5 Things to Expect from Your First Professional Job

Kellie Hanna, CPRW
By Kellie Hanna, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: October 26, 2022

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5 things you should expect from your first professional job

Most new graduates step onto the job market with a set of strong expectations about working life. These expectations are often generated by movies and TV, and when entry level employees enter the workplace, reality doesn't always resemble the picture on the brochure. The faster these employees embrace the reality and let the false expectations go, the happier they tend to be. Here are a few common adjustments you may need to make during your first year on the job.

1. Expectation: You’ll work hard, get promoted in six months, and earn a raise every year.

Reality: You’ll work hard. But raises and promotions will usually only happen only when you ask for them. And asking will take some degree of courage, since you’ll be encouraged to see this move as greedy, entitled, rude, and presumptuous. Here’s a secret: Your boss doesn't decide when you’re ready for a promotion or raise; you do. And if you’re ready, but you aren't getting what you need, then it’s time to look for work with another company. When you ask for a promotion or raise, only accept one “no”. If you ask again and hear no a second time, move on.

2. Expectation: Everyone will like you if you just do what you’re told.

Reality: Some people will like you. Some people won’t like you at all. And your obedience and dedication to the company won’t have much impact on who does and who doesn’t. Sometimes the earlier you come in, the later you stay, and the more vacations and sick days you give up, the harder it may be to earn respect and find common ground with your boss and coworkers…and sometimes the opposite happens. Just stay flexible and keep your ears open.

3. Expectation: You’ll use the facts and skills you learned in school.

Reality: You might use some of this information on a regular basis, but it’s just as likely that you’ll learn things that oddly conflict with what you were taught in the classroom. Make enough space in your head for both, and if you can’t do that, accept the new and let go of the old.

4. Expectation: Everything around you will be breezy and glamorous, and every day will feel busy and rewarding.

Reality: Cubicles, big offices, spacious lobbies, city commutes, expense accounts, and all-nighters usually seem magical to new employees…for a little while. But expect the sparkle to wear off in short order. Look for magic in other things, like the actual impact that your work generates for your clients, your stakeholders, and the larger world. Some days in the professional workplace are repetitive, boring, or even a little demeaning—the exact opposite of glamorous. But no matter what your tasks entail, working for a living comes with a quiet dignity that rises above the daily drama and nonsense.

5. Expectation: Your employers will give you a break if you do your best but still end up making a mistake.

Reality: Wise, competent employers will do this. But average employers are only interested in the immediate outcome of your labors, not the time, sacrifice, effort, or intention behind the results. If your end result isn't perfect, expect criticism (sometimes blistering criticism). Take this criticism with grace and a grain of salt. After you've processed the incident, move on.

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