starting your first job? here are 10 things you need to know

As another generation of college seniors prepares to finish their final semester of school, they might be focused on finals and job interviews, but they should also be thinking about what awaits them once they get those jobs. There’s plenty that will be new to them about the work world, some of it pleasant (paid vacation!) and some of it less so.

Here are 10 things that entry-level workers don’t always realize in their first jobs – but will hopefully figure out quickly.

1. The salary you accept when you take the job is the one you need to live with for at least a year. People new to the professional workforce don’t always realize that and think they can negotiate a raise after, say, three months or six months. Attempting that won’t go over well with most employers, since the convention is that you typically can’t ask for a salary increase until you’ve been on the job for at least a year.

2. When you were in school, making a mistake on a test or a paper or handing in work late only affected you. But at work, mistakes can impact your boss, your coworkers, and your company. People might end up staying late to fix your work, miss their own deadlines, or lose important business because of you.

3. Being smart and having potential is no longer enough; what you actually achieve is now what matters. In school, teachers often favor the smartest students and even cut them slack on things like being prepared for class or even on being respectful or working hard. But in the work world, reputations and careers are built on actual work; being smart won’t give you a pass if you miss deadlines, aren’t prepared for meetings, or don’t meet your goals.

4. You have to book time off around holidays. It’s not like school, where you automatically get a week or more off around Christmas and New Year’s. And many offices are open the day after Thanksgiving; it’s not a holiday, despite what school schedules might have led you to expect. And speaking of longer vacations…

5. Two weeks is the most time you can take off at once in many workplaces. Those days of lengthy vacations may be a thing of the past. In many workplaces, two weeks is the uppermost limit of how much time you can take off at once. In fact, two weeks might be the full amount of vacation time you’re allotted per year, and if you use it all up at once, you won’t be able to take any time off the rest of the year. (But this does vary by workplace; some offer double or even triple that, particularly as you move into more senior roles.)

6. Unlike in school, great performance on the job isn’t just about waiting for assignments and doing them. While in school it was often enough to simply do your assignments, at work you should be identifying ways to drive your department’s work forward and taking initiative to do things better. If you sit around and wait for someone to tell you what to do, you might not get much done! That said, you also need to know the parameters of where you can take initiative and where you can’t, which isn’t always spelled out explicitly (and therefore can really confuse new workers).

7. You need to look politely interested in meetings, no matter how boring the topic. Yes, you might see senior folks checking their phones or looking bored – but they’ve usually earned the right to do that. As a junior employee, nodding off or being obviously distracted will reflect far worse on you than it does on senior colleagues; you’re expected to look attentive, no matter how sleepy the meeting might be making you.

8. Your attitude really matters. You might be doing good work, but if you appear unfriendly, rude, disinterested in others, or defensive, you’ll find it hard to advance – and could even end up losing your job. Being polite and cheerful isn’t optional if you want to thrive in most workplaces.

9. A lunch “hour” is often 30 minutes. Forget what you’ve seen on TV or read about in books; in many workplaces, 30 minutes is the maximum you can take for lunch, and people often don’t even do that and instead grab something and eat it on the go.

10. Your boss wants you to get to the point. In school, you might have learned to delve deeply into every aspect of an issue, but most managers want to hear the upshot first and then decide whether to ask for more background. This is true in face-to-face conversations, but it’s especially true in writing; few managers have the time or inclination to read multiple-page memos or lengthy emails. Short summaries with bullet points are generally preferred.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 314 comments… read them below }

  1. CanadianWriter*

    Articles like this always confuse me. What college senior has never had a job before? Even if its just a retail/restaurant type place, surely they’ve learned these same lessons.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Some haven’t had jobs before, actually! But even for those who have, there are often different lessons to be learned in office environments/professional-type jobs. Or even just full-time/non-summer jobs versus part-time/summer.

      1. Annie O*

        I agree. Some recent grads have zero work experience. Some have experience in very different types of jobs. And even those who have worked in offices/professional environments probably don’t have enough experience to realize what is employer-specific and what are the more general norms for that type of work.

    2. Blue Anne*

      Lots of college seniors have never had jobs. :)

      I had, but they were all summer jobs, so I hadn’t learned a lot of the stuff that’s relevant only to permanent positions. I don’t think that’s very unusual.

      1. CanadianWriter*

        I guess this depends on where you’re from? My town is pretty poor so everybody worked all through the school year, starting in high school (or earlier if you could find a place that was alright with child labour).

        1. TL*

          My town is very poor, so it was the same thing, but at my affluent college a lot of the kids had never had a job – and most of the ones who did worked on campus where the standards were very lax.

          1. De Minimis*

            My experience in a poorer town was different…jobs were tough to find for younger people because you’d have a lot of adults working in service jobs, fast food, etc.

            1. iseeshiny*

              +1 Lot of lawn mowing and babysitting in my hometown – not exactly a professional environment.

              1. College Career Counselor*

                Summer camps, lifeguarding, scooping ice cream, etc. are what many students have done at the colleges (U.S.) where I’ve worked. I think Alison is exactly right in her advice. There are a ton of students who have not been exposed to a professional environment or expectations and/or who founder on the “unwritten rules” of professional comportment. Don’t check your phone in a meeting, even if you see other people doing it, is a perfect example. Case in point: today in a meeting of 9 people, two of them were fiddling with their phones, one was checking his email on a laptop, and another was doing some work on a laptop related to the meeting (pulling up data) and other activities completely unrelated. I’m reasonably certain that a student/recent grad attending would have made an assumption that this was completely appropriate behavior. It’s tolerated (if not encouraged) for senior administrators who have, as Alison says, earned this privilege, but someone junior (or a current student) would be seen as rude or disengaged from the topics at hand.

      2. Canadamber*

        A lot of the people here at my high school work! Granted, nobody’s exactly poor, but I find that it’s the kids who are more well off who are generally working.

    3. OriginalYup*

      I went to college with many people who had never held a job of any kind.

      Also, a lot of students are mostly familiar with part time or short term work, which is very different from full-time office-style work. I didn’t understand how meetings operated til my first ‘career’ track job, and I’ve been working since I was 14.

    4. Nusy*

      Lots! Also, the retail/restaurant/bartending kind of jobs do nothing to prepare you for professional, suit-and-tie kind of jobs. What may pass in retail will never make muster in a professional job, and sometimes vice versa.

      Perhaps the only thing worse than those in my experience with interns is on-campus work like supervising computer labs or student centers. One of our interns has only had experience with those type positions, and it took us a good month and a half to get her on track. She had a hard time with our dress code (very conservative government legal agency vs. “as long as there are no belly buttons or visible genitalia” community college), she had a hard time with a professional demeanor, phone and e-mail etiquette, even just keeping her files organized enough to be able to perform her work.

      On the one hand, she learned her lesson while an intern, and she (hopefully) won’t make the same mistakes once she moves on to a paying, full-time professional job.

      On the other hand… imagine how this would have flown had her program not required her to intern for a semester, and she had just gone out to do this on her own!

      1. O*

        My first job was during college, worked a dog kennel (daycare & boarding), definitely a different kind of workplace than most jobs.

        1. Matteus*

          I dunno, I have known some office managers who might think that sort of thing valuable relevant experience.

          1. Mints*

            I think my summer job is valuable in the sense that I bring it up in interviews and it taught me skills, but there were still things about an indefinite office type job that were new (workflow, for one. What am I supposed to be doing if nobody gives me anything?)

          2. Sydney*

            It is valuable experience, but that doesn’t mean you will learn the lessons in the article.

    5. some1*

      I’ve been working since I was 17. However, it’s easy to be a bad worker at that age because it’s a crap job, your parents are (likely) supporting you, and if you get fired the store/restaurant down the street will hire you.

      1. Nusy*

        Very true. Even if your parents don’t support you, the second half is true. Sure, they may fire me here, but there are plenty other places that will take any warm body willing to show up for minimum wage.

        It’s also awful hard to motivate yourself to bust your butt when your pay is not much above peanuts, your benefits are non-existent, and your “advancement” opportunities mainly include being a half step above the Christmas seasonal hires.

      2. Mallory*

        Yes, and you just aren’t held to as high a standard, or the job isn’t long enough for you to have to maintain a high standard for very long.

        When I was in high school, I worked for six weeks in the summer helping out at the state revenue office during the busy season. My fellow high-school employee and I would amuse ourselves by linking every single paperclip in our supervisor’s drawer. She would reach into her drawer and pull out a 5-foot-long paperclip chain. She would (semi-mock) scold us, but we did it again every single day because it was funny to us.

        Not a reputation you’d want to develop in a “real” job.

    6. Laufey*

      Additionally, some of the rules are different for typical college/high school jobs. In addition to the lower standards and time periods mentioned above, a lot of cashier-type jobs have automatic pay increase built into the job position (i.e. an extra $0.25 after 3 months, $0.50 after six months, etc) – building the idea that it is normal to get a pay increase after the first couple months. Jobs on college campuses will (usually) still get general school schedule/holiday time. If those job have meetings, they’re fifteen minute staff meetings at the start of day. Additionally, in a several of my jobs before graduating, the standards were very lax – you could keep your job if you showed up with a pulse, and people would often show up hung-over, late, with bad attitudes, and so on and so forth. I hope to never work in a place where those things are acceptable on an ongoing basis.

    7. Bryan*

      While retail type positions have taught me a lot there is a lot of stuff that was new when I started a professional 40 hour a week job.

      1. De Minimis*

        I didn’t have to make that adjustment until my 30s, and it was actually pretty difficult. In some ways I guess I’m still trying to make it.

        1. Bryan*

          Even going from 40 hours in retail to 40 hours 9 to 5 is a big adjustment. Like hey I get weekends off.

    8. Stephanie*

      I worked during college, but it was a lot of lax, super part-time on-campus jobs or tutoring. These were jobs where saying “Oh, I can’t make it in today because I need finish my Teapot Machine Design problem set” was a completely valid excuse for skipping work. Most people I knew in college who worked (if they did work) had super flexible jobs like that.

      I did have a white-collar internship one summer and that was a huge eye-opener. But even with that experience, transitioning into the working world full-time was still a bit of an adjustment.

    9. anonanon*

      I had a job in college with the most lax call out policy ever. You were required to work 2 shifts a week (3 hours each) and I called out probably 10 times a semester without penalty. You didn’y even have to find someone to cover your shift. I’d literally work 3 hours a week and get a $25 paycheck.

    10. Ed*

      Much like the post yesterday about a young person quitting via text message to a co-worker with no notice, many college kids consider these jobs as “throwaways” and don’t even try to learn anything. When I was bagging groceries at 15 you would have thought I owned stock in the company but I was in the extreme minority. And guess what? I was promoted to stocking shelves within three months while most of my fellow baggers still held those jobs two years later. In a similar vain, I had classmates who would skip entire weeks of class and say “it will be different when I’m getting paid to be somewhere”. IMHO, there is no difference. Those are people with poor habits and usually bad attitudes that they will carry into the working world.

