Ah yes. Part II of the 28 Tips and Observations for Recent College Grads in the Workforce is here. I’d call it a sequel, but A) I really just didn’t want you to read 5,000+ words in one sitting (I’m no Bill Simmons) and B) I don’t want it to have to live up to the pressure of other sequels like Major League II and XXX: State of the Union. We’ll just call this a continuation. If you didn’t read Part I, then you’re not good at following sequential rules and need to go read that here.
Without further ado, get to learnin’!
15) Network. Seriously.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m still really bad at this one. I can speak in front of thousands of people with no problem, but it’ll take many mucho mas beers for me to approach two people having a conversation and successfully chat them up.
The thing is, though, you need to do this, because most of your job opportunities in life will come from someone else giving you the “inside track” or tipping you off to an opening somewhere.
For example, although I’m bad at networking, six of my eight jobs in life have come from someone I know at that company directly telling the hiring person that they should give me an interview. Things just happen to pop up when you make friends with people in your profession, so keep that in mind next time you get an invitation to some gathering with a punny title and promises of finger foods. You might find your next opportunity there.
16) Find a good bar to frequent for happy hour.
What HASN’T a good pint of beer ever cured? Granted, if you’re just coming out of college, you don’t need me to sell you on having a couple beers. What’s important in the professional world is finding the perfect bar and the right co-workers to go with.
Frequenting the right bar after work is just as glamorous as they make it look in How I Met Your Mother. You get your favorite spot almost every time, you build a report with the waitresses (sometimes you get a free beer or two) and you’re guaranteed to have your favorite beer on tap all the time.
Finding the right people to go with is the other half of the battle. Too many complainers and the whole thing feels like a pity party. Too many suck-ups and you could find the words you say at happy hour echoed at work (never have too many beers that you’ll say something you regret). You need the right mix of people that just want to kick back a few beers, rag on work just a bit (it’s cheaper than therapy) and fill the rest of the time talking about cool stuff like Will Ferrell movies and the newest HBO show.
Prescribed Dosage of Happy Hour: 2-3 Times Per Week.
17) Get things in writing.
Bob Woodward, a legend in journalism, said it was accountability that Nixon feared above all else.
In the workplace, this will be true for most of the people you work with. If you simply ask someone to do something, sometimes that work won’t get done. When you’re in a meeting with management and these jobs get brought up, these people will claim they “never were told to do that” or, even worse, “thought YOU were going to do it.”
You’ve got to have a way to hold these people accountable, that way they you can counter their claims with proof. All this takes is a simple email to that person, asking them the exact thing you would have verbally said anyways. Do this, and it’ll save you and the project you’re working on’s ass more than a couple of times.
18) Contribute to your 401k.
I want you to ask your parents something.
Ask them what age they started contributing to their company’s retirement plan. Then ask them what age they WISH they started contributing.
I’m willing to bet almost every parent will say they wish they contributed sooner.
When you get into your later years and you want to stop working and explore life, you’ll see your bank account and either regret not starting sooner or be relieved and comforted that you socked away money while you were young. There’s a lot of excuses not to do this, but once you set up the automatic payments you’ll forget after a couple months that they’re even deducting that little bit of money.
19) Know your company procedures for insurance inside and out.
Quick! How many days off of work do you get if you have to go to your aunt’s funeral 100 miles away? How long until you are considered “vested” in your company? What is the offense for violating the dress code (and what is the official dress code)?
Don’t worry. Not a lot of people know the answers to those questions. That doesn’t give you an excuse to be one of those people, though. Each company has a written set of rules that the heads of the company put a lot of time into. They give you this book when you start out, and you need to learn it to the T. If you know the company policies, you won’t be surprised when something weird or unexpected comes up.
20) Sometimes silence is the best medicine.
The percentages vary from authority to authority, but it’s safe to say that about 75% of the US population is extroverted. For those of you that don’t know, extroverts are big talkers. Their thoughts are verbalized, and they create ideas through talking. Most of the people you work with will be extroverts.
