5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started My First Professional Job

Just because you've graduated from college doesn't mean your education is over. Oh no, new millennial employees in your first jobs; it is just beginning!

One accumulates a certain amount of non-industry specific knowledge about the working world as one passes upward through the corporate ranks, which – upon reflection – one wishes one had known at the very beginning. Here are five things I wish someone sympathetic had made clear to me when I was in your shoes: 

1. Work is WORK!:

It is supposed to be challenging – mentally and, sometimes, physically. It will take you a while to accustom yourself to the change in your routine – and in your priorities. You are expected to arrive on time and sober, to observe the company dress code, and to behave in a professional manner. You are expected to do the job you agreed to perform for your paycheck. You are not expected to whine and complain about those things. Also, turn off your personal networking devices during working hours. You will not make a good impression on the boss if your social network constantly intrudes on your work day.

2. Conditions of Employment are legal conditions that you agree to accept (whether or not you actually know about them) when you accept the job:

Those might include sitting eight hours a day in a cubicle under fluorescent lighting, or wearing hosiery, not wearing heavy cologne in the cubicle farm, or working every third Friday night. Also, read your job description and pay attention to the priorities and goals that have been set for you to accomplish. They will become very important at your annual review.

3. Everyone in your position throughout time has believed him/herself to be underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated.

Just do your job brilliantly and keep your eyes open for opportunities to shine. Everyone in your position throughout time has wanted more time off. The newest people, however, always get the least time off and often have to work over the holidays. Recognize that the more days you call in sick in order to screw off, the more face time you're losing at work, and the longer it will take to earn that first promotion.

4. When you receive a salary increase, promotion, or both, it is nobody else's business how much you make.

You will find the process for assigning merit pay increases and promotions very unfair. The next person hired to fill the entry-level position you just vacated will be paid more than you made. Don't complain. Don't question. The company CFO has already set the policy and doesn't want your input.

5. Politics in the workplace is more ruthless than national politics.

Behave in an ethical and professional way at all times – especially online. Never (and I mean that in all caps) show up your boss; your job is to make him/her look good. If there are ethical issues, document them thoroughly and go to Human Resources. You have to protect your own best interests in cases of harassment or discrimination; you must be your own advocate in those instances and not allow yourself to be solely counseled by company lawyers (who are protecting the company's interests and not yours).

That said, don't pass up opportunities that come your way to socialize with company associates and with upper management. Company parties and get-togethers have their own set of rules, the first of which is: do not over-indulge in alcohol! Have fun, talk to all the officers who will spend a few moments with you, and be polite, personable and well-mannered. These affairs are as much "hey-look-me-over" to spot talent for the future as they are rewards for good performance.