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Making the Transition to Work

Making the transition from college to work can be difficult. Having a full-time job is not like college with a paycheck; you’ll be facing new responsibilities and new challenges no matter what field you’re in. Here are some pointers to make the transition a little smoother:

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Spend your time wisely
Remember that learning doesn't end after college
Learn your company culture
Find a professional mentor
Form good spending habits
Your future starts now

Spend your time wisely. 

Without classes, papers, finals, and spring break, your calendar is less structured than it’s ever been. How do you want to use your new freedom? This may be your chance to sign up for a yoga class, learn a new language, begin playing a new sport ; all those things you wanted to try in college but never had time for. Don’t fall into the habit of being a couch potato when you get home from work. This can be especially tempting if you relocated for your job and are getting used to living in a new community. Join local clubs, sports teams, community organizations, or any other group that will help you get acquainted with your new surroundings and meet people.

Remember that learning doesn’t end after college. 

As the new person in your office, you’ll be busy learning how to do your job and fitting in with your company’s culture. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. This is your chance to learn all the things your more experienced co-workers may take for granted. Be aware of the world around you; keep up on the news and current events. You may be surprised at how much events in the local and national news effect your life.

Learn your company culture. 

This includes some obvious items, like dressing appropriately, but also understanding what is and is not acceptable behavior. No matter how casual your office, it’s not appropriate to talk about religion, sex, or politics around the coffeepot. Is inter-office dating taboo? Are work hours strictly enforced or do you have some leeway? Is everyone expected to chip in for shower/wedding/birthday gifts? Understanding the little details of everyday working life will help you fit in, feel more comfortable, and get along better with your co-workers.

This also holds true for work-related social events, such as holiday parties or going out for drinks after work. Even in social situations, you are expected to act somewhat professional; if you choose to drink at these functions, do so in moderation. If you get drunk at the bar with your co-workers on Friday night, it’s guaranteed that it will be remembered at work on Monday morning. Use good judgment whenever your work life and social life overlap.

Find a professional mentor. 

A mentor can help you perform better at your job, explain the intricacies and tricks to succeeding in your field, provide a role model, and open professional doors for you. Not everyone is willing or able to be a mentor; choose someone you admire, have access to, and feel you can learn from. It’s not unusual to have more than one mentor, or to have both formal and informal mentors. Mentoring relationships are based on a few key elements: a common understanding of each other’s needs and expectations; mutual trust; honesty; and respect for each other’s time.

Form good spending habits. 

This may be the first time you’ve ever had a paycheck large enough to live on. Here are some things to consider:

  • Start good habits right away, like contributing to your 401(K) or other savings plan. Since this money is taken out of your paycheck before taxes, it costs less to save more. Save as much as you can before you have a wedding, mortgage, or family to pay for.
  • Resist the urge to splurge on everything at once. Work out a reasonable budget for large purchases such as a new car, a house, a new wardrobe, a fabulous vacation; whatever you always wanted to buy during the ramen noodle years.
  • Keep track of expenses (like going out to lunch). You may be surprised how much these items can add up to. Look for ways to save, such as bringing your lunch to work.
  • Make a practice of paying off your credit card balance each month to build a good credit history and avoid getting into more debt than you can afford. Keep an emergency cash fund in the bank in a savings or other readily accessible account; 2 months’ salary should see you through most short-term emergencies.

Your future starts now.

This time can be scary, but it’s also rewarding. From now on, you make your own choices, from the way you act at work to how you spend your money. A little foresight and planning will help you achieve your lifelong dreams and goals.