      1. Bea W*

        I was like that as well. I started working just before I turned 16 and while I sucked at school and was a total slacker who eventually dropped out, I took my min wage part time retail clerk job seriously. I showed up on time, dressed appropriately, followed procedures, only called out when truly ill, and didn’t use the phone (landline, rotary dial) for personal calls. I often had to work alone and was responsible for opening and/or closing. The weirdest thing about transitioning to an office environment was the schedule and having my own desk and phone. I’d get home by 5:30 and think, “Now what?”. Having every weekend off was pretty sweet. I think it was a month before I figured out I had voicemail and how to check it.

        1. Bea W*

          Also, being paid to NOT go to work (holidays, vacation)…the novelty has yet to wear off in 14 years.

    11. Karyn*

      My brother has never had a job, because his school schedule was always so packed (19 credit hours every semester) that he couldn’t find anywhere that would hire him because he didn’t have four straight hours a day to commit to a shift!

    12. Anonathon*

      I was a camp counselor almost as soon as I was old enough. Great experience, but not everything translated to an office environment. Same with my past part-time customer service jobs. I learned a lot in those jobs that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else, but being at a desk from 9-5 was really different.

    13. Vicki*

      I worked as a swimming pool cashier one summer. I did a work study project in a stockroom another summer. I did less than one week in retail. During the school year, I went to school.

      No salary, certainly not for a year.
      No holidays.
      No meetings (but you have to pretend interest in classes…)

    14. Chris*

      I haven’t, and I’ve been applying for jobs regularly since senior year high school.

      Unless you count research experience.

    15. Cupcake*

      Popping in late to comment that my parents always emphasized my education over experience, and so the one time I got a job in high school, I was forced to quit without notice because they thought it would affect my AP exam scores (I was taking 7 that year). Even in university, their condition for paying my tuition was that I wouldn’t let myself get “distracted” by any jobs and focus solely on school. They absolutely believed that a degree would solve everything, and fortunately for them, I received a scholarship to my university that paid for all but $4k a year.

      But seeing as I graduated this past Winter and my lack of experience has killed any hopes of finding work in my field, I’m going to have to say that I really wish I’d snuck a job or something.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*


      Advice I wish I’d had as a new worker about staying alert during meetings: Bring a notepad and take occasional notes. Not like you did in chem lecture; you’re not going to be tested on everything the speaker says. But the process of picking out what’s most important keeps me engaged. Also, bring a water bottle. I find a sip of cold water helps me feel alert. Ditto sitting up straight.

        1. KerryOwl*

          Haha, watch that capitalization! Though I suppose either one will keep you awake and alert . . .

        2. Marie*

          One thing I found very helpful while I was still developing my work-fitness (ability to be in an office for a full day) was cutting out coffee in the morning, and having some after lunch or just before important meetings instead. It somehow gave me much more of a kick than it would have if I hadn’t cut out the morning coffee.

    2. LMW*

      Our admin has fallen asleep during nearly every meeting over the last year. In fact, we remark when she doesn’t fall asleep.

      1. Tina*

        Has anyone said anything to the admin? I’m baffled that it would be allowed to go on that long.

        1. LMW*

          I did, once, in a friendly “Hey, just so you know, people are noticing and talking about this so you should probably find a way to make it stop happening” way. But it did nothing. The sleeping was not the only issue (and in fact, I asked on a long ago open thread about how to deal with someone who isn’t proactive, doesn’t follow through, etc., when no one has actual authority over her – our boss was in a different location), and I don’t know if anything else was ever said to her. It’s been baffling to all of us. But she leaves for a new job after this week, so yay!

          1. University admin*

            I thought you worked at my office until you said she’s leaving for a new job (we should be so lucky). I can’t believe people do this!

  2. Anoners*

    I’m interested to see how long commenters take for lunch? I ALWAYS take an hour (unelss of course I have meetings or something work related going on). Just curious how much time others take?

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        Ditto here, although I tend to work through my lunch (and therefore don’t punch out) about half the time.

        My first job gave us an hour paid, and my second job I was salaried and didn’t punch a clock at all. And now I appreciate how good I had it.

        1. The IT Manager*

          But when I work in the office 95% of the time I bring my lunch and eat at my desk – sometimes during a meeting or doing other work and sometimes reading AAM.

          When I work from home, I might take the full 30 minutes away from my desk, but if I am busy I will fix my lunch and bring it up to my computer to continue working.

    1. Steven M*

      Currently about 45 minutes. It’s varied between 30-60 minutes depending on what was available for lunching in/around my office.

    2. Blue Anne*

      I take an hour. If I took just a half hour, I could work 9-5, but I prefer to take the extra time and leave at 5:30.

    3. Sunflower*

      I’m always curious if ‘lunch’ is included. My schedule is 8-4 so that includes lunch. But I also work in an office that is kind of in the deep suburbs so no one really goes out to lunch/everyone brings it and eats at their desk

      1. Bea W*

        Most places I know of don’t include 30 min of lunch as part of your 8 hour days. Office hours tend to be 9-5:30 or 8:30-5 (8.5 hours) to account for the 30 minute lunch break.

        1. Bea W*

          Dammit submitted too soon. I also wanted to mention if you take more than 30 minutes, you are still expected to put in 8 hours of working. So if you start at 9 AM and take an hour for lunch, you get off work at 6 PM (8 working hours plus 1 hour lunch)

    4. the gold digger*

      I take about 1.5 hours – I go to the gym at lunch and that’s how long it takes. However, I am not paid by the hour and am often working late because of having to coordinate with international offices.

      1. anon-2*

        Yes, if I have to get up to do a conference call with someone in Europe at 7 am, I’m gonna stop workin’ at 4.

      1. lachevious*

        Same here –

        My current job is actually the *first* job (been working for 16 years) that I have had where the boss *makes* the support staff take an hour lunch, and we can’t eat at our desks.

        Sometimes it’s nice to know that you’ll get a break, but I wish I could just take a few mini-breaks instead of the hour.

    5. sophiabrooks*

      When I moved from retail work to hourly office work, I was SHOCKED that I had to take an hour. I couldn’t figure out how to use it, especially since this was before smart phones and such, and I wasn’t couldn’t sit at my desk because I was in reception.

      Now, as a salaried person, I eat at my desk, but I probably spend the equivalent of an hour not doing work in some way– like posting here!

    6. Jules*

      I take an hour to decompress before heading back into the crunch. It keeps me sane and spirited until the end of the day. Unless there is actually something going on, then I might even skip it.

    7. Brett*

      I actually eat my lunch at my desk while working most days :/

      I have to take my lunch when I can, and once I get to around 2 pm or later, I just eat at my desk because it is probably my only chance to get a lunch in at all.

    8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I’m a teacher with a different schedule day-to-day. Some days I have the luxury of spending 45 minutes in the faculty room eating and talking with coworkers (often a mix of social chat and work-related talk), but other days I have more classes and more materials to prep and wind up bolting my food down in 10 minutes.

      I’m salaried, though, not hourly. When I was hourly I got a 15 minute break in the morning and a 45 minute lunch. (California where everything’s different! CA mandates 2 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch, but it’s acceptable to squash the lunch and one of the breaks together as long as the employee doesn’t ever have to work over 4 (I think) hours in a row without a break.)

      1. JustKatie*

        Yeah, when I taught I generally ate at my desk and graded/ caught up with e-mails. But my school also only had a 20 minute lunch period. I felt terrible for the kids because it was a huge campus and could take you a few minutes to get to the cafeteria, so you’d lose a good chunk of it getting there. Forget bringing any food that needed to be microwaved for a long time!

      1. Anonathon*

        Ditto! Also at a nonprofit. I’m not convinced that we have one. I eat at my computer (while checking AAM usually …), so that I can have a semi-break, but still be available on email. But if I wanted to go out for lunch, it would be fine.

    9. Kay*

      I almost never take a lunch at all unless my sister or a friend wants to go somewhere and meet for lunch. I will occasionally pick something up and eat at my desk, but I consider it work time because I cover phones and work on payables, receivables, etc during that time. Usually if I do pick something up, it’s because I had to go to the bank and deposit money or cash a petty cash check and grabbed something on the way back to the office.

      I should also mention that I’m “part-time” at 25-30 hours per week, so I’m usually done by 3-4pm.

    10. AmyNYC*

      I take my hour, unless there is something super pressing. But it would have to be BIG – I really value my non-work time.

      1. Daria*

        I take my whole hour. It’s my decompress time. I’d lose it if I had to be “on” all day with zero break. I’m extremely protective of it and rarely ever eat at my desk/take a shorter lunch.

    11. Cath in Canada*

      Officially, we get half an hour for lunch and 2 x 15 minute coffee breaks per day, but you can take the hour however you want. I usually take 30-45 minutes for lunch (our lunch room is very social and full of people happy to talk about their pet True Detective and Game of Thrones theories for weeks on end), but sometimes I take an hour and sometimes I eat at my desk. It all depends on workload that week.

      1. LV*

        Same here (I’m also in Canada). I had to take a full hour at my last job because I was at the reference desk and had to be replaced while I was away and it was easier on my coworker-replacement if I only left once. I’m starting a new job on Monday and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that.

    12. AndersonDarling*

      My timeclock automatically takes out 30 min of a full workday for lunch. If I leave the office, then my true “lunch break” is counted when I clock in/out.
      I usually just take a few breaks (reading AAM!) throughout the day and I figure it adds up to 30 min. I eat lunch at my desk most of the time.

    13. Stephanie*

      OldJob, I usually took a working lunch. We were deadline heavy and worked on billable hours, so it was pretty common that people just ate at their desks. We also didn’t have a dedicated break room, so your away-from desk options were empty conference rooms or cubes. Most people would take 10-15 minutes to grab a sandwich and bring it back.

      I did have a boss who make a point to take his hour everyday, but he was the exception. He even would walk by our desks like “Guys, it’s lunch. You should get away from your computers just for a bit.” Unfortunately, the culture at my office definitely encouraged working lunches.

    14. Kirsten*

      I usually just eat at my desk. We can take 30 minutes or an hour, just depends if our work schedule is based on taking a 30 or 60 minute lunch. I like the OT, but I have my schedule based on a 30 minute lunch if I wanted to take it.

    15. Artist ITC*

      My schedule includes an hour for lunch, but I am exempt so the time I have varies based on my workload. I frequently work through lunch.

    16. KellyK*

      Today I took 45 minutes and went for a walk. Most days I work through lunch. This isn’t because I have to, but because it gets me home earlier.

