. ThatFirstJob

    When I came to my first software job, I was shocked to discover that we shipped products with known bugs in it instead of delaying until all bugs were fixed. I was so naive!

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Oh, this is a good one, and it applies generally–that stuff went in because of a deadline, not because it was through being worked on.

      Reply
  97. KC

    I think the most shocking thing I discovered was that NO ONE–from the CEO on down–entirely has it together. I had assumed that if you were in a position of power, you were smart or had some kernel of knowledge that no one else has.

    What I’ve since learned is that the most important thing to do in business is project an air of confidence. If you’re confident, people tend to assume you know what you’re about either way. It’s something I’ve leveraged to my advantage in my career, and it’s helpful to know that I don’t need to be intimidated by people with more experience or a higher title, because sometimes they’re struggling too.

    Reply
  98. Izzy LeighGal

    I was shocked at how much caffeine I would need to combat the tiredness. My first job out of college, when they were giving me a tour of the office, the Keurig machine was pointed out in the break room. We were lucky enough to have an unlimited supply of K-cups and creamer.

    I politely declined and said “I’m not much of a coffee drinker,” only to find out later how grateful and blessed I was to work in an office with a good coffee supply.

    Reply
  99. Anon

    This is barely in the same vein but…can we all agree that it is against office etiquette to microwave last night’s fish dinner? Especially in small offices with no separate kitchen facilities!

    Reply
    1. LV

      Someone reheated tuna casserole in our small office kitchen earlier this week… I have a strong stomach, but the stench made me wretch.

      Reply
  100. LP

    The cliques. What people wear. How people talk. The fact that people asked if I had a husband and kids when I was 23 and got my first job and they actually treated me like an adult. Bonuses and how you’re not supposed to act excited when you get one (oops). How a 12 mile commute will take 30-45 minutes both ways, and how 10 minutes difference in your leaving time can totally screw you.

    The people who are very bad at their jobs and make huge mistakes that cost clients are the ones who have been there forever and will never be let go no matter what they do, but if I’m 5 minutes late I get written up. That most jobs are so simple, even the ones that require a master’s degree and several years of experience. How much lunch every day costs and how much weight you will gain.

    The way people decorate and guard their office/cube because it is basically their home. How annoying something like the wrong staple puller can be. The fact that pretty much everyone is flying by the seat of their pants and making stuff up as they go because there really is no manual. The fact that despite a piece of technology going out of use for 10+ years people will still cling to it and not throw it away even if they never use it and it has an inch of dust on it. It will just sit on a desk taking up 9 cubic feet of space and forever be in your way. The fact that there are redundent processes in place but people still use them simply because they’ve been doing it for 30 years and you’re going to do it too, even though it serves no purpose.

    The fact that I’m supposed to find time to work for 9 hours including lunch, drive to and from work for 1 hour, cook, clean, shower, unwind, and sleep in 24 hours. I used to make fun of my mom for being so rigid in the evenings, but I get home at 6, eat dinner and watch TV or whatever, shower at 8 and promptly go to bed and read until I fall asleep and still don’t get enough rest. I don’t want to go to the grocery store, I don’t want to see a movie, I don’t want to even look at the car again until it is morning and I have to get up and do it all over.

    Reply
  101. out of college for 4 years

    The commuting!! In college everywhere I needed to go was a calm 15 minute drive at most. In the real world, I have a 45 minute commute, which really means 1 hour+ of pulling your hair out in rush hour traffic! I know not everyone has such a horrible commute though. And I didn’t realize what a toll the commuting takes on your energy, mental health, car, and wallet!

    Also, I know this isn’t the norm for everyone, but I was shocked that my office is so quiet. Going from working in a restaurant in college to working in an office was quite an adjustment. The first week I think I overheard 1 non-work conversation. And even the work conversations were hushed and few and far between. Now I’m used to it and sometimes forget to “turn my voice back on” at the end of the day, haha.

    Reply
    1. Christy

      Oh, I hate quiet offices! I’ve worked in places that were loud and jovial and places where no one said anything for hours at a time. Quiet offices are lonely and depressing.

      Reply
  102. Name

    That nobody cared about me. Going from school, being surrounded by friends and family who were concerned with my well-being, to people who would rather stab me in the eye than answer a question was tough. Nobody cares about improving my skills or knowledge. I might as well be a monkey.

    I had one job that was not like that and because it was at the beginning of my career and I was young/naive, I took it for granted. Now I would give anything to have those wonderful, caring people again instead of the selfish, gossiping idiots I have to work with now.

    Reply
  103. summercamper

    I was surprised that I got to actually DO stuff – and make valuable contributions to the team.

    After years of intern-level work, I was shocked to be trusted to complete assignments with comparatively very little supervision in a client-facing role. My boss gave me great freedom to re-write website content, send direct mail pieces, conduct interviews, and give presentations all without an approval process. And you know what? I was really good at it! I was astonished to learn that my recent-grad self had more skills in certain areas than my colleagues who had been with the company 10+ years.

    Reply
  104. lauren

    I was surprised that the expectation seemed to be that the 8 hour day didn’t include lunch. Well then where did the expression 9 to 5 come from? Yet everyone seems to be doing 8 to 5 or 9 to 6.

    Reply
      1. Liz

        9-5 is the standard workday in the UK. When I came to the U.S. the standard 8-6 (with the same 30-60 lunchbreak) felt really long!

