This post was written by former Career & Leadership Development social media intern, Heather Schwartz.
Cute lunch bag — check. Fashionable, yet work-appropriate ensemble — check. A brand new notebook and pen placed firmly in my leather briefcase — check.
When the first day of my big-girl job arrived I was, surprisingly, very confident and ready to hit the ground running. I felt on the top of the world, like I could do anything; I was going to take this company to the next level!
Yeah, those feelings lasted about five minutes.
But before I scare the pants off of you in regards to the corporate world (totally kidding – but not really), let me take you back about six months.
When I graduated in May, I had an internship under my belt, my own photography business, and a pretty strong grasp on the things I had learned in my college courses. I was ready. I was ready to let go of the carefree college lifestyle, late nights devouring Toppers sticks, and living in my tiny, prison-like apartment.
But one thing I wasn’t ready for was what awaited me six months later. After what seemed like hundreds of applications and dozens of interviews, I finally got a full-time job. This position was everything I was looking for – social media, writing, marketing, it was right up my alley! However, I had a lot of false expectations for what the real-world had in store for me.
After my second day at the office I remember calling up a fellow intern from UW-Whitewater and it took everything in my power to not bawl my eyes out. The work was faster paced, expectations were 10 times higher than I thought, and I pretty much had to start from a clean slate and learn everything all over again. I think this was the moment I had a true quarter-life crisis. “My fun life is over. I’m going to fail at life!”
So, once I kicked the dramatics down a notch, I started to get a grasp for what it would take to survive in this new world. Here are a list of strategies I used to stay calm during my transition from the college world to the corporate world, and hopefully they will help you, too:
- Be flexible. Sometimes job descriptions change and you will be asked to do things you didn’t expect right out of the gate. Just roll with it. Showing you can stay calm and collected during a stressful or unexpected turn of events will be strongly in your favor.
- Be a sponge. The first couple weeks at my job, co-workers would ask me in the middle of meetings how I was doing. I always responded the same way, “Just being a sponge – soaking it all in.” When you’re starting a new job it’s important take in your surroundings and all of the information presented to you. Bring a notebook everywhere so you can jot down notes, reminders, and tasks to complete!
- Ask questions. Unless your employer hired you completely in the dark, they know you are a recent college graduate. And that means you have very little, if any, corporate work experience. Don’t feel bad about asking questions; it shows you’re interested in learning and making yourself a valuable asset to the company.
- Have an outlet. Sometimes the workplace can get a little overwhelming. I work with a small company so there are a lot of in-house meetings, a lot of personalities working together in a small space, and sometimes I just need a little time to ground myself. Everyone has their own ways of doing this but I found that playing relaxing instrumental music while working at my desk puts me at ease very quickly (even after an intense meeting).
- Make connections. Don’t go all “Mean Girls” and try and create an office version of The Plastics. But get to know your coworkers. Maybe instead of eating at your desk one day during the week you ask some coworkers to grab lunch. Keep topics light, and use that as a time to create bonds with the people you work with.
- Make your space your own. I’m not saying bring in your fuzzy pink rug and giant fish tank into your office the first day. But bring a photo of your dog to place on your desk, your favorite notebook, or a colorful mouse pad. Bringing some of your personality and belongings to your workspace will help you feel like you’re really a part of the company, and it can induce conversation between you and a coworker.
- Don’t take criticism to heart. This one was a toughy for me! I had never been in a job where the majority of my ideas weren’t accepted or that I wasn’t trusted with tasks. I’ve finally accepted that those things all take time. Whenever you feel really upset about a piece of criticism or your ideas weren’t chosen for a certain project, repeat this to yourself: “It’s just business, not personal.”
- Showcase your assets whenever possible. As a new employee, it can be difficult to find opportunities to really jump in. But keep an eye out for them! I really enjoy event planning and I found a way that I could use that passion and skill in my new workplace. Since the company I work for didn’t have many in-house activities in the past, I took the lead and set up a Halloween Potluck for October. My boss really liked the idea and now I am taking on some new community service ideas for the company. Find ways that your passions and ideas can be linked into the workplace.
- Lean on friends and family. You are not in this alone! It’s important to remember that when you start a new job it may seem like it’s taking over your entire life. That’s normal (at least that’s what my dad told me). I’m still getting used to having a 8-5 job and not being around friends and family as much. But it’s important to know that when you leave that office you still have loved ones there to help guide you.
My final word of advice – don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. But try not to get yourself down.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.”
From one Warhawk to another, don’t worry…you got this 🙂
Photos by Heather Schwartz.