      1. Ali*

        I get a half-hour at my job. Used to take an hour but no more when I got my new schedule, and I prefer the hour! 30 minutes makes me feel rushed.

    17. Jen RO*

      Our official lunch break is one hour, but I usually take about an hour and a half. During crunch time I eat at my desk, but this is rare.

    18. JC*

      We get an hour at my job. It rules. In my last job we got a half hour but almost always took longer. I don’t always take the full hour, but I do leave my desk and eat lunch with others.

    19. AAA*

      I know I’m in violation of our lunch policy (and the law, at least here in CA). I work 10 hour days, so in order not to spend 11+ hours at the office I just eat at my desk. So I work 7-5, no real lunch break. If I do need to take a lunch break I will, either for an appointment or for the need to get outside of my windowless office, but usually I just prefer to get done with work before 6 so I can enjoy the rest of the day!
      No one has any problem with it (despite being against the rules), as I work closely with lots of “sworn” firefighters (I’m a civilian) who work under different labor laws and are paid during meal periods. So for them a 10 hour day is 7-5, and they are paid for their lunch period whether they take it out or at their desk. When we have lunch meetings, I think I have a legitimate right to be paid while I eat.

    20. Steve*

      I almost always take a full hour, and almost always leave the building. When I was supervising hourly associates I always made them take a full hour as well. The only exceptions were if they had a doctor’s appointment, etc., and it didn’t make sense to take an hour lunch, come back for 30 minutes, and them leave for their appointment.

      I know there will be a LOT of people that disagree with me on this, but I absolutely did not let people eat at their desks and then take a full hour lunch afterwards. If you’re on salary and need to work through lunch, that’s fine, but if you’re hourly and taking an hour to do personal things, feeding yourself should be included in that. I don’t think you should use company time to do something you are specifically being asked to do off the clock.

      1. Bea W*

        Makes perfect sense. I also firmly believe people do need to take a break and feed themselves while putting in a full day’s work in order to stay productive and avoid mental burn out.

    21. Anonicorn*

      It depends on the workload, and who I’m with.

      During slower times, I might go to lunch with a few coworkers for an hour to 1.5 hours.

      If I eat in the break room during slow times, and if my boss is in there too, I usually take my cues from her. It’s anywhere between 30-60 minutes.

      During very busy times, I might eat in the break room for 15 minutes or do a working lunch at my desk.

    22. Al Lo*

      Depends on the day. I don’t get any particular amount of time; I come and go as my workload and schedule allows. Monday and yesterday, I took about an hour and a half; some days, I eat at my desk and don’t leave. Some days I go to the gym, some days I run errands, some days I plan lunch with a friend and am gone for a couple of hours. Most often, though, I end up either not leaving or else sticking pretty close to an hour.

      When I temped at reception desks, most places gave an hour, and my paid workweek varied between 35, 37.5, and 40 hours, depending on whether I was at work for 8 hours with a 1-hour unpaid lunch, 9 hours with a one-hour unpaid lunch, or somewhere in between.

    23. Annie O*

      I work through lunch about 90% of the time. Once in awhile I’ll go off-site for a nice lunch or take a yoga class.

    24. The Other Dawn*

      I get an unpaid hour and have to take it because I’m now non-exempt, but I really think it’s unnecessary most of the time since I bring my lunch. But it’s nice to be able to take the hour when I want to meet a friend or have an appointment.

    25. BadPlanning*

      I’m in a salaried exempt position so my lunch wildly varies. Sometimes I eat at my desk while working, sometimes I take an hour, sometimes I take longer if there’s a special appointment or something. But that’s not odd where I work. People usually do a mix of eating at their desk or going out or taking care of errands over lunch — and then eating at the desk with food you picked up on the way back.

      1. Tina*

        Officially we have an hour, and up until recently, I consistently took the entire hour and ate lunch with 1 or more of my coworkers. We’d sit in the conference room if available, otherwise, we’d sit in one of our offices. I switched to another office in the same company, and people don’t seem to take lunch as much, or if they do, don’t necessarily eat together. I’ve been taking shorter lunches just because I’m not chatting with coworkers, but my lunch break is is a chance for me to decompress and rejuvenate, rather than eating at my desk. Sometimes I’ll eat at my desk or keep working, but I’d rather take the break and stay later. I just work better that way.

    26. Amtelope*

      Usually I just eat at my desk, but technically we get half an hour or an hour, depending on how late we want to leave. And my job is pretty flexible about working hours as long as we’re getting our work done, so it’s not a big deal to occasionally take an hour and a half.

    27. ShesANiceLady*

      Salaried, we technically get an hour.
      Sometimes I eat at my desk and then go walking for 45 minutes.
      Sometimes I have lunch meetings so I really consider that working even though I am eating too.
      Sometimes I go to the library for an hour and work on other projects, then come back to the day job.

    28. VictoriaHR*

      My workplace does flex time where you get to leave at 1 pm on Fridays (noon in the summer months) as long as you make it up elsewhere in the work week. We’re all salaried so we either work through lunch or come in early/late. I work through lunches except for when I dash next door to the gym for a 30-minute workout.

    29. Jennifer*

      Our schedules do not have a lunch hour built into them. We are encouraged to take breaks but for dinner but, we eat at our desks while we are working. We have a very hectic schedule and a lot of deadlines each night.

    30. LAI*

      I’m exempt, and I usually spend 15-30 minutes eating at my desk. But I also take 10 minutes in the morning to make my coffee, maybe a mid-afternoon break to read some AAM, etc.

    31. Agile Phalanges*

      My job is really flexible, so some people take an hour, some a half hour, some work through lunch. Some take lunch at the same time every day, and for some it really varies. I personally usually take an hour lunch, especially if I go off site–it takes 20 minutes just to get somewhere, stand in line, get food, and get back, plus the time it takes to eat it, PLUS I have to read AAM while I eat, right?

      But I’m exempt, so it’s kind of a wishy-washy hour filled with checking (and answering) e-mails as well as reading AAM, so if it’s a little less one day and a little more another, it doesn’t really matter.

    32. Bea W*

      30-60 min depending on my workload, meeting schedule, and general mental fatigue. I have freedom to take lunch whenever and come and go from my desk whenever as long as I’m where I need to be when I have to be there and am getting my work done. When the weather is nice I`ll often take a mid-afternoon walk about 15-20 min. Technically lunch is 30 min, which is the standard required by state law, but with flexible hours and being on salary, folks at my level take as little or as much (within reason) break as they need. A good manager in my field willnot waist time playing the Lunch Police.

      There are also times when I work long days or hardly get lunch or a break. I really try to force myself to get away for lunch for 30 min. Breaks and getting enough nutrition are important to my mental and physical functioning, especially when the workload is very demanding.

      1. Bea W*

        A friend of mine had a job where there were no breaks. She was allowed to take 10 min to go to the cafeteria in order to bring food back to her desk to eat or heat up whatever she brought. I was appalled, and this for people getting paid generously with otherwise good benefits. My instant reaction was “Is that legal?!”, because in my state it’s totally not legal to not give employees working 8 hr days 30 min of break. That was one of my very first lessons at my first job. My next though was “What kind of sugar honey iced tea employer doesn’t give employees breaks?” My friend was fine with that and didn’t find it odd. She likes her job and her employer, but I totally lost respect for that particular giant corporate employer that day. That’s just all kinds of bad policy in my mind that no amount of annual bonus pretties up.

        Don’t even get me started on what they did to non-union employees when union employees went on strike. SMH.

    33. Apple22Over7*

      I’m at my third professional job and I get an hour for lunch – which is weird as at every other job I’ve had, half an hour was the norm. Initially the full hour had me bored, but I’ve recently moved to a new apartment which is located literally a 3 minute walk away from the office. So now at lunch I get to go home, make food fresh (no soggy sandwhiches that have been left in a lunchbox for 5 hours!) and still have time to do a couple of chores – wipe down the bathroom, a quick vacuum, a quick spot of grocery shopping – before heading back to work.

      My company are pretty tight on making sure you take your full hour too – no working whilst eating – you’re on your lunch. If your phone rings, let it go to voicemail and call them back afterwards. If you get email, respond after your break.

      They’re the same with finishing time too – it’s 5pm, turn off your computer and come back to it tomorrow. We’re given the autonomy to dictate our own workflow, so most people schedule the little tiny itty bitty tasks between 4 & 5pm so they can get away at 5 on the dot.

    34. Mallory*

      We get an hour lunch. I usually take the whole hour, but if things are busy I’ll just grab something and eat at my desk. Sometimes, when a group of us goes out to lunch together, we’ll take an hour and a half, and nobody cares as long as our work is getting done. When the weather is mild, I’ll take a half hour to eat and then a few of us will take a half-hour walk around the campus for exercise.

    35. LibrarianJ*

      Technically, full-time exempt here are entitled to a 1 hour unpaid break (although as I reread our policies, this makes no sense to me, as this is supposed to be outside of our min 40 hrs/week yet our standard workday is stated as 8:30-4:30).

      In practice I take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on what work I have to do and what fits around scheduled stuff. I’m not especially protective of my break. Very rarely, if I am having lunch with coworkers outside of the department, I might take 1.5 hours for lunch at a campus eatery. Otherwise I almost always eat in my office, answer emails and read AAM. My department is pretty flexible — the majority of us come in early/leave late more often than not, and many of us work from home too (when you work with college students, checking email at 11pm becomes a necessity), so as long as work is getting done no one watches the time too closely.

      This has honestly the most difficult adjustment for me as a new professional (and I had my first job at 14) . I have always been hourly, so it was pretty daunting not to be accountable to a set schedule in terms of lunch or when I’m supposed to be ‘off the clock’, moreso due to previous jobs where stated policy did not exactly meet expectations (ex, ‘you’re entitled to an hour unpaid lunch, but actually we are all team players here and we eat at our desks with the phones on’).

    36. TRB*

      My job is super flexible as long as we get the work done so I usually take an hour to an hour and a half if I go out with coworkers or the bosses (which happens pretty often). If I bring lunch, I eat while working at my desk so technically I don’t take one at all. I’m salaried with 9-5 work hours.

    37. Shortie*

      I’m on salary, but the lunch doesn’t count toward the hours per day we are supposed to work, so I guess you would say it’s unpaid.

      We may choose whatever lunch break works best for us as long as it’s at least 30 minutes. I choose 30 minutes because an hour isn’t long enough to go somewhere good anyway, but 30 minutes is enough time to stretch the legs, take a break, enjoy a reheated home-cooked meal, etc. Some people choose an hour and a half and just stay longer at the end of the day, but that’s not for me.