Silence, to the extrovert, is as unwelcome as Ozzy Osbourne on Meetchristiansingles.com. That’s why silence can be your best friend.
An extrovert will do anything to fill the silence.
If you feel someone isn’t telling the truth, take a long pause before you ask your next question. Most times, that extrovert will fill the silence with the truth. Need a more complete answer? Do the same thing. Can’t come up with an idea in a meeting? Don’t talk for a while and just listen. Removing yourself from the situation and analyzing things can produce some of the best results. Silence can be a powerfully dramatic tool.
21) Invest in a filing system.
Now that you’re a big boy/girl, you’re going to have a lot of responsibilities. Most of them, sadly, in the form of soul and bank-sucking payments.
Car payments. Student loans. Insurance. Financial investing. Medical expenses. Big-ticket purchases.
There’s going to be a lot of paperwork that comes with all this. Keeping track of this paperwork is imperative, because you need to have a record of what you’ve paid and what still needs to be paid. I’ve had friends who have lost battles with companies claiming they didn’t pay their bills. They had (or so they told me), but they had no documents to back those claims up. They lost thousands to these companies, which can be completely crippling when you’re starting to build up your bank account.
Spend the $20 now on a filing system so you save yourself hundreds or thousands later.
22) Be good friends with IT.
You know how, when you’re at home, you can go on any site you want on your computer? Or install anything you want?
HA! No, no, you won’t be doing so much as searching for macaroni and cheese on Bing without IT’s permission. They speak the language of the machines, and hold the exclusive “Admin Password” which, as far as I know, can do everything from letting me download Spotify to curing cancer.
Be nice to these guys, and you might be able to have a few more privileges than others. Plus, you’ll be working on a machine as old as your parents, and it’ll break down a lot. Having IT on your side to help will make a world of difference.
23) Always mind what you say.
I majored in PR in college. One of the most useful things that translated from that to the working world was this: Pretend everything you say was intercepted by the media.
Basically, when you’re typing out an email or saying something to another person, ask yourself if it’s a message that you would want the media to publish to the masses.
Granted, I’m not talking about sensitive information. I’m talking about your tone and respect for the other person. Don’t say thing you would regret saying, and have some tact when you need to express something difficult. You never know whose ear will catch what you say.
24) Don’t eat out for lunch more than once a week.
Pretty soon you’ll have access to way more money than you had in college. When it comes to lunch time every day, the temptation to walk a block or two to your favorite restaurant will be strong. You don’t have to make anything, the food is delicious and you get to hang out with your co-workers.
I actually urge you to try this for a month. See how it feels.
Then, once the month is over, take a look at your bank account.
Then step on a scale. $200+ and 10 pounds later, you’ll see that this can become a dangerous habit to fall into.
I’ve circumvented this by doing two things that you too can easily do.
First, I make my lunch at home for the entire week. I spend less than $10, make a big meal on Sunday and split it into 5 portions. It’s cheap, easy and you control what you eat.
Second, I designate one day where I eat out with everyone. I’ve made what’s known at our offices as “Chipotle Friday,” where everyone from the office goes to Chipotle and hangs out to eat. Setting this day gives me something to look forward to at the end of a hard work week. Doing these two things can save you money and pounds in the long run.
25) Limit yourself to no more than 2 hours of meetings a day.
Ah, meetings. I swear to you, in your 21+ years of living, maybe the only thing that could prepare you mentally for the staggering and unrelenting onslaught of meetings would be if you grew up as that Russian cosmonaut in Armageddon.
He even went crazy, and you might too when you’ve got 8 hours in a work day and 4 of those are consumed by meetings. You’ll start to wonder how anyone gets anything done.
To be productive, limit yourself to 2 hours MAX of meetings per day. If it isn’t an extremely important topic or called by a superior, see if you can get out of it.
Granted, with this option, you’ll have less of a say on subjects, and you’ll be seen as a non-team player. But, when the end of the week comes and you’ve wrapped up all your projects, you’ll have done a greater service to your company than sitting through a meeting discussing a meeting coming up.