        Reply
  105. KF

    I was surprised to find the workplace can be just as, if not more, dysfunctional than a family, and that often being really good at what you do or working very hard doesn’t really matter to the powers-that-be, who sometimes make decisions based on who they like or what’s easier to do, rather than doing what’s good for their business.

    Reply
  106. Marmite

    Two things surprised me in my first post-college job:

    1) That no one socialized outside of work. This surprised me because my part-time high-school and college jobs had been in places where people went out for a drink after work or were part of workplace sports teams or whatever. I just assumed it was like that everywhere.

    2) That really no one cared what I was doing with my day as long as my work got done on time.

    Reply
    1. Laufey

      1) can depend on where you work. It’s not uncommon at my (professional services) job for people to go out an get a beer (or other beverage) on Fridays after work sometimes. It’s a culture thing.

      Reply
  107. WinterRose

    I was shocked at how utterly unprofessional and immature my (much) older co-workers were than me. Similar to the other comments about high school, but these guys weren’t clicky or mean. They were just totally inappropriate and childish. At 22, I was by far the most put-together person in a the small group (at work and in my personal life… and of course I knew way too much about my coworkers’ personal lives).

    I thought “the real world” would have been a much more civil place at that age.

    Reply
  108. MaryMary

    That international business is far more likely to include conference calls at odd hours, and far less likely to include travel to exotic locales.

    Reply
  109. Kim

    The day I realized that in my field, the higher-ups have very little to do while being paid a fortune. Before, I always thought they had some abstract and important duties, and were plugging away on Big Picture projects in their plush offices. I found out that was a crock.

    Also, that it doesn’t matter how smart, efficient, productive, responsible, and nice I am. What I look like matters more. Unfortunately. Since I’ve gained weight, I’ve been treated differently.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      Thank you for voicing this.

      When my company needed a last minute “date” for our salesman for a black tie Cancer benefit they picked the youngest, prettiest size 6 in our office. It was weird, and something that I definitely noticed.

      Reply
      1. Elysian

        It’s weird to me that your office picks “dates” for employees to take to work-related events. I don’t want to “date,” even in scare-quotes, any of my co-workers.

        Reply
  110. Clever Name Goes Here

    Sitting hurts. I thought I’d be rid of aches and pains when I was able to get out of retail jobs, but it’s just pain in different areas. Upper back, neck, shoulders, even my chest… every minute of every day, even when I sleep.

    My facial structure is unacceptable. The corners of my mouth turn down unless I actively raise them, which was a problem during my stint as a receptionist. I smiled when talking to people, but I was told to smile while sitting alone so people walking by wouldn’t think me unhappy. It doesn’t matter that it’s how my face is built, they said, just smile and it’ll become a habit. Well, it did, and now face, ears, jaw, and scalp are still chronically tight and painful from pulling the skin back all the time. If I had the money, I’d get cosmetic surgery to fix the corners of my mouth.

    Being a grown-up with a job and spouse means you only get solitude in the can. I spend nearly every waking moment being or shaping myself into what others need me to be. Peace and quiet are a luxury and calmness is a nearly-forgotten memory.

    The anxiety never goes away. Thanks to student loan debt, previous awful jobs, a spouse relying on my support currently, and financial insecurity in my youth, I now live in fear. Any time I’m less than flawless at work, I worry about the future. I’m told that’s normal.

    Reply
    1. Nonprofit Office Manager

      “I spend nearly every waking moment being or shaping myself into what others need me to be. ”

      I hear you. I’ve told my husband that I don’t want to have kids if we can’t figure out a way to swing me working only part-time. I’ve worked with a lot of kickass working moms in my life, but I know myself well enough to know I can’t work full-time AND have kids AND be happy.

      Reply
      1. Sharm

        I feel exactly the same way, but feel if I voice this opinion, I’ll be cut down for being a bad feminist. I also want to work part-time when/if I have kids, but because I haven’t been planning out my career to the minute since I was 22, I have a hard time believing I can pull it off. It makes me so depressed for what’s to come.

        Reply
        1. Emma

          Add me to the “bad feminist” heap, except it’s not even that I want kids (I’m solidly childfree currently) but that I want to be able to pursue other activities.

          Besides, the beauty of feminism is that we fought and continue to fight for women to be able to make healthy, positive choices for their families and communities. And trust me, ignorant young me had this myopic idea that stay-at-home-mothering was orthogonal to feminism. Thankfully my dumb self learned, grew up and no longer thinks that. Yay feminism!

          Reply
  111. Sharm

    I thought if I made a single mistake, I’d get fired immediately. It took me a long time to realize that, at my first job at least, it was very hard to fire people. It would have been related to chronic performance issues, with full documentation, etc etc. I ended up getting promoted twice there, so I must have been doing some things right.

    Reply
  112. anon

    The entire concept of cultural fit was foreign to me. No one ever discussed it and within my family it was just assumed that of course you would fit in with your company and stay there for 30 years.

    Reply
  113. Ohio Person

    How much more (seemingly invisibly) sedentary your life becomes, at least as a typical cube-dweller.

    You don’t realize how much walking/moving you do in college. Walking to/from class, campus, doing things with friends, etc. All in your daily life, without accounting for any athletic activity whatsoever.

