5 Lessons To Learn On Your First Job

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Young man in a new office
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It's always exciting when a young person lands his or her first job, especially in this difficult economy. It's a time for celebration and not the time to tell them of all the pitfalls that lay ahead. Just as when a woman announces she's pregnant, you don't tell her about the pain of labor, you don't deflate a young person entering the workforce with tales (pardon the pun) of the pains of labor. But pains there will be.

Here are five real-life lessons I've watched Millennials learn the hard way:
  1. Bosses aren't Perfect. In fact, they may not even be smart. They are human, and humans make lots of mistakes. The odds are your first boss, and many bosses thereafter will be downright poor at their jobs. Expecting guidance and help from them may be wishful thinking. Real guidance comes in unexpected places ranging from colleagues to administrative assistants, managers in entirely different areas of a company, and even closer to home – relatives in the business world. Mentors are rarely a direct supervisor. Don't expect your boss to be one.
  2. Learning on the Job Means Teaching Yourself. The days of training anyone are long gone. Training budgets are non-existent, and with too many goals and too few resources, employers don't have the luxury of training teams. Employers expect workers to bring skills, talents and knowledge to the job, and hit the ground running -- even Millennials.
  3. Phones are for Talking not Texting. The odds are that you'll be working with many Boomers. Although Boomers are increasingly digitally savvy, they will be the first to admit that there is no substitution for picking up the phone. I've had Millennials work for me who had an absolute aversion to picking up a phone. Worse, when they did call, they wouldn't leave voice messages. Business still runs on conversations, not text messages. Learn to use a phone – often.
  4. Bosses Don't Give You The Time of Day. It's because they don't have the time to give. Unlike parents, they don't need to coddle, cajole, or have patience. They need to get work done and please their own higher-ups. They will try to spend time explaining, or motivating, but they don't have all day to gently prod you in the right direction. If you're not moving on your own accord, they'll cut the cord. There are too many people waiting to take your place, too many challenges to be met, and too little time to waste on getting you in shape.
  5. You Will be Overwhelmed and Underpaid. Your boss will show no mercy and pile on the work. You will likely start at the lowest salary they can offer and be asked to put in untold hours in return. Some will call it "paying dues." Others will call it "getting a foot in the door." Both are true. Your real job at-hand is to learn as much as you can in the shortest time to qualify for better positions -- likely with another firm. This is not a lifetime place of employment, just your first job.
When my kids went to college, my husband and I knew the lessons they would learn were far more than the academic knowledge shared in classes. The real lessons in college life range from how to live with a rotten roommate to doing your laundry on a regular basis.

Similarly, as my children have now entered the workforce, I have to remind them and myself that the lessons they are learning in their first year are very different than imagined. While they are gaining some expertise in their respective fields, they are mostly learning how to manage themselves.

From navigating difficult challenges to working with difficult people, and budgeting their time and salaries, they are learning the invaluable lessons that will remain with them throughout their lives, regardless of where their work lives take them.

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