  3. Monday*

    I really wish that #3, that it isn’t enough to be perceived as smart and having a lot of potential, was universally true. Unfortunately I have worked with a lot of chronic under-performers who just got pass after pass due to the impression they made on others. It gets even worse as they become more senior.

    Overall, though, I think this list is a pretty good overview of things that differ between school and professional workplaces. It’s a huge gulf, really.

    1. JustKatie*

      Yes, or the how people who look perpetually busy but are actually hugely inefficient are regarded as hard workers.

  4. Poohbear McGriddles*

    7(b) Don’t make a 30 minute meeting last 2 hours by asking endless questions trying to show everyone how interested you are.

    1. Bryan*

      I feel like someone gives out the advice, “Make sure you always ask a question because it you will be perceived as intelligent.”

      File that one away next to walk in to a place and ask for a job.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yup, learned this one the hard way. I asked a lot of questions and this just annoyed the hell out my boss. I think he thought I was dumber, actually, because I asked too many questions. He also thought I was overthinking everything by asking about hypothetical situations. In his mind, it tagged me as high-maintenance and unable to work without a lot of outside direction.

        I tend to be naturally inquisitive. I also was paranoid about making mistakes and wanted to cover all bases. But in retrospect, given the line of work, I understand his reservations.

        1. Bryan*

          To play devil’s advocate my brother is pretty sure he was fired for not asking enough questions. He likes to observe more and take it in and they took it as him being disinterested.

          1. De Minimis*

            I had a job too where they really wanted people to ask questions, although in an efficient manner.

            I was let go for similar reasons….not asking enough questions, trying to figure things out on my own [senior staff were not great at training–even when I did ask them they would get frustrated with me after a while if the same issue ever came up again.]

          2. Bea W*

            I worked with a woman who complained to my manager that I didn’t ask many questions. *eye roll*.

            I’m like your brother, I like to take things in and observe, and I rarely have questions at the time, either because I am still absorbing or I feel like I understand whatever is being talked about. I’m not a talker. I do ask questions, but not for the sake of asking questions. If I’m asking questions, it is specifically to learn something from the answer.

            I do maintain eye contact, take notes, and occasionally nod. It’s not like anyone could mistake me for being disinterested for not asking questions. The person complaining was someone totally inexperienced for the position she was in, like fresh out of school +1 year not really related experience and somehow managed to just get an Associate Director of a whole division. I took that feedback with the grain of salt it deserved.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        I have gotten that feedback at my annual review, when I was younger! Several times! “Be sure to ask questions in meetings to demonstrate engagement.” The real problem was that the meetings at that company were giant wastes of time (either inherently, or I didn’t need to be invited), so there was nothing to legitimately “engage” with.

        1. Bea W*

          ‘Cuz there is nothing people like more than to be held up in a useless meeting as long as possible answering all of the unnecessary and/or repetitive questions people ask just for the sake of asking questions.

  5. some1*

    I would add that the office isn’t your house, your dorm room or your seat in class. Personal grooming at your desk (longer than running a brush through your hair for a few seconds), walking around without shoes, and sitting on the floor on your break can weird people out.

    1. Nusy*

      A lot of it depends on office culture. Although we’re a government agency, since we’re completely closed to the public, and our department is relatively small (~10 attorneys and support staff), things like touching up your make-up at your desk, or even running to the printer without shoes is generally accepted as normal.

      But as with anything where policy comes into issue, Your Mileage May Vary.

      1. some1*

        Sorry, I’ve seen people take shoes off and walk around the whole floor and go in the bathroom and meetings like that.

        And the grooming I didn’t mean touching up make-up, more like clipping nails, braiding your hair, putting on nail polish.

        1. NutellaNutterson*

          “putting on nail polish.”

          There would be MURDER in my office if this happened.

        2. Nusy*

          Whoa. That is waaaay out of line, and the no-shoes bathroom is simply gross.

          I know some people find us weird even for that, but compared to those, we seem pretty normal!

        3. Stephanie*

          I had a shared office with a coworker who would do her nails at work. I preferred the nail polish smell to the hour-long conversations she’d have with her mother everyday.

        4. cecilhungry*

          I sometimes take my shoes off under my desk, and then someone comes by to ask me a question and I turn around and realize I’m barefoot :-/ At that point I just try to brazen it out. (I should note that people don’t come talk to me very often, and I always put my shoes on before I go anywhere.)

          I also do braid my hair at my desk. It’s a tic I developed during school, when I taught myself to french braid while reading articles for term papers. It’s pretty unobtrusive, I don’t even have a brush, I just braid my hair up and then let it fall out again. I didn’t realize this was a faux pas (…and sometimes don’t realize I’m even doing it). Again, people don’t come by my desk very often.

          1. Sydney*

            If your coworkers can’t see you doing it all day, they won’t think anything about it. What’s weird is braiding your hair so much in front of coworkers that you become Braid Lady.

          2. lonepear*

            I used to braid my hair to keep myself awake during morning classes at college–all kinds of twisty complicated things. (And then usually take it down because it was sloppy.) I *try* to refrain at work… but I have done one or two French braids at my desk.

    2. OriginalYup*

      “the office isn’t your house, your dorm room or your seat in class.”

      A heavenly chorus of amens. And in my experience, this problem crosses age lines, genders, seniority levels, and pretty much every known categorization of coworkers. People get comfy at the office and start treating it like their living room.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      A coworker of mine, hired right out of college, used to curl up on the floor under her desk during lunch and take a nap. (This was in an open-plan office, so it was pretty obvious.) She was told (fairly gently) that that was probably not a good idea because it appeared unprofessional. She stopped, but she never did give up complaining about not being able to do it.

      1. Al Lo*

        My husband was working on a project once — composing the score for a play, where the timelines were way behind schedule — and basically lived at his office for 2 weeks straight. We lived 45 minutes away, and he’s a night-owl who works best late, so instead of wasting time driving back and forth, he’d just work until he needed a break and then crawl into a nest of sleeping bag under his desk (in his closed-door office, thankfully) and nap for a while.

        And then a nice long week off after the project was finished!

        (I was producing the show, so while I wasn’t working the same hours, I did have rehearsals or meetings at his office pretty much every day during that time, so at least we saw each other, and I made him leave the building at least once a day to get dinner with me.)

        1. Laufey*

          My office has often joked/discussed half seriously putting a cot in a back room for when things like this happen. The only reason we don’t is because that and our well-stocked office kitchen, there are certain coworkers that would never leave the office. That wouldn’t be healthy for anyone.

      2. Annie O*

        One of our previous employees requested a lock on his office door so he could cat nap without interruption. Request granted!

        To his defense, the man was close to retirement and one of our top performers.

      3. Tina*

        Sounds like the episode of Seinfeld where George was sleeping under his desk, only at least he was in his own office, not an open-floor plan!

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I honestly think that if she’d had an office, nobody would have cared much! It was curling up in full view of everyone that was so odd. (Especially since some people were working at that time, and even though rationally they knew that the work was more important than her naptime, it can be hard to overcome the instinctive ‘someone’s trying to sleep, it’s rude to talk/make noise’ feeling.)

      4. Mints*

        This is normal in other countries, though (Japan?). Maybe she knew family members who did this. Or maybe not, and was a completely oblivious person

    4. Who Are You?*

      OMG YES! I work with a woman in her mid-20’s who thinks it’s okay to do things like floss her teeth, clean her ears with q-tips, et al at her desk. Thus far the most disgusting thing she’s done was when she had a cold and insisted stuffing tissues up her nostrils. She literally kept the tissues there, half hanging out of her nose, for over an hour. I did try to tell her gently that this wasn’t appropriate, but her response was “I always do it this way”. Um…okay? Saying something to my supervisor isn’t possible in this situation. My supervisor works two states away and I’ve never met her. I doubt that she’s really going to care that I’m completely grossed out by my co-worker.

      1. Sydney*

        In defense of the Tissue Walrus, it’s not productive to keep one or both hands to your nose holding a tissue while you’re trying to work. It’s a bit gross and unprofessional (although I’d argue tissues up your nose is better than wiping on your hand/sleeve which people seem to accept), but I’ve done it on bad allergy days when my nose is running all day. We don’t have visitors/clients come through, and I’m now taking shots so don’t really have to worry about it anymore.

        Coupled with the other things she does though…she lacks boundaries.

    5. Windchime*

      We had a guy who used to floss his teeth at his desk. Not in the bathroom, at his DESK. So gross.

  6. M. in Austin!*

    This is very helpful advice! I’m about to start my first post college job (I’ve worked in corporate environments before, but this feels more permanent I guess).

    I think a lot of people new to professional jobs would also appreciate advice on how to deal with working 8 hours a day, 5 days in a row for most of the year. It can be a tough adjustment!

    1. Sunflower*

      I don’t have too much advice on this because I really eased into it. I didn’t work for a couple months after graduating and then I went to waitressing which had a totally random schedule, then part time then into full time. I will say it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. I’ve been full time since Sept and have only taken 1 vacation day- we’ve had 4 holiday’s off since then. I think its important to take time away from work during the day though. Work can get really busy so it’s important to read a funny article every couple hours or just step away from your desk for a few minutes.

    2. Bryan*

      I know it’s cliche but I think it’s very important to get a good night sleep. You can’t show up at 8 in your pjs 5 minutes after rolling out of bed and phone it in for a day at work. Being tired for a full work day is far worse than struggling to stay awake through an hour class.

      Also plan your schedule a little ahead (oh I need to do laundry by the end of the week), it takes a little more effort because so many things are closed or if you’re like me you just don’t feel like doing anything after work.

    3. AmyNYC*

      To get through the 9-5, 5 days a week:
      -I like planning things in the evening throughout the week, something like a movie after work, gym with a friend. It gives your things to look forward to and breaks up the monotony.
      -Keep one or two days free to go home and collapse.
      -Doing errands after work/on lunch makes weekends care free.
      -There will be a Thursday morning in 2-3 months where the routine will hit you like a ton of bricks
      -Go for a walk at lunch or whenever possible.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        Also, don’t think you can go out and stay out until 3 am during a work night. Try to save your nights out for Friday and Saturday. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and leave a bit early than to be hungover at work.

        On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with going to happy hour with your colleagues on a Tuesday evening. Just make sure to keep a tight reign on yourself with drinks, make sure you sip water/seltzer between every other drink and leaving at 10 pm does not make you a party pooper.

          1. Nusy*

            Generally, growing up means you don’t need to broadcast every single one of your moves on Facebook. If you do feel an absolutely compelling urge to do so, either have a separate account for your friends and family only, or make darn sure that your security/sharing options are bombproof, and you use them properly. Aunt Cersei in your hometown may be tickled pink to see a hundred nudes (or quasi-nudes) of your newborn; your boss may not. The same goes to your pictures of bars, beers, food, public displays of affection, religious convictions, and anything else you wouldn’t discuss or do in the workplace.