    I – slowly, but surely – gained somewhere in the range of 30-40 lbs between graduating college and the 4 1/2 year mark of working full time. It wasn’t any one thing in particular (though business travel and wanting to enjoy the local cuisine wherever you’re at certainly contributes) but more of an overall decrease in activity.

    I’ve since lost all that weight (yay!) by paying much closer attention to what I eat and working out. But it’s something I’ve made sure to point out to all my college-grad-age friends and relatives.

    You really are far more active in college than you’ll ever be in the day-to-day of your average office job.

    Reply
    1. Puddin

      OMG yes! I thought it was the fluorescent light bulbs sucking the life out of me, but really it is the sitting and traveling.

      Reply
  114. Another Laura

    What I’ve been surprised by:

    1. How tiring the 8-hour workday can be, even after being in the post-college workforce over 12 years. I don’t feel like I have anything left by the time I get home.

    2. Having more education/certifications than the people I report to. I made the effort. Why haven’t they? Why does my job require a degree and their jobs apparently don’t? My boss and her boss don’t even have bachelor’s degrees.

    3. An office often contains more backstabbers than a middle school girls locker room.

    4. Other people can screw up in a big way and not suffer any consequences, but I can make a simple mistake due to having a heavier workload than them and I get reamed out for it.

    5. Being competent can be both a blessing and a curse. You can be rewarded for this by not being micromanaged, and you can also suffer by being held to a higher standard than everyone else (see #4).

    6. That most of my managers over the years asked me for help proofreading documents because they knew I was better at it. And that every one of my managers over the years regularly made grammar mistakes when they spoke.

    7. That I’m only 34 and wish I could retire.

    Reply
    1. Sharm

      I’m 30, and I feel you on #7. I wish I had gone into petroleum engineering or something at 22 so I could retire by 40. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be working until I’m 120.

      Reply
    2. Windchime

      Be careful about #2. Some of us were lucky enough to start our careers at time when an entry-level job did not require a degree, so we were able to work our way up into senior positions. Besides, it’s not that I didn’t “make an effort”. It’s that I didn’t have the money or family support or a myriad of other things necessary to get a degree.

      Degrees and certifications are a very, very small part of the tools that a professional can use. There is a person at our place of work right now who has a Masters and no experience at all, and working with her is a huge pain in the butt because she feels that her degree puts her on the same level as people with 20 years of experience. It doesn’t.

      Reply
      1. Another Laura

        When you work for an employer that pays for an employee to get a degree, then to me it IS about making the effort. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, my employer will pay the tuition (and you can major in whatever you want). If you already have a bachelor’s, my employer won’t pay for another one. But they will pay for a graduate degree (provided it’s in something that can be related to our industry). These two individuals could have had their degrees ten years ago if they had tried. Do you know what I’d give to have been able to get my degree without paying a cent in tuition? I did it myself and have student loans to pay.

        Reply
  115. Brett

    The effect on my health was the surprising part.
    I never sat for so much in my life, and the sitting made it harder to do something after I was done with work.
    Not to mention the shocking discovery that gyms are expensive and don’t have showers (unless they are really expensive), so working out before work was out and working out over lunch was not allowed. My weight ballooned over 40% in my first five years, and my health correspondingly declined in other ways. Just now starting to get back anywhere close to where I was before.

    Reply
  116. Anonymous

    I haven’t read all of the comments so hopefully this won’t be too much of a rehash! This is from a purely white collar and exempt perspective.

    1) Both how similar and dissimilar the performance review process was like school report cards – on the one hand, you still essentially get “graded” at consistent intervals. But on the other, the feedback isn’t necessarily easily quantifiable and it also has much higher stakes.
    2) That no one really comes in exactly at 9 or leaves exactly at 5, even when you have a 9-5 job. Both in that you’re expected to get your work done even if it’s past 5, but also that you can occasionally come in at 9:15 or leave at 4:45 and no one will bat an eye (assuming you’re productive).
    3) That real meritocracies are rare and that you have to prove yourself in ways other than solely your work product. For example, in high school and college to a certain extent, you didn’t have to build camaraderie with your teachers, you just had to hand in good work.
    4) That sometimes your boss is the one who is on Facebook or YouTube all day and still brings in great results. But this still doesn’t mean that YOU can be on Facebook or YouTube all day.

    Reply
  117. jmkenrick

    This is going to make me sound snotty/entitled, but I was shocked to realize that if I slacked off, it made everything worse for my co-workers.

    Early on, I made an absentminded mistake in a program that caused it to send out a mailing to customer at the wrong times. My boss spoke to me about it the next day, but what really struck me was when she mentioned that she had to stay two hours late to make corrections.

    In school, if you slacked off, only you really felt the burden of that work. But in work, you completing your job (and being responsive, and being timely, and being forthcoming) can make other people’s lives easier (or, well, not more difficult at least). It sounds obvious, but it was revelation to me.

    Reply
    1. Tiff

      This is an excellent point. I had to learn that too, and it really helped drive the point home when I was the one staying late to fix a mistake someone else made.

      Reply
  118. Tiff

    I’m sure some of mine have been mentioned. And I certainly had no idea how much time it would take to get used to working a full day.

    1. How poorly many professionals write. I was astonished. But I must say, it has helped me greatly in my career. Serving as a ghost writer is what launched me into the career that I’m in now and one reason that I was promoted.

