5 Important Things I Learned When I Started My First “Big Girl Job”

At 23 years old, I started my first “big girl” job—and by that I mean my first full-time job with actual health benefits. It was by no means the first job I’d ever had; in fact, I’d been working in the field of public relations and communication for four years part-time while going to undergraduate. I’d started an internship with a local PR firm when I was a sophomore in college and taken a part-time position after the internship ended, learning valuable communication skills and time management that would serve me well in the future. After graduation, I hopped right into graduate school and continued working, while taking on a few internships and freelance writing positions. When grad school came to an end, I dived head first into the job search. I consider myself extremely lucky  that it only took me three weeks of serious searching and applying to land an interview at a company I liked.

After a preliminary interview, a secondary interview with the CEO and COO, I was called with a job offer. As it was my first ever real job offer, I did what any respectable girl would do: called my mom with 15 million questions.

What I learned from her and my summer internship at an HR firm is certainly worth sharing with others on the job hunt.

1. Always negotiate.

If the company is offering you a position, they clearly want you. They’ll be more willing to negotiate with you than have to start the job search all over again with a new candidate. With that, be reasonable. Do your research in the field and industry and ask for a potential salary. When doing your calculations, tally up how much you absolutely need to live the lifestyle you want—rent, food, utilities, car insurance, etc. Know your threshold and what you absolutely cannot go below. If the company isn’t  willing to meet you at that threshold, look elsewhere. The original salary for my current job was lower than I wanted. When I countered, they upped their offer to meet my requests.in/win for me.

Helpful tip: when doing research on the company, look up what the other positions salaries are. If you were to be promoted, what could you be looking at in terms of a raise?

2. Do your homework.

Re-read your resume to make sure that you are up-to-date on the skills you’ve listed. If you claim to be competent in  a certain computer program or language, give yourself a refresher course before arriving in the office with a deer-in-the-headlights look. Explore the company’s website in depth,especially the staff page. A lot of names will be thrown at you on the first day, it’s best to have a little headstart. The most important staff profiles to visit is the chain of command. Who will be your boss, your boss’ boss, etc. Who runs the company?

Knowing I’d be in charge of my company’s publications—including the company’s blog—I familiarized myself with the writing style of the past few months of blogs so I’d be ready to jump right in.

3. Take your time.

You do not have to make any decisions on benefits on day one. Take it home with you and review it when you’re not overwhelmed and you’ve had space to mull it over. If you are married, calculate with your partner to see whose health plan is better before deciding. If you’re lucky, your parents will let you stay on their health plan until you’re 26 years old and save you some money. 401(k)s are complicated, but not an immediate issue. Most companies wait to start your 401(k) until you’ve been at the company for a certain amount of time. At my company, I am required to wait 6 months after the first day of employment to open my 401(k). As you’ve probably heard a billion times, put money away, it doesn’t matter if you only afford a little. Do it.

4. Don’t forget about your future.

Just because you have a job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be constantly prepping for a new job, whether that be a promotion in the same company or taking an entirely different track. Network with your colleagues on LinkedIn, update your resume and reference list. If you end up with spare time, ask your superior if you can help with anything. If it’s allowed, save copies of your printed materials, visuals or deliverables that can be used as samples of your work at your next job interview.

5. Socializing is a fine line in the workplace.

Of course, this varies on each place of employment, but spending an hour talking about your love life or the cat toy sale (believe it or not, this has really happened) is a big no-no. You shouldn’t be gabbing with your cube buddy every time your boss walks by and this also applies to texting and social media. However, a little office socializing can go a long way. After all, you do want the chain-of-command to recognize your face and name. While sometimes awkward, you should attend work functions, team lunches and retreats to show that you can be a team player and are willing to meet and work alongside your coworkers. You’ll improve your chances of promotion down the road, or at the very least, a good reference.

Starting a new job is not easy. It’s stressful and awkward as you tried to place yourself in a team and organization that already has synergy. However, with these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to establishing yourself in your field and anywhere else your career path takes you.

Have job tips of your own? Tweet us @litdarling!

Kelly Morrison Menk

Kelly Morrison Menk

When not writing, Kelly works as a communications associate at a nonprofit in Washington, DC. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Mary Washington and Master's in Communication from George Mason University. She firmly believes that running daily allows her to continue her serious Coca-Cola addiction without repercussions (no, Pepsi is not the same). When she's not working or fighting horrible DC traffic, you can find her sleeping, eating or attempting to train her two pups.
Kelly Morrison Menk
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