            The oft-quoted “mouth filter” applies to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and all the other social media out there as well.

        1. Sunflower*

          I want to add though, as you get older and have less friends in college, you’ll find that more and more of your friends are going to happy hour and no one is staying out til 3am during the week. Also you’d be shocked how easy it becomes to go to sleep at 9pm. Sometimes I have to keep myself up past 8pm…

        2. AmyNYC*

          Absolutely! I didn’t mean go bar hopping – I mean make dinner with a friend at home, go for a walk/run/bike ride, do errands….

    4. AmyNYC*

      Just thought of it – you set your own standard when you start a new job. For example; if you work though lunch and stay until 9 pm every night, that’s what will be expected of you until you leave that job.

    5. Turtle Candle*

      While it’s not specific advice, the thing that helped me the most was being told “it’s really rough at first, but you’ll get used to it.” The first month I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage. The first six months were really rough. And then it just became… normal, and I was fine.

      The other thing that helped was stocking up on quick-but-reasonably-nutritious meals that I could eat on days when I was too exhausted to contemplate cooking and cleaning up after I got home from work. Even just being sure to have a box of spaghetti, a jar of pasta sauce, and a bag of frozen veg on hand helped a lot, because I was able to avoid the cumulative effect of grabbing unhealthy fast food/takeout every day.

      1. cecilhungry*

        Yes! Frozen pizzas are pretty awesome for this, since you can get a whole variety of flavors/nutrition level based on whether you need some hardcore comfort food (deep dish all-meat supreme) or something light so you can go to bed quickly (thin crust margherita).

        If you’re more ambitious, my sister likes to cook a huge vat of something on the weekends, parcel it into individual helpings, and then freeze the helpings. If you do this a few weeks in a row, you can get a pretty good variety going with very little effort during the week.

  7. Brett*

    Is a year really still the convention?
    My workplace has pushed it out to at least 5 years before you get a merit review (and currently has had merit raises suspended since 2006). It seems like many people I know are having to wait 3+ years until they can negotiate their first merit raise; but most of my friends are public sector workers of some sort.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It would have been more accurate for me to say you shouldn’t assume that you’ll definitely get one at one year, but you absolutely shouldn’t ask for or expect one earlier than that.

    2. Sunflower*

      I think every org works differently. When I started my job, it was mentioned during the offer that salary can be discussed again in a year during performance review.

      1. De Minimis*

        For professional services companies they usually have a yearly evaluation and they decide if you get a raise at that point. Generally if someone doesn’t they may be shown the door, unless it’s a situation where no one gets a raise unless they’re being promoted [as was the case in 2009.]

    3. CAA*

      Depends where you are and what you do. If I didn’t review my employees every year and give almost all of them reasonable raises and bonuses, they’d be gone.

      I’m always bemused by the “… in this economy …” comments that pepper this blog, because from my perspective, the job market has favored the employee for at least the last three or four years. For example, I took this job last year after a 2 week search where I got a 50% response rate to my applications. Three years ago, it took me 6 weeks to find a job. The one before that, when there was really a recession took almost 2 years.

      1. AVP*

        I think it’s had a delayed effect on some industries. Others might not have felt a big downturn but are being slowly ground down by the fact that the economy hasn’t bounced back as quickly as they’d hoped, or by decreased federal government spending.

      2. Brett*

        Local government is still in horrible shape. Federal grants are just gone with no replacement. Property tax is nowhere close to recovering. Sales tax is just now getting back up to 2008 levels, but inflation has happened since then.

        Although voters seem more willing to pass bonds and tax increases then they were 2-3 years ago. But those rarely trickle down into employee salaries.

        We still get reviewed every year, and get recommended for raises. Just that no one actually gets those raises because all recommendations are automatically rejected.

        Actually had a newer employee who thought that those merit recommendations stacked up, “When we get merit raises again, I’m in line for 4 of them!” He was pretty sad when I explained that merit recommendations only stay in effect until your next review.

    4. Bea W*

      5 years? So many people in my field don’t even stay at one place for 5 years. It’s still normal up this way to have evals yearly with a merit raise, although when the economy really sucked some businesses didn’t give raises or cut them, but they still expected employees to go though annual reviews.

      1. Brett*

        The evals still happen every year. They just do not have any merit raises connected to them.

  8. Meg Murry*

    And for #4 – if your office does vacation requests by seniority, you might not get off for more than just Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day for several years. My sister learned this one the hard way, thinking when she took a job across the country that at least she could come “home” for Christmas – not true.

    1. Bryan*

      I asked off for Thanksgiving and the friday before memorial day for a wedding. I almost didn’t get it.

    2. anon-2*


      My father was a school principal, my sister was a teacher. They are both retired now. They sometimes, through the years, could not understand that

      – I don’t get summers off

      – 10 days vacation per year means 10 days off, not 10 days plus a week at Christmas, a week at Canada Day/4th of July week, Easter week.

      – a lot of the holidays are not holidays in the private sector. In Massachusetts public employees get around 20 holidays a year –
      – ever hear of Patriots Day, Bunker Hill Day, Evacuation Day, Columbus Day, etc.? In addition to President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, and Veterans Day – which people know about but are generally not private sector days off.

      – if I have to take a sick day – the work backs up. We cannot just call a phone number and say “I’m takin’ a sick day, call in a sub”.

      – vacation times have to be cleared and approved.

      – we cannot cry “seniority”, “union”, “bumping rights”, “grievance”, and “mediation” when things don’t go our way.

      That’s the real world, kids!

  9. Canadamber*

    As a 17-year-old working 11 hours a week at a cashier, I’m already kind of freaked out about the whole vacation time thing. xD; My family might want to go to Newfoundland for two weeks in the summer. I may not be able to get the two weeks off from work. Arrrgh :$

    1. Canadamber*

      I mean, I CAN just quit if needed, but this job offers really flexible hours and doesn’t make me work a whole lot of them, so…

      1. Canadamber*

        I will be in the next week or so. We were given a sheet to submit what time off we might want in the summer, and although I do want the time off around my birthday, I’ll just put the two weeks on the sheet.

        1. Laufey*

          Then you’re already learning one of the most important things – how to prioritize wants.

          1. Canadamber*

            Yeah. I’d rather travel with my family instead haha. I’m quite low on the seniority list though so I’m not even sure if I will get it. >_<; I might need only one of the weeks off, maybe both – my family doesn't quite know their plans yet!!!

    2. Josie*

      You have the advantage of summer being a time that a lot of other high school students want to pick up extra shifts. You sound very reasonable about not presuming you can have the time off, but I would also ask your co-workers and I’d be surprised if they didn’t jump at the chance to get more shifts.

      1. Canadamber*

        Oh, hey, good point!!! Thanks! :) There aren’t really enough hours to go around as it is. >_<; The only thing is that if too many people ask for it off, and they're all up above me on the seniority chain, I will NOT get it. :/

  10. Nancypie*

    This article was so spot on! It relates very much to some of the things I have been saying to my kids (Tweens) about their schoolwork. They are doing done, but I’d like to see them do things that will translate into lifelong habits that will make them do well (things like finish early rather than just on time, do neat work, work hard, etc). If they can master those things now, the transition to a career will go better, I hope.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Hmmm. Now that you mention it, I may need to try that “right now your missing homework only affects you, but in the real world you’re screwing with someone else’s work, too” and see if that brings her around.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        *may need to try that “…” on my teen and see if that brings her around.

        My kingdom for an edit button.

        1. Nancypie*

          Yes, well, my post was supposed to read “they are doing fine” instead of “they’re doing done”. Lesson to kids – don’t do important work on mobile devices. Blog comments are ok.

      2. JustKatie*

        As a former high school teacher, good luck! Some teens get it, and for others it takes awhile before it clicks. Those darn prefrontal cortexes getting in the way of planning :)

        1. Bea W*

          For some people how they handle school work doesn’t translate into how they will handle work work. If someone had told me “right now your missing homework only affects you, but in the real world you’re screwing with someone else’s work, too” – I would look at them odd and not get it, because I understood if I choose to slack off on something that affects only me, that’s my choice to make. It has no bearing on what choice I’d make in a situation where my slacking off affected others.

          I may have not bothered with my homework most of the time, but when it came to things that affected others, even group work at school, I was on that. It wasn’t a matter of not getting it. On the contrary, I probably got it a little too well. Flaking out on homework = matters only to me. Flaking out on a group project (as much as I hated them) = matters to everyone in the group. Ergo, if you’re going to screw it up, keep the damage to yourself.

          Oddly, my mother advised differently – “It’s okay to hurt others, but it’s never okay to hurt yourself.” *facepalm*

          1. Onymouse*

            I’m the same way. Making sure I don’t delay a project? On it! Doing stuff around the house? Not so on it.

            1. Sasha LeTour*

              Me too. I used to walk out of high school. My attendance record should have prevented me from graduating, but my GPA was one of the highest in the class.

              In college, I turned it around and never missed a lecture because my grades earned me money in the form of scholarships. And from my first day on the job through the present, I only miss work if I’m sick with a contagious illness or I have pre-planned vacation time.

              1. Sasha LeTour*

                (BTW, there are some downsides to being THAT anal about attendance. For example, you might struggle to perform at times because you are not at your best. Obviously, don’t ditch work for stupid reasons or to party, but I actually think it can be really good for you to take a mental health day now and again. Lord knows, I could’ve used one in the early days of my career, when I was struggling with severe, suicidal depression and recovering from a moderately serious addiction.)

  11. Cool Name TBD*

    Yes… the holidays. I remember debating with a younger employee that Christmas Eve is not actually a holiday, regardless of her plans at Grandma’s house.

    And if I could add one… as a new/junior employee, you will get the crappy shifts. A lot of industries can’t close up shop at 5pm and on weekends. Be prepared for your social life to take a back seat.

    1. Canadamber*

      Can you imagine how much that would even suck? >_<; You want to go visit family members, friends, a place with both, something; you're all like, "Oh, cool, I can just take it off from work!" Only to find out shortly before that, no, you actually can't. Then you'd look stupid. :$

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        Honestly the worst for me wasn’t trying to get a day off and not getting it (though that was always disappointing) but that my family would give me crap for not getting the days off. Some would even want me to quit because I couldn’t get a particular week off! Keep in mind by that time I was out of the house and whether my bills were paid depended entirely on my job. It’s bad enough when you live at home and can otherwise survive without a job for a while.

        1. Canadamber*

          Yeah, especially because your parents are likely either retired or are senior at their jobs by then (my dad gets seven weeks off per year, but a lot of that is shutdown time at his plant), and your younger siblings may still either be in high school or college. This is what I’m going to be dealing with when I graduate from university in five years (still not quite done with high school yet)… lol.