    2. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number. I’ve seen people who are legitimately adults (with kids, mortgage, retirement etc.) act worse than my peers in middle school. Seriously.

    3. “Fair” is a concept that very rarely makes itself felt in the workplace.

    4. It’s very easy to get distracted from your goals. Office politics, project needs, etc. can become so all-encompassing that you just hang on from day to day. Next thing you know years have passed and you’ve accomplished little more than hanging onto a job that you can’t stand.

    Reply
  119. E.R

    I’m not sure if anyone has said this above because I haven’t had time to read all the great comments, but for me, i think the biggest surprise was the reality that I spent so much time thinking, ” If I were just given the opportunity to do (basically anything), I would be great at it!”. I wasn’t an egotisical young person, but I always did well in school, and it honestly surprised me that most people who are really great at their jobs have spent a LOT of time working at them, and failed frequently in the learning process. At the same time, most of the time I start something new professionally, I’m not very great at it, and I owe a lot to whoever is giving me the opportunity and training and helping me.

    Put more simply, being really good at what you do is the product of a lot of effort and picking oneself back up. Very few people are naturally awesome at things.

    It’s embarassing, but that surprised me.

    Reply
  120. Anonymous

    This is snobby, but oh well.

    I was shocked that I was clearly and demonstrably smarter than a lot of my older co-workers, but it didn’t matter because they had the trust of the senior staff and also had incredibly valuable experience that was pertinent to the company. It didn’t matter that I could come in and immediately write a thoughtful dissertation on long-term strategy if I didn’t even know how to write a TPS report or handle the oldest, most finnicky client. Big lesson.

    Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Sure, it’s snobby but are we at the point that we can’t acknowledge that some people have stronger critical thinking, communication skills and general knowledge than others? I readily admit that there are teenagers and college kids who are 500x smarter than I am and I’m sure that will increase exponentially.

        Reply
        1. Sadsack

          I think your original wording is what was snobby. Define “clearly and demonstrably smarter.” People have different talents. Your reference to your “older co-workers” seems like quite a generalization and immediately dismisses their “incredibly valuable experience” as being irrelevant. There’s book smart and street smart — consider that maybe you’ve got one and they have the other due to their experience in the field that you were entering. Sure, you can write a report, but if you can’t handle the finicky client when it is necessary, does it really matter how smart you think you are? Does it not take smarts to handle people and situations appropriately?

          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            I believe in multiple intelligences, but at the end of the day, I can admit when someone is overall more intelligent than I am. And I’m not saying people aren’t smart in their own ways and that their experience isn’t valuable; quite the opposite. But at the end of the day, these weren’t deep level thinkers and some of them should have been for their position (others, it was less necessary). But they did show, like Joey says humorously below, that being “smart” is only part of the battle. My MBA glazed over that quite a bit and only pushed strategy. I was being genuine when I said it was a big lesson.

            And for the record, I only said “older coworkers” because they were literally older than my young, brash, just-out-of-B-school self. Some were as young as 35.

            Reply
        2. Sadsack

          I realize that it may be obvious when someone lacks communication skills and critical thinking skills. How do you come to determine that you have more “general knowledge” than someone else? Doesn’t that person’s experience in your field qualify?

          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            I included general knowledge as one hypothetical for ways people measure intellect. Generally speaking, critical thinking, pattern recognition and the useful application of the first two is my main bar for intelligence. And even if it’s snobby, I still know that I was better at those things than my coworkers. If you disagree, that’s fine.

            Reply
    1. Student Affairs Program Coordinator

      I understand where you’re coming from, Anonymous. Traditional schooling doesn’t prepare you for the “soft skills” that often matter more in the work place. You can earn straight As and have an amazing IQ, but it doesn’t always translate to a successful career, or an easy time finding a job.

      Reply
      1. Sadsack

        I like your wording. I think it was Anonymous’ statement of being smarter rather than just being smart that bothered me. I would say that I am more tech savvy than my manager, but to say I am smarter than him just is a whole different thing.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          Clearly we have a fundamental disagreement about whether anyone can ever be smarter than someone. I personally am fine with saying that, say, Stephen Hawking is smarter than me. I’m fine with saying my father is smarter than me. My professors, my first bosses, most of my business school classmates, quite a few of my current employees…all smarter than me. But I can also understand the philosophy that it all evens out.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Yup. I’m not stupid, but my old college roommate demonstrably just had a greater capacity brain engine than I did–she’d pick things up faster, extrapolate quicker, remember better. For a variety of reasons, I’ve had a better life, but she was just plain smarter than me.

            Reply
      2. Fairly recent grad (2011)

        This this this this.

        The importance of managing up. Or rather, specifically, that being a super-organized communicative person was more important than research/writing/strategic thinking – you could do an A+ job of the work but a B job of communicating, and you’d be doing okay-to-good, but if you did an A+ job of communicating / keeping track of deadlines for small tasks but a B job of the research and writing, and that would probably be better, overall. Kind of blew my mind when I first realized it.

        Oh, and that nothing is graded, so you have to figure out how well you’re doing.

        Reply
  121. Steve G

    I’m classic Gen-Y, and was used to being rewarded for effort in school and at my low-stress part time jobs. In my full-time professional jobs, all that mattered was results and I had to come to grips with that. I’d say that’s what surprised me most when I started my professional career.

