Working in The Real World: 3 Things I’ve Learned in my First Month

If you had a work study job when you were in college, then you know how easy it was to slide by. I’ve always been someone who does my best in everything I do, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t slack off a sometimes because of how easy they took it on me at my work study jobs. The culture is completely different between working at your university and working in the “real world”. You might have already known that or maybe you might not have. I always expected things to be different in the “real world” but I wasn’t sure how it would be different. I’ve been working at an office for about a month now, and I can already see the differences! I want to share with you the top three things I’ve noticed.

Networking is Key

Networking has always been a big deal to me, so I honestly thought I was already in good when it came to that. Wrong! I’m technically an extrovert so I have no problem with speaking to new people and finding a reason to connect with them, but that means nothing if I don’t see the value in what I’m doing. My mom always instilled in me the importance of connecting to anyone I meet. She told me to build relationships not only for my benefit, but to benefit others’ lives too. I was recently reading an article that brought my mom’s words to life for me. This article talked about networking advice from women and one of the recurring pieces of advice was this: “when going into a situation where you are going to network with others, go into it thinking about what you can offer them and not what they can offer you.”

I currently work in the nonprofit world where networking is a huge deal. You always hear that, “ It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know”, but honestly, it’s both. Yes, having connections can get you places, but how are you going to perform when you get there? How will you show how capable you are of being in there in the first place? I’m learning everyday that knowing the right people can get you good places and having the right skills can also get you good places. But knowing the right people AND having the right skills? That can get you to the right places.

Image is Important

So, this probably seems pretty simple, right? “ Be on ten at all times because you never know who is watching you.” We’ve all been told this time and time again. Well you can be told something 20 thousand times but until you have to go through that type of situation, it will never stick with you. Now that I’ve transition from a college student office job to a “real” office job, I definitely understand what was being told to me all those years. Everything is done differently, from the way you dress to the things you can and cannot do at your own desk. I’ve been trying to sit back and observe more in order to learn before I have to be taught. Here is what I’ve observed.   

What you wear is important. Don’t wear anything questionable to the office if you haven’t seen someone in a higher position than you wearing something similar. In fact, if you have to question it, don’t even wear it.

What you say is important. There are ears all over. Think about something three times before you let it come out of your mouth. Don’t partake in office gossip and DO NOT share too many details of your personal life if you’re still trying to figure out the culture of the office. Just be nice, be friendly and be genuine.

How you act and react to things says a lot about you. My biggest struggle is the way I control my facial expressions. I have to be able to master the “ I hear you and I understand you” face if I want to work with clients one day. Don’t let someone get under your skin at the office. If they do, don’t let it be known by the way you react to the situation. That could be a test and you could have just failed it.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to learn any of the lessons the hard way and for your sake, I hope you don’t either.

Be Prepared to be Late

Now, we all know the etiquette if calling ahead if you’re running late. But, what if you don’t have any contact information yet? Do you cancel your appointment or do you just show up late and hope for the best? Which one will get you the best result? If you make the wrong choice, that’s a big ole’ bullet you’re going to have to bite. The first time I was going to be late to work, my mom kindly reminded me that is was my responsibility to get the contact information of those around me in case I ever needed. This isn’t college anymore where I can just call the office and they leave a message. This is the real world.

If you have an appointment, it’s your responsibility to let your boss know before the time comes. Coming to your boss too often saying “ Hey, just so you know, I have to leave early for an appointment today” might work the first few times but just think about how many more times you’re going to be able to do that before it’s a problem.

One of my favorite things about life is how much each situation you encounter can teach you. I’m so grateful to be able to work in an environment where I can learn something new every day. I challenge you to take a moment to think about what you’ve learned in the past month.