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Starting your first "real" job after graduation

Written by *Marilyn Williams
Suddenly you are out of the safe haven of the classroom, where you were tested on schedule and deadlines were months away. You are now into the harsh reality of your first job. Deadlines are “tomorrow, at the latest”. And while there are no more formal exams don't ever forget that you are being tested every day.

The results come, not in report cards, but in performance reviews. Always remember to do your best because even though you might know not it, you are being watched.

Why is your employer watching you? In the classroom, your performance impacted you alone, not your college or your professor. In contrast, your performance at work impacts the organisation as a whole - this includes your bosses and co-workers. It is vital to remember that you represent not only yourself but the company as well.

Some tips to help you succeed:
  • Be on time. Always arrive at work on time, if not a little earlier. Stick to your lunch hour and if you are particularly busy, eat at your desk or come back from lunch early.
  • Dress appropriately. Look around you to see how others are dressed, especially those who are further along your career path. For example, if you work in an advertising agency and aspire to be an account executive, don't dress like the art director, whose job allows a more casual style.
  • Listen and observe. The best piece of advice I received from an employer was to listen and observe before jumping in to suggest changes.
  • Accept responsibility. It's important to accept responsibility for the mistakes you may have made. Don't argue with the person correcting you, even if you think they're mistaken. Rather respond by saying that you'll pay closer attention to it in the future. You're not admitting fault, but you're not making an enemy either or being viewed as a difficult person.
  • Stay away from office gossip. That is not to say don't pay attention to what you hear through the grapevine. That can be helpful. However, don't contribute to it.
  • Mind your manners. Don't forget what you learnt as a child. Please and thank you should still be the magic words. Always knock before you enter. Answer the telephone politely, even if the call is internal.
  • Find a mentor. Look for someone on your career path who is willing to take you under their wing. Your own supervisor may not be a good idea, but someone else under their supervision may work well.
  • Don't pretend to know things you don't. However, do your homework. Learn what you need to know.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you are assigned a project and are not sure how it should be completed, ask. It's better to ask before the project is due than to have it delayed because it was done incorrectly.
  • Always stick to deadlines. Bosses usually want projects completed on time. If there is any flexibility you will be informed.
  • Pay close attention to corporate culture. Learn how things work within your company. Are relationships formal or friendly? Does everyone arrive early and stay late? Are lunch hours short or nonexistent?
Financial tips for young adults

Unfortunately, personal finance has not yet become a required subject at high school, college or university so you might be fairly clueless about how to manage your money when you're out in the real world. If you think that understanding personal finance is way above your head, though, you're wrong. All it takes to get started on the right path is the willingness to do a little reading and research.

Learn self-control

Receiving your first salary will be overwhelming, however be very cautious because there will be temptation. Think twice before applying for credit cards and store cards. Do you really want to pay interest on a pair of jeans you purchase on credit? Rather go the old fashion way of putting down a lay-bye.

Take control of your own financial future

If you don't learn to manage your own money, other people will find ways to (mis)manage it for you. Some of these people may be ill-intentioned, like unscrupulous commission-based financial planners. Instead of relying on others for advice, take charge and read a few basic books on personal finance.

Know where your money goes

Once you've gone through a few personal finance books, you'll realise how important it is to make sure your expenses aren't exceeding your income. The best way to do this is by budgeting. For example, preparing lunch at home is far cheaper than buying lunch daily.

Start and emergency fund

Pay yourself first. No matter how much you owe in student loans or credit card debt and no matter how low your salary may seem, it's wise to find some amount - any amount of money - in your budget to save in an emergency fund every month.

Start saving for retirement now

You need to prepare for your retirement well in advance. The way compound interest works, the sooner you start saving, the more you benefit. Compound interest works best over a long term.

*Marilyn Williams Registered debt Counsellor 0861 777 293.