    Reply
  122. Puddin

    I was amazed that the work day started at 8am…but the song says 9 to 5!

    My current source of amazement is about how business is run according to the reigning director’s likes and dislikes and little else.

    Reply
  123. Anonymous

    This might sound weird, but for me the biggest shock was how much time I suddenly had on my hands.

    In college I worked multiple jobs (and in the summers always full time jobs plus more part time stuff), did lots of extra stuff, plus classes and whatever else. And when I got to my first full time job (I still had one part time job but it was like 12 hours a week or something tiny like that). Suddenly I had this huge glut of time that I could do anything I wanted!
    Working 40 hours a week (even with a commute at that time of 90 minutes a day) was so much less than working 30 hours a week plus full time school!

    Seeing the NIMBY effect. I’d seen it in college but never really been impacted by it. I’d never had my livelihood threatened by it, but one of my first real tasks in my first real job was a constant battle because of the NIMBY issue.

    Reply
    1. Z

      Can you explain what you mean by the NIMBY effect? I had always heard that in regards to not wanting a nuclear power plant built near your house. Does it refer to something else, or were you employed by the nuclear power industry? (I’m not being snarky; I’m honestly asking.)

      Reply
        1. Jamie

          And jails. And Aldi. Our town had over a year of meetings in which some residents vociferously protested the building of an Aldi on the main road as you enter town.

          What people chose to care about I will never understand. We have a local channel that broadcasts the town meetings and these people were so passionate about preventing this you’d think Aldi was a crack den/nuclear silo.

          Anyway the compromise was they got to build it, but it had to be a really nice building. So those of you in the suburbs who have passed the Aldi with the architecture modeled after a Swiss chalet know where I live.

          Because the one thing that matters to me when I’m picking up milk and eggs for less than half what I spend at the Jewel is how elegant the exterior is.

          Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Not in my back yard for anyone who doesn’t know.

        Certainly that would be one thing. But I worked for a non-profit. We were trying to build something. There was a mostly vacant lot with a vacant building that was a hot spot for crime in the neighborhood. We wanted to build a building that would have some commercial space (not a restaurant or bar, just small shop space like for an insurance agent or the like) and then mixed income (so some of the income would be subsidized at different levels and some would be market rate). The outrage over the building was huge, and this was in a neighborhood that was(is) going thru some pain and there was a lot of we don’t want THOSE people living near us. Which while sometimes it was framed as false concern was also often outright racism (I appear to be the white, those complaining were white and would think that they could say, “Oh you know ” and I’d agree with them. I was stunned, but it ended up being a fairly common thing for a while in my career and in the real world. It was really hard to reconcile that they’d rather have crimes and violence than someone who had a different skin tone living across the street.

        Reply
        1. Z

          Ah, thanks for the explanation, Anonymous and others. I knew what NIMBY stood for, but somehow I thought it only referred to that one specific case.
          And I’m sorry you got that reaction from people, Anonymous. Sheesh.

          Reply
      2. Judy

        I’m assuming they mean “Not In My Back Yard”. It could be about nuclear power, it could be about a halfway house, there are lots of things people think should exist, but not near them.

        Reply
        1. Jamie

          I feel that way about hawks. I don’t have a problem with birds, but do the have to nest in the tree outside my bedroom window?

          Protected species which draws bird watchers with binoculars in front of our house – screechy, loud, and make me so nervous for the neighborhood rabbits, squirrels, and kitties.

          Animal control won’t move them either. We pay the mortgage and haven’t seen a dime in rent from the feathered squatters.

          Reply
          1. Anlyn

            I have a woodpecker that alternates between my front-yard tree and my neighbor’s front-yard tree. Damn thing wakes me up at 6:30 every Saturday morning.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              Uh- the last time I saw that, the tree had to come down. It was loaded with bugs and ready to fall over. I hope your tree is okay.

              Reply
  124. The Clerk

    I remember being shocked by feeling like I’d gone back to kindergarten, and taking a long time to understand office politics.

    When you’re in school (middle and high), unless I went to the most sheltered and idealistic school in the country, the teachers didn’t want to be bothered with petty student conflicts. When serious stuff happened, they and the administration didn’t usually act unless there was proof. My first jobs in retail and food were the same way–management expected you to just deal with it and do your job. I saw a lot of people fired for not showing up or for a pattern of laziness, and I didn’t see anyone promoted who wasn’t a good worker (even if I didn’t like them personally). I did a good job and every early job I had talked about promoting me, but first I was under 18 and then later I was focusing on college.

    You kind of assume that things only get better going forward, right? If high school and fast food jobs are doing their best to be fair, wouldn’t you assume a “real job” would be even better? It was a serious culture shock to go into my first office job and see people get away with leaving early every day and calling in sick about every five shifts and still getting a prime assignment everyone wanted, or getting promoted over better candidates for absolutely no apparent reason. It was an even bigger shock to get called in for a Big Talk with my manager multiple times because “Joe said he tried to say hi to you when he came in three days ago and you just kept talking to Mary.” (I didn’t hear him. It happens.) Or: “I feel like there’s some friction between you and Shirley and it’s affecting her work.” (Who’s Shirley? Why is her work my problem?) They had this office MVP thing you could nominate people for and people were campaigning for it like class president. I saw this repeatedly at different companies when I was with the temp agency, and at the school (where there’s more drama among the staff than the students). So I know it wasn’t just one toxic workplace.