26) Never lie.
If you haven’t learned this by now, you’re really going to need to buckle down and completely stop all those “little white lies.” Lying at work might be one of the most suicidal things you can do to your career, ESPECIALLY at this early point in your professional life.
Let me be clear—whatever you think you need to cover up with a lie, don’t. Most times, if you tell the truth, you’ll find out that what you felt guilty about wasn’t really a big deal. Other times, you’ll get in a bit of trouble, but not nearly as much as if you lie.
Here’s what happens if you lie: The project your team is working on gets delayed, they WILL find out you lied (via email and enough people confirming something), you’ll be labeled as a liar, people won’t trust you anymore, you’ll get the shitty projects for a long time OR you’ll get fired, and you won’t get a good job because your first professional reference will say you’re a liar.
Trust me when I say the truth is always the lesser of two evils. I’ve seen this exact thing happen on a couple of occasions.
27) Set a budget.
This is the overarching message of #24. When you get your first check, there might actually be a comma in the digits. You might rush out to go buy that new pair of shoes, or a pair of limited edition Hulk Hands.
As essential as I’m sure you think those things are, you MUST sit down, look at that number on your check and ration out how much you can really spend.
This, dear readers, is called a budget, and it might be a very new concept to you.
When it comes down to budgeting right out of college, this is how you should look at your spending (most important to least important):
- Rent: Needless to say, you need a roof over your head. Rent will be your biggest expenditure. Pay your rent first, because being homeless blows.
- Fixed Expenses: This is the second line of expenditures you should look to pay off. This includes utilities, insurance, loans, retirement pay-in, car payment, cell phone bill and anything else essential that has a fixed monthly payment. Fixed expenses and rent are non-changing in terms of how much they cost each month, so take these numbers and automatically subtract them from your monthly income.
- Groceries: Now we move into the fluctuating expenses. These are things that will change from month-to-month and are not as essential as the above expenditures. When it comes to groceries, everyone’s eating habits are different. What I CAN say is I’m 6’4”, 200 pounds and pretty athletic, and I can get by easily on $150-200 on groceries per month. You shouldn’t exceed that number generally. If you are, cut out the snack foods. Those add up quick.
- Going Out/Entertainment: You’ve got to have a little fun, no question. This section includes eating out, going to events, buying books or cool stuff, shopping, etc. This is where you start to make decisions on how much you want to spend on fun vs. how much you want to store away in savings per month. This is entirely up to you.
- Big Fun Purchase: I’m an adult, dammit. As such, every 3-4 months I like to buy something nice for myself as a reward for working so hard. For example, the last thing I just bought was a new laptop to replace my 5 year-old HP. This category is completely optional.
28) Things are rarely fair.
This is the last observation I will leave you with. I can’t offer advice on it, because everyone deals with this differently.
In life, things rarely go the way you see them going. For example, I believe was meant to be an athlete. I was good at baseball in high-school, but then a stress fracture in my spine put an end to my any baseball career aspirations. Then I got really REALLY good at soccer, but tore my ACL and meniscus.
Three times. It’s not fair, but it happens.
What I’ve found is you can’t dwell on what was. Staying in that frame of mind will only keep you stuck in the past. A lot of things are going to happen to you that just don’t seem fair at all. You’ll put in some hard work, come up with a great piece of work, yet a higher-up will change it all “just because.” You might win an award for something, only to have the accolades go to someone else. And, inevitably, you’ll have things happen outside of work that make it difficult to focus on your job.
All I can tell you is that you need to look at what you have in that moment and work with that. Learn from it, move forward, and trust that your hard work, talent and willpower will eventually prevail.
If you made it to the bottom of this list, then congratulations. You’re ready to take a firm hold of your new life in the professional world. If you manage to do all these things and learn from these observations I’ve made over the past few years, perhaps you won’t have to encounter the bumps and bruises I’ve witnessed and, sometimes, had to endure. If you ever need any help, know that I’m always here to point you in the right direction, and all you have to do is drop me a message in the Contact Me section.