What We Wish We’d Known Before The First Job

Are you one of the millions of new grads heading off to your first full-time job this summer? Then this post is for you. Because the millions who have been where you are have many things to share about what they wish they’d known when they were in your shoes. So here goes, starting first with basics before you even step foot into the office:

Figure out what you owe, so you the things you have don't own you.

Figure out what you owe, so you the things you have don’t own you. (image by steadfastfinances)

Budget And Save
If you haven’t actually made a budget, now’s the time to do so. Find out what your take home salary is going to be. And by that we mean, figure out the final dollar amount on your paycheck after taxes and deductions. Next, figure out what you’re going to be left with after you’re done paying your bills—groceries, rent, utilities, transportation, student loans, credit cards, the “fun” bills (Netflix, cable). What are you going to do with that leftover money? How much will you put away in savings? Will you have enough so that you can both pay off loans AND pay yourself? If not, how long is it going to be before you can start saving? And if that timeline is hauntingly long, might you need another weekend or moonlight job to earn a few extra dollars? These are good questions to answer for yourself early in your working life so you have a plan and aren’t just reacting to the panic of the last few dollars you have left before every pay check arrives.

Balance The Checkbook
As entrepreneurs, small business owners, and your parents will all tell you, all the budgeting can be for nought if you don’t know how to manage cash flow. And in one of those interesting quirks, we are turning out highly educated professionals who earn large sums of money but cannot figure out why their checks bounce or why they get hit with “insufficient fund” fees because financial literacy isn’t really taught anymore. This is probably because of a disconnect between when bills are due, when the paycheck actually comes in, and what the bank says you have in liquid cash. And this is where you learn to balance your checkbook and plan financially. It’s not hard, and takes about an hour a month, possibly less with online banking–which makes the process easier than it’s ever been. You just have to do it.

Make Peace With The Alarm Clock
You know how you’d sneak into the back of the classroom if you were late? Yeah, that probably won’t work at the office. Nothing says “not ready for primetime” like the office straggler, and vice versa. And you don’t want to be the person who couldn’t be in the meeting because the doors were shut promptly when they say they would be. Learn to love the alarm clock, know all its settings (like the difference between snooze and mute), factor in your commute, and always be a few minutes early.

What's in your wallet/bag/office drawer?

What’s in your wallet/bag/office drawer? (image by Kris Gabbard)

Build Your Office Emergency Kit 
Ah yes, the office HVAC system which never seems in sync with the weather or worse, goes into overdrive. And then there are delicious lunches and birthday treats in the common room, often just before an afternoon presentation. Or better yet, the coffee spill just after you left your house.  See a theme here? It’s about your wardrobe, which is at home, miles away when you need a change of clothing or hygiene. This is why seasoned professionals always have an emergency office or commuter survival kit stocked with breath mints, gum, toothbrush, toothpaste, snacks for the days when lunch didn’t happen, a spare change of clothing, and a sweater. It’s also always helpful have a mini umbrella in your office commuting back. Unless you like to come in looking wet!

Yes. Would be better ironed. (Image by Henry Schimke)

Yes. Would be better ironed. (image by Henry Schmike)

Learn To Love Laundry
You’ve probably spent all of college in a state of pleasant shabbiness. Possibly high school too, if you didn’t care what people thought. And while we highly support the kind of strong self-worth that can ignore what people think of you based on your fashion sense, we’re also here to tell you that there is a huge difference between “not fashion forward” and “unprofessional.”

Always dress well. And by that we don’t mean fashionably—although that can be helpful. No, we mean appropriately and professionally. Further more, don’t just dress for the job you have, but the one you want to have.

If you haven’t already, invest in a few basic pieces of professional attire suitable for your particular job and industry, and learn to love the iron. Because our “wash and go/clean and dirty/clean but unfolded and still in the basket” days are over. Your “separate lights and darks, launder and possibly dry clean, and always look ironed” days are here. And you know what? You probably look quite spiffy!

Congratulations and welcome to adulthood. Your carefree days may be over, but so are your days of borrowing spending cash. That paycheck is a lovely sight, no?