    I felt more like a working adult when I was in high school working part-time at McDonald’s than I ever have since. :/

    Reply
    1. KCS

      Totally agree. You would think that employers would promote solely on the basis of hard work and competence.

      But apparently, neither high school nor college teach you that people can just as well “succeed” on the basis of nepotism, cronyism, and other forms of undeserved favoritism.

      Reply
  125. some1

    My first office job, I was 21 and the next youngest person was 29, most people were in their 30′s and 40′s. I was surprsised to learn how many people cheat on their spouses (or try to). My parents never stepped out on each other that I knew about, ditto my relatives, family friends and parents of my friends with two exceptions, and no one in my circle of friends was married then.

    Reply
  126. some1

    Another thing that shocked me and still does: when a male coworker’s wife visits the office and greets me and all my female coworkers with obvious and outright suspicion. Um, first of all, I know he’s married, sceondly, I don’t date coworkers even if they are single, third of all, 90% of the time I’m not attracted to him anyway.

    Reply
      1. Anonymous

        She’s human. And on the occasion where she thinks someone IS attractive, that would be where the first two would come in, I imagine.

        Reply
  127. R

    When I was in college, I expected the working world to be one big, cohesive thing, with one set of rules. I’ve since learned that’s not the case, at all. In my career, I’ve bounced from a non-profit, to a government office, to a big corporate firm. Each transition was a bit of a shock to me, particularly in terms of getting to better understand workplace norms, from little things (like, is coffee provided?) to big things (work-life balance), as well as workplace etiquette.

    Reply
  128. Anonymous

    I was shocked at how many of my older coworkers treated me like a child because I was in my 20s. I thought I would be automatically seen as a professional adult once I had a professional adult job (especially since I was…an adult). I get now that you have to prove yourself, but I still make a conscious effort to never treat someone in their early 20s like I would treat a teenager.

    Reply
    1. some1

      Ditto. My first week as a receptionist, I was 21 but could have easily still passed for a h.s. student, a guy came in for an appointment right at 8AM on the wrong day, and the person he was supposed to meet with wasn’t in the office yet. While I was trying to figure out what to do with him, he asked, “Is there an ADULT here I can talk to?”

      Reply
      1. insktainedpages

        I get this all the time! I am the Executive Director at my organization, but I’m young, so sometimes when patrons ask me questions, they preface them with “Well, you won’t know the answer to this, so ask someone who does…”

        Reply
    2. Another Laura

      Same here. I’m 34 now, but I remember once at my first job after college (I must have been 24 or so at the time), and my co-worker and I were in a meeting with our boss and the co-worker said that since she was a mom, she couldn’t help but treat me like her daughter. I was so taken aback that I didn’t think to come back with something like, “But I’m NOT your daughter!” Ugh. And the co-worker wasn’t all that much older than me anyway. She was in her thirties at the time.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        Such an awkward thing to say to someone.

        I work with someone who is 3 weeks younger than my eldest son. They went to high school together, they ran cross country and track together for 4 years. If anything would trigger maternal at work it would be him, but not even a hint of it.

        Although my daughter is coming in to temp tomorrow and I do get all “look at my baby!” in my head when she’s here. I reserve the right to think of her as a daughter because of the whole giving birth to her and rearing her thing. :)

        Reply
      2. Anonymous

        It is interesting that when you do become a mom you do see life in so many different ways with others. When I was working, I did not see myself at first as a middle-age lady. I don’t look old or act old but there were some co-workers that could have been close to my oldest child’s age.

        I had been out of the job-force for quite awhile raising my children and when I had last worked I was still young. I guess because I dress up-to-date and keep up with younger things I thought age was not a factor. Boy was I surprised to find out I am not longer this young little thing. I can honestly say I never felt motherly toward any co-worker. I feel that way toward younger children and pets and my own three children, but never another young adult.

        Reply
  129. Trudy

    My first job was the summer between high school and college, where I worked as a temporary receptionist, with assignments ranging from a few days to a few weeks. What surprised me the most was that I constantly got high praise for just showing up reliably and on time and doing what I was paid to do. I was shocked that that was praiseworthy, since it seemed to me that that was the bare minimum. (After my first HR job where I supervised temps, I sadly now understand why showing up on time and working is considered exceptional.)

    Reply
  130. Jen RO

    The first month at my first office job (as opposed to working from home) I was so incredibly tired – and I wasn’t even doing any actual work! The simple fact of waking up early and getting to the office and spending 9 hours there with strangers was draining. It went away completely after a few months, at least, and the only lasting “consequence” is that I wake up around 8-9 during weekends too. (Which is good, since I get some me-time before the boyfriend wakes up.)

    I also foolishly thought 9 to 5 actually means 9 to 5. I think I was assuming that everyone just eats lunch at their desks…

    Reply
    1. Jamie

      I read that it’s good to keep the same sleep schedule even on days off – I know it helps with migraines, not sure if there are other benefits.

      I am like you, I’m up early on the weekend and the first cup of coffee while my husband is sleeping is nice. Then I start resenting him for not being awake and offering to go to the bakery for coffee cake. Then I stare at him really hard while he’s sleeping thinking the words COFFEE CAKE at him really hard. And that never works so I put one of the cats on him to accidentally wake him up. Then I make him coffee and tell him the cats want him to go buy coffee cake.