        2. AmyNYC*

          Ugh, my sister has like 30 vacation days a year and lives 30 mins from our parents, I get 10 and live 4 hours ago. She still gives me sh*t when I can’t come home for every birthday and a whole week at Christmas.

          1. Canadamber*

            This is sort of why I don’t plan to move too far away unless I absolutely have to, haha. But, then again, I have the advantage of living in one of the most popular parts of Canada (just north of the GTA in Ontario!). Even if I DO move to somewhere around Toronto, I’ll be an hour and a half away from home in most cases, so I can even visit on weekends!

    2. Lamington*

      Brand new coworker was complaining this year he had to cover all holidays since ours are seniority-based. He stopped when another coworker he had done it 2 years in a row. unfortunately you have to pay your dues first, the team lead now gets off all holidays.

  12. Stephanie*

    11. Give your job a fair shake (ideally a year) before you dismiss it and start sending out resumes.
    11a. Learn when to throw in the towel, especially in a toxic workplace.

    I wanted FirstJob to work out so badly that I stuck around in a toxic environment for way too long. I kept telling myself that “Oh, this is just FirstJob jitters and adjusting to working in an office.” It took several people telling me that “Er, no. That is not a normal workplace” to really convince me to start looking.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I did the same thing. I had the idea that all jobs suck and are filled with mean people and stress and suffering. I stayed at awful jobs too long when I should have been looking for a good workplace not just a paycheck.

      1. Bea W*

        This is totally why so many people at one of my former employers didn’t bother to even try looking. They were convinced that all work places were that messed up and that was how normal people behaved at work.

        Then there was the “Hell I know is better than the hell I don’t know.” No, really it isn’t. Most work places aren’t hell.

    2. Artist ITC*

      This. So much this.

      I stayed in a toxic environment too long too. I honestly believed my boss and coworkers would start treating me like an adult if I behaved professionally and produced high quality work. Instead, I continued to receive comments like, “When you grow up and have children [insert unsolicited advice here].”

      1. Stephanie*

        I believed that if I just kept working really hard, the bosses would see how hard I was working and give me due credit. I was still in college mode, where if you have a really tough class, you can just power through and the professor will give you an A (ok, realistically a B-) for effort. This totally does not transfer over to the working world.

    3. JustKatie*

      YES. I spent four years at Former Toxic Workplace, and I swear it’s stunted me. It felt like getting out of a bad relationship.

  13. Midge*

    For #10, your coworkers want you to get to the point, too! Just because I’m not the boss doesn’t mean I want to listen to a 10 minute tangent when I ask a simple question.

    Any advice on politely shutting down coworkers who do this?

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      “Any advice on politely shutting down coworkers who do this?” I feel like this was a topic a long time ago, and it’s come up here and there since then. I’d love for AAM to open it up again in a new post!

      It’s tough when you’re not leading the meeting (or when there is no one leading the meeting!) because “let’s table that” would seem to be stepping on toes. I love it when there’s a “points to address later” type of list being made. :-)

      1. Bea W*

        I do this. Do people really perceive it as stepping on toes, especially if no one is really leading the meeting? Generally when I am speaking up it is because I am pretty exasperated and don’t want to waste everyone’s time and not get anything accomplished because we got off on a tangent, and I that point I really just don’t care about stepping on toes. I’m do try to be diplomatic about it, and spin it in a way that makes it sound better if we can resume that discussion later and move on with other business.

  14. Intrigued*

    May I add one? I cringe when I see newbies plop down at the conference table for meetings. I’ve seen too many times as the room fills up that senior people sit on the perimeter of the room or have to drag in an extra chair. Is that just my pet peeve? I think junior people and interns need to leave the table for the seniors and professionals.

    1. Sunflower*

      I think in this spot it’s important for the boss to inform the younger people if this is an office norm. A lot of time people come in and have no idea what protocol is and they feel much better if someone says ‘the room has a tendency to fill up so we leave the seats at the table for the big guys.’

      1. Kelly L.*

        +1. And they may not even know how many people are coming to the meeting until they’re all there! I’ve seldom been at a meeting where anyone had to sit at the perimeter; everyone fit at the actual table, or fit after a few extra chairs got dragged up to the table. I wouldn’t want to default to the perimeter as a new employee; it might look like the “slacker kid trying to sit in the back row of the classroom” stereotype.

        1. KellyK*

          Good point! I’ve been at a few where a ton of people are stuck at the perimeter (usually open enrollment or other HR stuff that affects everyone in the building). But usually, the person planning the meeting gets a room big enough for everybody to be at the table.

          1. Kelly L.*

            And sometimes even if there are more than enough chairs, if I’m new, I’ll end up awkwardly standing around till everybody’s there in case someone has a Sheldon chair. :D

          2. Intrigued*

            I’ve worked in four offices now and all of them had meetings where there were more people than seats at the table. And that’s in the only conference room so nothing bigger available. I’m just saying it looks polite to sit at the perimeter and let the senior people take the table. I think it looks a little clueless to sit at the table with the “big guys” (big ladies?) when you’re support staff or junior. But maybe it’s industry specific. I’m in law and politics where everything is very rigid and done with appearance in mind.

            1. the gold digger*

              This is only the second time I have ever heard of this. The first was in a book I just read about a Chinese-American woman at a law firm. She was annoyed when the paralegal sat at the table with her and the client.

              Unfortunately, when I get stuck going to meetings, I am expected to participate. I would much rather sit at the perimeter!

              1. Bea W*

                It depends. Sometimes it’s the newbie or the intern stuck taking the notes, and the note taker really needs a spot at the table. Aside from that the chair is the other person who really needs to be at the table plus people who may be speaking or presenting, and people who have physical conditions that make it difficult to stand or sit on the floor or they need to be closer to see the screen well. I personally dislike this whole senior vs junior thing as the standard. We’re all people. I have no problem with someone junior to me at the table if they had the better sense to show up early to get a seat.

                The one exception to that is that it’s just office PC to probably defer to senior management and your supervisor at least offer if you see like the CEO. It’s also just polite to offer a seat to someone who is standing just in general, but this notion that I (using I as a general example) deserve a seat because I have been there longer or am a different grade but still your peer, is…I’m not sure if BS is the right word, but it’s how I would describe it.

                YMMV, and it will depend on the office culture. In a more formal or hierarchical culture, you may be stuck playing the “Peons on the Perimeter” game.

    2. Canadamber*

      Is it weird for me to think that if you’re the first one there, you get the chair?

      1. Gilby*

        I think comes in some part to simply giving up your seat to an older person or one that has health issues.

        By that I mean, if I am sitting in a chair I see someone who can better benefit or who will more comfortable sitting where I am at, I move.

        I have no problem sitting on a floor or stand if needed ( and yes for quickie unplanned meetings that happened ) to let someone else have a chair.

        1. Mallory*

          I think comes in some part to simply giving up your seat to an older person or one that has health issues.

          We were always taught as children to give up our seats to adults — and we’d get the stink-eye from our parents if we had to be overtly asked — so the transition to giving up seats to seniority is just kind of ingrained.

      2. Tina*

        Depends on the office, that is actually how it works in my last office. If you were late, you went and dragged in a chair from another room, and in no way would we have expected a younger staff member or intern to give up their seat. Though we were all at least able to fit around the table.

        If we were talking about a Dean or a VP or President or something, that would be different.

    3. Poohbear McGriddles*

      One exception – when the junior person is a key player in the meeting. They need to be there with the other key players and not back in a corner so that someone who “optionally” attended can sit at the table.

    4. some1*

      This reminded me of another thing: when you’re going in to all-company meeting or an all-staff meeting where there *is* enough chairs set out auditorium style, the bigwigs get pissed when they see everyone avoiding the first row.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Or they get really cheerleadery and start shouting for everyone to scootch in. And then do a team building exercise with the people on each side. Eek! LOL!

        1. JustKatie*

          THE WORST. Feels like you’ve been involuntarily committed to the worst summer camp ever.

      2. Bea W*

        The trick here is to find a spot that is towards the front but not so far up that you are THE front.

    5. Jen RO*

      Am I missing something? Why would you schedule a meeting in a room that’s too small to accommodate everyone? Maybe I’ve lived a sheltered work-life, but in my experience it would be unheard of someone having to stand during a meeting because s/he was most junior. We’ve had to crowd around a computer monitor and someone had to stand, but it was decided based on role, e.g. Jane is the expert on X, she should sit because it’s closer to the phone and she might need to explain something.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I think in this scenario there are chairs, it’s just they’re lined up along the walls instead of at the big table. That said, if this is happening all the time, I agree that this isn’t the optimal room for these meetings.

        1. Intrigued*

          I was talking about the scenario Kelly described. Chairs lining the perimeter of the room because the conference table fills up. I’ve worked in four offices and all of them have had meetings where this happens. I’m curious what offices have conference tables big enough? My current place has seating for about 16 at the table then another 12 people sit on the outside. We don’t have a bigger space to go!

          1. Kelly L.*

            Academia. Current department is about 15 people and we meet in a room that could seat about 30 at the table and more at the perimeter; we only use half of it. Before that, my previous department was about 10 people sitting at a table for about 12. So there, if we had guests we might end up having to scoot another chair up from the edge, but everybody was still at the table.

            I guess on a campus there’s the advantage that if the usual room no longer fits the department, there are a zillion other rooms that one can book, while at a small firm you’ve only got the one room that was planned from the beginning. And it sounds like the plan all along at your firm was to have an “inner circle” at the table and underlings at the outside, in which case I’d advise letting people know before their first meeting.

      2. Bea W*

        We had a situation at one place where we would have all company meetings, and the biggest room we had would not fit everyone. People who came late would be standing in the doorway or in the hall, and that included “senior” staff. If you were so late that you ended up in the hall, you deserve to stay in the hall unless you are presenting or somehow instrumental to the meeting.

    6. CarrotNotKarat*

      I couldn’t help but think of the book “Lean In” when I read your comment, Intrigued. In the book, the author says that many times, women do not sit at the table (literally and figuratively) at their workplaces. The author encourages women of all ages to “sit at the table” and participate.

      Personally, I hate sitting at the main table, so I’ll always opt for the outskirts. ;)

      At my first “real” job (an ad agency), we would frequently have meetings with the entire agency and our main conference room didn’t have nearly enough seats. If you were lucky to get a seat, no one would ask you to give up your seat so that a more senior leader could have it.

