15 Things No One Tells You About Your First Job

15 Things No One Tells You About Your First Job
by Nicole Smartt
Photos Melissa Sung | August 19, 2016
When you're walking into that first job, you barely know where the break room is, let alone where you want your career to go or proper office etiquette.
We all have to start our career path somewhere, yet we find that some of the pretty basic things that transfer across most jobs (first and otherwise) just don’t get talked about. If we'd known some of these things up front, we probably would have been more prepared for our first jobs—so we’re passing them on to you. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve got years under your belt, here 15 great pieces of knowledge to speed up the learning process. 

1. They don't tell you how hard you need to work

No matter what you’re doing. It’s hard! Everything is new and mystifying. Coworkers might not start out so sure about you. Everyone knows each other already. You don't know how to balance your workload at first. But if you try hard, and don’t shy away from hard work, it will show.

2. it's about learning and absorbing as much information as you can

It’s not just about learning your own role. To really succeed in your company or career path, you should understand other people’s roles in the company, too. If you understand how the sales department functions and the kinds of things they need to know, it will make you a better receptionist. If you know what accounting is facing, you can give them a better product and make their jobs easier. They'll remember that.

3. It’s more about experience than a paycheck

If you have a chance to work closely with owners or visionaries at minimum wage, do it! The experience is worth far more than any paycheck. If you take jobs based entirely on the money you’re promised, you may end up working for a cubicle factory that eats souls for breakfast. Take the opportunity to work with people who want to teach you.
Get used to saying “I made a mistake, and this is how I fixed it” or “I goofed, and I need help fixing it.”

4. it's usually grunt work

Find passion in it anyway. Find the little things you like and do them very, very well.

5. Listen first, then ask questions

There’s nothing wrong with asking questions. It means you’re paying attention, you’re thinking about what you’re learning, and you’re willing to dig deeper. But also pay attention to when and how you ask them. Try: “I have some questions about this topic. Is there a convenient time when you’d be willing to answer them?”

6. It’s going to suck now and then (no matter what you’re doing)

You’re going to have hard days. It’s okay. It’s normal. It’s about what you do with the day after a hard day that will define you.

7. First impressions count—but they aren’t death sentences

If you start out on the wrong foot, especially with a coworker or superior, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever get along. Remember, we’re all human beings, and there’s always something under the surface that we don’t know about. Bring kindness, an alert attitude, and that hard work ethic with you, and you may find that you get along after all.

8. The language you use matters

Yes, actually. If you’re not great at spelling, at least use spell check. The worst part about typos and errors in spelling and grammar isn’t that there was a mistake. It’s that these kinds of errors make the offender look both lazy and like they lack attention to detail. Take some time to make sure that your work is error-free.

9. Attitude is important

Be alert, be polite, and don’t act as if anyone owes you something. If it's a stretch, at least act interested.

10. Learn how to say "no"

It can take some time to find your own graceful way of saying no, but it’s well worth the effort. If you have the kind of boss that throws anything and everything your way because either they a) think you don’t have enough to do or b) like the work you do so they trust you with more, you will find yourself overworked, off-topic, and unable to finish everything. If this happens, politely say “I have these three things on my plate with the same deadline, and I won’t be able to complete all three. Which one is the most important to have done by the deadline?”

11. Take ownership of your failures (even if your failures are small)

Get used to saying “I made a mistake, and this is how I fixed it” or “I goofed, and I need help fixing it.” It builds priceless trust, shows your confidence, and leads to a better work environment overall.

12. There is way more transferrable experience from one type of job to another than we give credit for

What you learn working in a fast food restaurant may not seem like it has much in common with working in an office, but actually? Much of business in any industry is interpersonal communication. Those skills definitely transfer.

13. Build your value

If you want to keep your job and move up in a company, you’ve got to demonstrate value. Anyone can push papers around. What’s especially valuable about how you do it? How can you make what you do more valuable?


And “not slacking” isn’t just “doing your job” as the job description is written. It’s part of your job to understand the company’s mission, values, goals, and operations.

15. Sometimes it’s hard to keep showing up

Do it anyway. The reward is worth the sacrifice. 
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What else do you wish you'd known in your first job?