      Reply
  131. Anon

    My biggest surprise was at how very quickly you can wear out a pair of high heels, and how terribly uncomfortable (and downright painful) a pair of cheap fashion look-alikes can be.

    Reply
    1. KayDay

      This was incredibly surprising to me too! However, I was then pleasantly surprised to learn that (a) the heels can be repaired, (b) it’s not that expensive, and (c) it’s something that non-rich people with normal not-so-expensive shoes do normally! (Seriously, until age 23, I didn’t realize that cobblers existed outside of Colonial Williamsburg!

      Reply
  132. Student Affairs Program Coordinator

    A few things were a huge shock to me in my first professional job.

    1) How much comes out of your paycheck on top of taxes — like health insurance, retirement, life insurance, dental insurance, parking pass (UGH, paying to park at work sucks). I know how lucky I am to even have health insurance and retirement funds, but the difference between my salary divided by 12 and my monthly take-home pay was shocking.

    2) Taxes. The first year I filed taxes when I wasn’t a student, I was shocked that I didn’t receive a refund. When I was in college, I filed my own taxes, but I earned so little and was eligible for tuition deductions, so I always received a sizable tax refund. It was sad to realize as a single working adult that I wasn’t eligible for ANY deductions!

    3) Figuring out that I was the decision maker. It was a weird adjustment going from college or internships where you’re always asking for permission or running all decisions by a supervisor.

    4) Your social circle will include people of all ages and backgrounds. This is more of a life-adjustment than a work-adjustment, but it was both weird and cool to see how after high school/college, you stop socializing with just people in your “grade.” I have friends that are 22 and friends that are 42, and it doesn’t feel weird.

    5) Your college or high school friends may follow a very different life trajectory from you. Suddenly, you have a friend who becomes a VP and works 70-hour weeks. Or a friend who gets married and starts having children at 24. Or a friend who goes back to grad school at 30 and has the lifestyle of a student again. Your lives, which used to be pretty much in sync, are likely going to become incredibly out of sync, and it will feel weird. And you might drift apart, or it may take a lot of hard work to stay friends with them. Don’t compare yourself to your college friends! You are on your own path. :)

    Reply
    1. Another Laura

      #2–Same here. My first couple of years out of school, I OWED taxes. I was so ticked off. I finally started getting refunds, but they’re only a few hundred dollars each year. I bought a home at the end of 2013, so next year’s taxes should be pretty sweet with getting to itemize for the first time and taking the mortgage interest deduction.

      #4–I’m 34, and one of my really good friends that I met through work is 47. The ladies in my book club are all old enough to be my mother (or grandmother–in one case). Age doesn’t matter.

      #5–I’m still struggling with this.

      Reply
      1. Jen RO

        I hate #5! My best college (and high school, and secondary school) friend moved to the US 7 years ago, so we’ve only seen each other 2-3 times since then… and it’s like she’s a different person now. Not in a bad way, just extremely different in terms of life choices than what I had expected her to become. It’s weird!

        Reply
    2. SevenSixOne

      I am 30 and I sometimes struggle with #4– as much as I tell myself age doesn’t matter, I have a hard time forming deep personal connections when the age difference is much more than +/- 5 years because the cultural reference points all change.

      Reply
    3. Young and the Old

      #4 all the way. Not just via coworkers, but through other organizations/groups, we have friends ranging from 25-75.

      (We’re in our late 20s).

      Sometimes they’re different groups (we’ll have said friends in their 50s and 70s over for dinner) and sometimes it’s one big party – all of the above came over for the Super Bowl.

      Definitely a “life adjustment” in my mind, but you’re spot-on that it’s a somewhat surprising one when you’re in your early 20s.

      Reply
  133. Laura2

    How many true believers (or people pretending to be true believers) there were. I thought everyone would be Office Space cynical.

    Reply
    1. AnotherAlison

      Hmmm. You should have worked where I worked for my first job. I don’t think there was one true believer in the whole place. There were also multiple rounds of layoffs in my first 3 years there, so yeah. . .

      Reply
    2. Jen RO

      Haha, this is spot-on. I was actually telling a friend the other day that I actually preferred my ex-manager (true believer and an endless source of corporate talk) to my current indirect manager (endless source of corporate talk that is utter lies). Both were annoying, but at least one was honest!

      Reply
  134. Anonymous

    1. That promotions, raises, etc. don’t come just because I “deserve” it. In some circumstances this might warrant looking for another job, but sometimes it’s realizing that just because something is fair doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

    2. That when co-workers gather to chat for more than a minute the conversation turns to booze every.single.time. These are 40+-year-old co-workers, not mid-20-somethings. Some things never change.

    3. Amen to the feeling drained after the work day/week. Friday nights used to be party nights, now they are specifically reserved for sprawling out in front of the TV.

    4. The $1,000 I spend each year to use a dysfunctional public transit system in order to commute to work.

    Reply
  135. Rat Racer

    It took me a looong time to get the hang of the dress code. I kept hearing that my skirts were too short, that I could not remove my sweater in the copy room (even though it was like 90 degrees in there) if I was wearing a sleeveless top beneath it, and that I should NOT EVER wear my hair in a pony tail. That was when I was working as a paralegal in Washington DC.