      1. Intrigued*

        Oh I sit at the table now because I feel I’ve earned it. I’m a lawyer and practiced for 6 years. Maybe why I get peeved at the interns who fill up the table and I get stuck at the perimeter? When I interned places I sat at the perimeter. I hadn’t earned a seat. I don’t think it has to do with gender. I think the male newbies and clerks need to take a backseat like I did. But I also worked on Capitol Hill and the interns all sensed you don’t sit at a table with a chief of staff and member of Congress and the senior staffers. It’s just bad form. This could be industry-specific, as I said before.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I think it might be. I’ve never worked anywhere that formal, but then I’ve never worked with anyone who was a major political official either. The departments I’ve worked in have been pretty low-hierarchy (everybody going by first names, etc.).

          1. Bea W*

            Law is its own special formal world. A lot of stuff that is totally normal and acceptable in other corporate settings will not fly in a law office. That’s one field that is still pretty formal.

            1. Bea W*

              Ugh…and politics. That’s all about traditional hierarchy and privilege based on time served and office held.

              I don’t have any kind of patience for this kind of thing, and just can’t keep it up very long without totally failing at it. That’s why I’m not a lawyer or a politician. :D

        2. CarrotNotKarat*

          That’s really fascinating! Like Kelly L. said, I’ve never worked in a place like this before, so this information is all new to me.

          And good for you for taking your well-deserved seat at the table. :)

        3. VintageLydia USA*

          Then it’s something that needs to be told to the interns and junior employees before their first meeting. Most people, without any outside context, would assume seats are first come first served unless they are specifically reserved.

          1. De Minimis*

            I don’t know. If I’m more of an observer of the meeting and not presenting or directly involved, I don’t think it would occur to me to sit at a table with the people who are running the meeting, especially if other people are sitting elsewhere.

            Never been in that situation myself, though…I’ve either had small meetings where there was room for everyone, or large meetings where there was a clear division between audience and presenters.

        4. AnonAnalyst*

          I haven’t worked anywhere that formal, but I can understand this if it’s industry specific. I’ve had two workplaces now where there aren’t enough seats at the table for all the people and since I’m usually not a leader/key participant in these big meetings I’ll take a chair at the perimeter. I think it may be an industry thing, or maybe just workplace specific, because in both places, I’ve been encouraged (and once told) to sit at the table, and I’ve also gotten the sense that sometimes by trying to leave the seats at the table for more senior people/people leading the meeting, I’m giving others the impression that I’m not really that engaged. Just wanted to put that out there in case some of the newcomers to your company had similar experiences and that’s part of the reasoning!

          1. Bea W*

            I have had this experience too. People who don’t sit at the table are more likely to be regarded as not engaged, the exception being huge meetings where people are not expected to participate, like open enrollment presentations. At my work, and especially in my group, a noob sitting on the perimeter is bad form. My manager specifically looks for and wants people who are engaged and interested in taking on more of a leadership role rather than sitting on the perimeter. Perimeter sitting is fine if you’re just sitting in as FYI, otherwise it could be perceived as not being interested or engaged.

            You really have to know your environment. As Sunflower mentions below there is so much about the adult work world that is not black and white the way school is.

  15. Sunflower*

    The biggest shocker to me coming from college to the real world was that there is a lot of gray and little black and white. School is very focused on do this and you’ll get a good grade. There is a correct answer to every problem. The professional world is focused much more on problem solving and there are no correct answers- you are focused on finding possible solutions and then going from there.

    Also, you are supposed to feel a little overwhelmed and not exactly sure you’re doing something right. People aren’t expecting you to know everything so don’t freak out if you don’t!

    1. Jennifer*

      This is a great point. My biggest pet peeve with new employees is being asked for help and getting the impression that they want me to take over and fix it. I’ll help work through a solution with you but as a manager, I don’t want to tell you what to do. You may have a better solution than I do.

    2. Susie*

      This is why when I get flak for having a degree in philosophy I tell people it was training for life.

      The whole point was that everything is a grey area and you needed to use critical thinking skills to find the appropriate solution given the circumstances of the problem, including justification for your solution. I should note that you are frequently only given some of the information and need to plan for multiple possibilities.

  16. AndersonDarling*

    Honestly, I have never seen such a good list of advise for any young job seeker, not just fresh students.

    I think the transition from youth to workplace is getting more difficult for each new generation.

    1. Canadamber*

      I have enough friends who say that summer is for fun, not work (i.e. school). Wonder what it’ll be like for them when they finally go into the workplace… :o Personally, I’m dreading it. I enjoy having a weekday morning off every now and then (a few times a year during the school year) in order to get things done and go out and enjoy the morning.

    2. Sunflower*

      There are so many parents who are on the ‘I want you to focus on school and not have to worry about anything else’ so they don’t make their kids get jobs. I will say in high school, during the school year, playing sports year round made it impossible to get a job but I worked every summer since I was able to drive. During college, what the heck would I have done all summer if I didn’t work? Between working and classes, TRUST ME, I had more than enough time to go out and have fun….

        1. Ali*

          I once was friends with someone who never had to have a job in high school or college. At 20-21 years old, her parents were still giving her money to go out and get drinks and she had no grasp of personal responsibility it felt like. She canceled plans on me once b/c she woke up too hungover.

          We’re not friends anymore.

      1. the gold digger*

        I knew a guy who had never completed a W4 until after his first year in law school when he got an internship. I had never known anyone that rich before.

      2. OhNo*

        My parent was very much like that when I was in high school. Which is why it was a real turnaround my first summer off of college when he was suddenly angry with me for not having found a job to keep me out of the house…

        I was lucky enough to get a job on campus the next few years, so I got to stay at school and work (both for pay and getting a head start on my research for the next school year). It wasn’t until I was working year-round that I realized how terribly boring it was to have months off of school with nothing to do.

        1. Canadamber*

          Oh, I know! I like having three weeks to maybe a month off, to recharge, in the summer time. It’s not so fun after that any more.

    1. lachevious*

      YES! Don’t expect it to adapt to you – that was a hard one for me in the beginning. I couldn’t grasp how in some places it was okay to be a jerk and the bosses wouldn’t do anything about it – I naively thought grownups were supposed to be fair, haha :)

  17. Ann Furthermore*

    And, considering the discussion in the next thread, here’s another one to consider adding to the list:

    If one of your co-workers (or your boss) shares something personal with you, keep it to yourself! You don’t want to get a reputation as a gossipy blabbermouth.

  18. Tax Nerd*

    I totally agree with #7. The boss can read his email on his phone during a staff meeting (that he’s not leading). This does not mean that a staff person can read their email, text their friends, or hop on social media on their smart phone during a meeting. This is one area where you do NOT get to follow the boss’s lead.

  19. E.R*

    How about, ” you dont get points for participating unless it’s truly quality participation.” I get frustrated by folks who make lots of comments in meetings that add nothing new to the conversation, thus making the meeting much longer than usual for no good reason. Heck, I’ve been silent through many a meeting when i had nothing to add or question. Please dont talk for the sake of talking. (I know plenty of senior folks have this problem, but i notice it a lot in interns and newbies)

    1. CarrotNotKarat*


      At Current Job, I’ve noticed that A LOT of my co-workers talk for the sake of talking (regardless of seniority) and meetings often drag on for hours sometimes because of unnecessary comments. It’s super annoying.

    2. Laura2*

      Yep. Don’t go off on tangents, and don’t repeat things just to hear your own voice. You’ll get a reputation as a pompous ass or an idiot.

    1. some1*

      Yes! If the dress code says, “No ripped jeans”, that doesn’t just mean jeans that got ripped from wear & tear, it includes the jeans that stores are selling that are already ripped and distressed.

    2. Lamington*

      we had an intern once dressed like she was going clubbing instead of working in a corporate conservative office. I’ll never forget that shortest, tightest and low cleaveage dress that would have made kim kardashian jealous. How can you even bend to file?

      1. Who Are You?*

        I worked with a woman who would wear these outfits that covered the skin but they were so tight she could barely move in them. And the shoes! She’d wear these shoes that even Lady Gaga would look at and say, “Um, no thanks!”

        1. Amtelope*

          Yeah, we had a temp admin who interpreted “business casual” to mean things like a hoodie over skin-tight leggings, even when our clients were in the office. I wasn’t her boss, so I felt awkward calling her on it, and her actual boss worked at a different location and rarely saw the way she dressed, but it was really not okay.

        1. Bryan*

          Do you work with me? This happened yesterday and my gut reaction was “this should be illegal.” Luckily I work on a different floor.

    1. nancypie*

      Yesterday I microwaved leftover linguine and clam sauce. No one said anything about an odor ( I sit near enough to the microwave that I can hear the conversation around it), but I felt so ehat paranoid that they would. I didn’t think (hoping anyway) it made a particularly strong odo.

    2. Sasha LeTour*

      My husband and I live in the same building as a periodic Fish Microwaver. In New York City. Where apartments are half the size of a ‘normal’ one. It is exactly the special hell you imagine it would be. Truly, nothing makes me more annoyed in the AM than waking up to the fish odor, and, when leaving for work, noticing multiple fish boxes piled up in the trash.

      1. Sasha LeTour*

        Oh did I mention she burned the fish once, and called the FDNY? And that it was at 1 in the morning on a work night?

        THAT was a fun evening…

  20. Em*

    This relates to the salary issue, but one thing I noticed in the transition to the workplace is that you are not guaranteed a promotion for doing a good job- you’re expected to do a good job! This has come up on AAM before- the idea that when you’re in school, you move up a grade each year, and that isn’t necessarily compatible with growth in the workplace.

  21. Anon #8670*

    I’m continuing a conversation from a previous thread. All the cover letter examples I see cover things like, “I did X at Company Y, demonstrating that I can Z” or something similar. I can’t put things like that in my cover letter when I have hardly any work experience, so I’m not sure about what to do when writing one.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      This question is unlikely to get answered here because it’s not related to the topic. However, you’d probably have some luck if you flesh it out and repost it on the Friday Open Thread!
      Also, picking a username (that’s not a variation of anonymous) will make people more likely to remember you and respond. Good luck!

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Sorry, that should have read “not closely related” (I see that you’re talking about a lack of work experience, so I get where it’s coming from)

  22. Joey*

    Mine are:

    1. You WILL screw up and frequently it’s okay.

    2. You will probably find yourself working harder than everyone else to produce the same or sometimes even less results. Okay too…at least for a while.

    3. Learning the boring, repetitive tasks isn’t a waste of your talents. You will understand why its so valuable later.

    4. Managing is much harder than it looks so cut your boss.

    5. There isn’t always going to be a “right answer.” A lot of times there will be many.

    6. Things rarely go as planned so get used to it.

    1. Nusy*

      5a. Sometimes the answer picked as “right,” or even “least of the possible evils” by your boss may go against what you would have done, or even your personal beliefs. Suck it up and do what must be done. However, if the solutions picked have a strong tendency to go against your personal beliefs over an extended period of time, this job is likely not the fit you’re looking for. It may just be time to look elsewhere.

      (I understand that there may be cases where even one such thing can cause you to look elsewhere. In general, one instance should not make you want to quit right then and there though, especially if it’s not a fundamental belief in your life that was violated.)

    2. Bryan*

      I think number 5 can be tough because in school the questions are designed with answers already there. Beyond school they’re not.

    3. Laufey*

      Re #1.

      I think one of the worst things I learned from school was that mistakes are really bad. As in, there’s an instantaneous and visible penalty (grade goes down) when it happens, and, let’s be honest, the vast majority of us probably did not point out missed errors when teachers graded our exams.

      Learning that mistakes are okay and normal (and that they should therefore be corrected quickly with little fuss) was one of the strangest things about transitioning to the workforce.

      Anyone else have that problem?

      1. Sasha LeTour*

        I did. But it had nothing to do with school and everything to do with being raised by a set of WWII-era grandparents who were disciplinarians in the extreme. One of my earliest memories is getting a public spanking for displaying typical toddler behavior at a Chinese restaurant.

  23. Jillociraptor*

    This is a great list. Similar to item 6, the #1 biggest mind shift for me was recognizing that it is no one’s job to make sure you have what you need to be successful. No one is going to remind you of that due date next week — and if they do, that’s bad news because it probably means they think you’re flaky. No one is going to tell you how to get to that next step in your career unless you proactively seek out their advice. No one is going to stop by and make sure you know about this or that opportunity. You might have a great mentor that does some of this, some of the time, but you are responsible for the quality of your work and the direction of your career and there is no built in safety net if you drop the ball.

    1. some1*

      Yup. And no one is going to remind you to turn in Benefits forms or let Payroll know when you move.

  24. The Other Dawn*

    7. You need to look politely interested in meetings, no matter how boring the topic.

    This. A former employee of mine used to annoy the crap out of me, because any time we were in a meeting, seminar, conference call, etc., she would invariably start off into space and fiddle with her hands. She would spend most of the time completely zoned out. It used to embarass me when we were in a meeting with higher-ups. I told she needed to focus more and take some notes. The act of writing some notes tends to help the focus.

    1. Windchime*

      We have someone who crosses her arms, rolls her eyes, and makes sarcastic sounds (“Ha!” Or “Good luck with *that*!” or “Are you kidding???”). Super annoying. I would rather that she slept.

  25. Chrissi*

    The one I would add is you conform to the rules and procedures exactly. Any flexibility is earned as you gain seniority or it is provided by an arrangement that was directly discussed with the boss. You can’t look around at what other people are doing (or getting away with) and do that too because you don’t know what arrangements they have or if they are being disciplined for it. And even if a more senior co-worker says that you can do something (i.e. it’s ok if you show up 5 minutes late, no big deal, everyone does it, boss won’t mind, etc.), don’t do it! The only person that can tell you something is ok is your boss.

    1. Bea W*

      This is definitely something I wish I had understood. I would have been a lot less confused!

  26. The Other Dawn*

    I would add to #1, regarding salary increases, that additional money comes AFTER you prove yourself in the majority of cases. I’m not going to give you a raise until you can prove to me you can do the job and do it well. I used to hear people say that they “don’t get paid enough to do X and that [they] won’t do X unless the boss shows [them] the money.” Once in a great while people would get raises before the fact, but that was when the boss knew their workload would increase greatly due to a new project or something.

  27. Bryan*

    I want to add and I’m not sure how to put it politely but “you’re starting at the bottom.”

    That means your salary is going to probably be fairly low. I know a student who expected his first job to pay $75k. I forget what he wanted to go into but he would have been lucky to clear $40k.

    When you come in and have all of these revolutionary ideas keep in mind you might have not been the first person to think of it and if you don’t have the experience you may not know the feasibility. That’s not to say don’t mention anything but play them out in a reserved manner. On your first day don’t question how a procedure is done.

    Your duties might not be the most glamorous . If you want to go into chocolate teapot making your duties might be to put the handle on the teapot. A lot of industries require starting at the bottom.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “When you come in and have all of these revolutionary ideas keep in mind you might have not been the first person to think of it…”

      This makes me think of the post from the person who wanted to be an idea guy.

    2. Who Are You?*

      “When you come in and have all of these revolutionary ideas keep in mind you might have not been the first person to think of it and if you don’t have the experience you may not know the feasibility. That’s not to say don’t mention anything but play them out in a reserved manner. On your first day don’t question how a procedure is done. ”


      1. Collarbone High*

        Related to this: You need to learn how to use and work with the software and equipment the company has, even if it’s less than ideal. I used to train editors at a newspaper, and nothing turned me off faster than people who would ignore my tutorials on our (admittedly clunky) software in favor of saying “You guys should get InDesign, it’s soooo much better.”

        True! It is! But a) we’ve thought of that, thanks, and can’t afford it, and b) we might get it someday, but not in the next two days, so you need to pay attention and learn THIS software so you can start doing your job.

      2. Sasha LeTour*

        Unfortunately, I work with a few too many folks in their 50s and 60s who could benefit by applying this advice. Everyone, it seems, goes into advertising to be the “idea guy,” and the truth is, we only need a couple executive creative directors for a reason. Ideas don’t pay that much, but the timely and excellent execution of them that does.

    3. JustKatie*

      Exactly! I wish I would have spent more time listening and observing than talking in my first three years.

    4. Jillociraptor*

      So true. I think this is good advice for anyone coming into a new job/team/company–understand before questioning the validity of a procedure.

      I remember finding it so challenging to go from being a big fish in a little pond in college (small college – could just stop in and argue my case to the president any time I wanted, had the relationships and knowledge to influence others and influence policy, pretty much did what I wanted, coursework-wise) to an entry level job. Not even that I expected that my ideas would be taken super seriously, but just feeling unaccustomed to having to start at ground zero with every question, every relationship, and every task. It’s hard to learn new systems and approaches!

  28. Karyn*

    Please, oh please, for the love of Loki, clean up after yourself. I haven’t been an admin assistant for years now and I STILL go into our kitchen and do the dishes that people have just tossed into the sink (despite the EMPTY DISHWASHER RIGHT NEXT TO IT) and clean out the fridge of all the stinky, rotted food once a week, just because I feel bad that it’s the copy clerks who always seem to get stuck doing it. Now, I’m not saying that the highly paid attorney should have to hand-wash his own dishes, but is it really that hard to put something in an empty dishwasher rather than just in the sink? Takes literally the same amount of time!

    1. BadPlanning*

      Maybe they’ve been burned one too many times by people who have a fit that the dishwasher isn’t “loaded right.”

      Or they’re just lazy/unobservant.

    2. Bea W*

      The highly paid attorney is an adult capable of washing his own dishes. If he can’t manage that, I would hope he has a good sense to just use disposable items and not foist the grossness of his dirty dishes on others.

  29. Who Are You?*

    My advice would be:
    1. understand and know the difference between friend and friendly. I’m “friendly” with my boss and co-workers: how was your weekend? Any plans for tonight? Did you see How I met your mother last night? To a friend: everything else and NEVER at work.

    2. Complaining about the filters on the work computers isn’t going to change anyone’s minds about letting you access your Facebook page.

    3. Your co-workers may not say anything when you come in late, leave early, take excessive personal calls, shop online, etc…but they notice and will look for an opportunity to mention it to someone who CAN do something about it.

    Sadly I have more, all based on working with a recent grad, but as I was writing my list I could feel my blood pressure rising. :( I think that if she had been given Allison’s list of tips she may not have created the toxic cloud that has now followed her from department to department. I think there should be a follow up list on how to effectively manage recent grads. At least for my company.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      That is a great idea – a list for managing people new to the workforce. I think the one big idea is something like “Recognize that the norms and expectations that seem second-nature to you now are possibly not so obvious to your colleague. Have a little patience and assume best intentions until you can’t.” But I’m sure there are lots of more specific recommendations!

      1. Anon2*

        Yes! Assuming best intentions for young workers is extremely important. It’s too easy for seasoned workers to misinterpret the relaxed, casual culture of recent grads as disrespect, carelessness, laziness, etc. While they might need some wake up calls as to the stakes of a job vs. a class, they’re far from being intentionally obtuse or even disinterested. Not knowing how you want them to respond is not the same as not caring how you want them to respond, nor does it mean that they can’t produce quality work.

  30. T*

    For #5, a lot of places won’t give you two weeks’ vacation at the outset. I’ve worked jobs where employees had to work a full year before they could use any vacation, and then they got only a week until they had been there a few years.

    1. Tina*

      That’s been the case for every place I’ve worked, you had to earn/accrue them, you didn’t get them at the outset.

  31. Carrie in Scotland*

    Stop playing on your phone all the time – at break time your fellow colleagues might actually want to talk to you, rather than your phone. (doesn’t necessarily stop at out of schoolers either)

    Another thing, don’t leave all the general office work (filing, filling up the photocopier, filling up shelves that YOU emptied) to your fellow co-workers. We all share the same space so please pull your weight and be considerate. If you use all the paper up, please replace it.

    1. Bea W*

      And for the love of all that’s holy, when the network printer breaks don’t walk away and expect that someone else will call the service desk. Don’t jam the thing and walk away like you didn’t notice. If you can’t unjam it, ask someone for help.

    2. Mallory*

      Yes! I just recently suggested a rotation of duties (empty the recycling, maintain the copier, purchase coffee supplies) with my two fellow admins because it seemed that I was the only one doing it. They were more than happy to share the duties when I brought it up; they were just blissfully (annoyingly) unaware until then. There are three of us, and we decided on a rotation where each of us do the duties for three months. I made them take the first two shifts so that I ended up with the coveted summer months this time.

  32. Anon2*

    Bless you for writing this. You must work a lot with recent grads. Points 2, 3, 6, and 7 are especial pitfalls for young workers. After being in an environment where they’ve won constant praise, it’s hard for them to figure out that they are back on the bottom of the heap and they need help learning their places. But at the same time, I think older workers have a responsibility to be understanding of their situations. Seven years later I know that I was clueless about a lot of obvious things in my first job, but I still think my boss should bear some of the blame for my missteps because 20 years on the job should have taught her where young workers need the most help. I’m really happy to see that this is getting more recognition.

  33. Sasha LeTour*

    Here’s some advice I wish I could give to the brand-new junior designer I’m overseeing: When I offer you corrections, take them pleasantly and either implement them or provide me with a GOOD reason why they should be shelved. A curt email along the lines of “But Facebook/Snapchat/Pinterest/Google designs it this way, so I think your way is pretty low-class and unsophisticated” written in text speak with lousy grammar is not a good look for you.

    (This can apply to anyone in any industry of course…and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, is not age-specific. You can NOT talk down to me just because you’re 60, especially if I manage you.)

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