    The irony is that now, 15 years later, I still work for a big corporation, but since I work from home, I mostly wear PJs.

    Reply
  136. Ruthan

    I continue to be a little bit surprised:

    * that I don’t have to check with my bosses to make sure whatever I’m going to do is okay.
    * at the reactions garnered from spending a little extra time to make sure a document looks nice.

    Reply
  137. Parfait

    The thing that puzzled me most in my first jobs was the importance of rank when you wouldn’t think it would be important.

    Like, I was asked to get out the label maker and re-label all the mail slots, because there had been some new folks added and others had left and the slots were all jumbled.

    So I did it alphabetically, as one does, and I was told NO! You have to do this over again! All the big bosses have to be in the top row! Then the middling folks! Peons at the bottom!

    I pointed out that one of the big bosses was a very short woman who would not be able to reach her mail if we put hers on the top row. This did not matter apparently.

    I had another job where there was a faculty lounge and a staff lounge. The faculty lounge was ALWAYS empty, always, and the staff lounge was always packed. So I’d take my lunch in the faculty lounge to hide and recharge my introverted self. I got yelled at. I was like, what possible difference does it make, the faculty do not use their lounge, they all have their own offices to hide in. I was told it was because I “might intimidate them” from using it. Uhm ok. If you’re a professor and you’re too scared to enter a room where a secretary is reading her book and eating her lunch? I don’t know, I can’t even comprehend that really.

    Reply
    1. Mints

      Ooh the ranking! I forgot until just now that when I stared, I would send group emails in whatever order (usually alphabetical) but then a few days or like a week later, I realized everyone else was using the exact same hierarchical order. And it’s weird because nobody would “correct” that or anything, it was just something I had to notice

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        I wonder if someone was just copy/pasting the email list. I only thought of this because I’ve had multiple mis-delivered messages from people copying from a bad source list.

        Reply
  138. Cath@VWXYNot?

    I was surprised by how big a deal long weekends are, and how much everyone (including me) looks forward to them and talks about their plans for them. Quite a difference from university, where I did work very hard but also had way more days off, and long weekends therefore just weren’t quite so precious.

    Reply
    1. SA

      My first job we talked about the ‘Sunday night feeling’ on the day before a Monday holiday when you remembered you didn’t have to go to work the next day.

      Reply
  139. Heather

    That this building will be my home for 40 hours a week for the next several (many?) years of my life.

    That from now on, there’s no such thing as winter break or summer break or blowing off class – now there are a limited number of vacation and sick days. Either I have leave hours available, or I gotta be at work.

    I mean, I was certainly aware of these realities, but they didn’t hit me until I started my first job after college. In school, you measure time in semesters or maybe 4-year increments – at my organization, many coworkers spent their entire careers there.

    In the end, my fear of being trapped for 40 years was a non-issue – I spent a few years at my first job, a few years in grad school (traveling every chance I got), a few years as a postdoc, then started my current job. Treasure your unlimited vacation time as a student! Use it!

    Reply
  140. Elizabeth West

    I started working in retail, food service, and factories, so for me, the office stuff didn’t come until much later. The grown adults acting like gossipy high school kids wasn’t a surprise there, but I was very surprised to find it was so in the office. I expected that in an office environment, where we were all so-called professionals, we would all be knowing and sophisticated adults and that crap wouldn’t happen any more!

    Reply
  141. Sarah

    I was surprised to encounter people who were really lazy (or really dumb) who kept jobs for years. I guess I expected a free enterprise system to kind of weed those people out. I didn’t account for workplace politics. (This is not to say that I’ve found hard work/excellence doesn’t pay off to send you quickly flying by those people.)

    Reply
    1. Windchime

      This continues to surprise me. It never ceases to amaze me how people can keep a high-paying job for literally *years*, yet they never really seem to actually know anything or do anything. Not sure how that happens.

      Reply
  142. Chris

    Great thread! A few of mine may be repeats…

    On the positive side:
    - Not everyone has to clock in and clock out. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but every job I have had has been a situation of arrive some time in the morning, leave some time in the evening, get your work done. I have been a professional for 16 years and to this day, my Mom gives me a hard time if she finds out that I didn’t arrive promptly at work at 8:30, which was the time my Dad went to work every day even though he didn’t need to clock in either.
    - Not all office require suits. Again, I saw my Dad wear a suit to work every day, bought a suit and showed up at my first job only to find myself in a group of people on the casual side of business casual.

    On the down side:
    - Not everyone gets Christmas bonuses! I mean, Clark Griswold was expecting one large enough to install a pool and it seemed like his boss was a pretty big jerk for not giving him one. ;)
    - How hard it is to fire lazy people and bad performers.
    - You are not automatically trusted. When I started my career, the thing I got nailed on in my first few reviews was not checking in and providing status updates. From my perspective, if I said I was going to get something done by the end of the day Tuesday, then if it was Wednesday, it was obviously already done. Now I know that plenty of people don’t get things done when they say they will.
    - Most disappointing to me…The squeaky wheel often does get the grease.

    Reply
    1. Jen RO

      I was really surprised that a “corporate job” doesn’t always involve a suit. By the time I saw the first coworker come to work in shorts and flip-flops, I was used to it. (Wearing a suit in most software companies here would probably get you laughed out the door!)

      Reply