8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering The Workforce After College

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering The Workforce After College, career advice for women, career tips for new graduates, planning a career change for introverts, #careeradvice, #careertips, #workforce, #college, #postgrad, #careerchange

After college, I was fortunate enough to ease into entering the workforce… well sorta. During undergrad, I started working half days for an internship. Slowly that increased in number of days per week, then numbers of hours per day. In a blink of an eye, it happened; my string of internships turned into a full time job! Before I knew it, I was clocking in at 8:30 and clocking out at 5:30 five days a week.

Initially, I felt so excited! I had my own office, a new professional wardrobe, and business cards! This was the dream! I was #adulting. I loved my co-workers and clients. Every day felt like something new and exciting. Until one day, it felt like my worst nightmare. Maybe it was the adrenaline wearing off and reality setting in. Perhaps this was why my mom always claimed she was so tired. Anyway, I quickly realized the 9-5 life wasn't what I dreamt it up to be. All of the warnings I ignored about the “real world” were truer than I could imagine, and left me wishing I'd been a little more prepared before entering the workforce after college.

girls, shosh and marnie talk the real world, warning

Here are 8 things I wish I knew before entering the workforce:

You will be exhausted

If you thought you were exhausted while in college working a side job, you have no idea what you're in for! Granted, I was in night classes for my masters and waitressed on the weekends in addition to a 9-5, so I may not be the best person to ask, but legit, I was exhausted. I felt more tired than I've ever been, and I've worked three jobs at once before. How do people with kids do this?!?

Get ready to learn everything you can about time management! If you want to maintain a personal life in addition to a professional life you're going to need to! And I don't care what anyone says, but an internship is 100% different than actually having an employer. My role as an intern was more or less the same. However, the pressure of actually having a paycheck that I could lose at any moment, or the shame that comes with getting fired, is a different level of anxiety and stress on it's own. Plus, while I thought I was “doing the job” as an intern, I really wasn't. There's so much stuff employers won't trust you with until you actually have skin in the game. Most interns don't experience the roller coaster of late night calls, emails, and general stress at how quick things can change in the workplace.

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Make your mornings count

Let me start this by saying, I am not a morning person. If you know me, I'm a four hours of the Today Show and two to four cups of coffee gal, and then maybe you can talk to me. But, here's the thing, when you have an employer and work a 9-5, you basically give your day to someone else. By the time you get home it'll be like 6 or 7, if you have a long commute, and you've done nothing for yourself. I repeat: it'll be 6 or 7 pm and you'll have done nothing for yourself, five days a week! Take advantage of your mornings and make them count! Do something that fuels your soul and take a moment for yourself! You have to prioritize you when adulting, otherwise you simply won't have time for yourself.

You have to prioritize you when you're adulting, otherwise you simply won't have time for yourself Click To Tweet

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rachel ritlop the confused millennial

Keep your personal life, personal

I know it's tempting to have work besties, but once you break that personal boundary with one person at work, it's easier and easier to lean on others for emotional support during office hours. Play that tape forward and you'll probably be labeled as “emotional” or “drama” throughout the workplace. It's like “breaking the seal” and letting the flood gates flow a little too freely. Better to check your personal life at the door by putting your phone on airplane mode (if you can) while working. In dire situations talk directly to your boss and excuse yourself for the day or a period of time to get your ish together before returning.

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You boss is human too

Bosses make mistakes, have flaws, and are imperfect. As much as you think you have on your plate, they have more. Next time you want to bitch about your boss, remember there is something to learn from them. If they want you to stay late to sort their receipts from the week, that sucks and it's okay to be totally annoyed. However, keep in mind that's something you never want to do to someone when you're in the position, every moment is a #teachablemoment. It's a lesson in stamina, patience, and gratitude (because if you're boss is making you stay late to sort receipts, let's just take a moment to imagine how miserable they are in their personal lives *daydreams and cringes*).

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Feed your soul (and your belly) during lunch

Whether you work in a fast or slow paced environment, it's easy to want to just work through lunch and try to get out ASAP. Resist the urge! Most companies put it in your employment agreement that you have to take lunch, #laborlaws. In other words, you really can't leave earlier in HR's eyes if you skipped your lunch. This is also usually the first step on the road to burn out.

Since you're required to take a lunch, take it! If it only takes you five minutes to eat, great! Use that time to do a meditation, yoga flow, read a book, or take brisk walk around the black and get some vitamin D. There really is no excuse when you have so much at your finger tips thanks to modern technology!

Listening to gossip, is gossiping

I learned this lesson the hard way. Office gossip is something every person will face at some point in their life. It may sound like:

“Ugh, can you believe she wants me to come in earlier”

“Did you hear that she had a melt down during the meeting”

“Don't tell anyone but, his wife is leaving him”

It might be a negative comment, it might be telling other people's business, it may witnessing a rant from someone having a bad day and then telling someone else to stay away since they are having a rough day. All of that is office gossip. Try to get in the mindset that any negative commentary outside of your actual work (e.g. Someone didn't get you a document you needed to get your job done), is gossip. I learned the hard way that simply being in the room as someone re-told stories about another employee, was “co-signing” the gossip and being lumped into it all. Again, the exception is if someone didn't do their job and it impacted your ability to get yours done, otherwise, avoid all negativity at any cost.

Ask for help

You are not expected to know everything. Let your perfectionist drive go and embrace not knowing all the things. This is one of the few times in your career where it's really okay to just not know. Most of us millennials are coming from fairly competitive mindsets in the academic world. Let that go, now is the time to learn how to be a team player. Of course healthy competition is needed for excelling in your career, but not at the expense of others. Also, if you don't learn how to work well with others and ask for help, *show a little vulnerability*, your paranoia and anxiety will probably shoot through the roof and you'll end up self-sabotaging your success and feel isolated in your workplace.

On a slightly related tangent: Ask questions too! If you can't think of a question to ask, then take note. It could be a sign that you're not going to be interested in this type of work for very long. In my experience, I have a million questions when I'm interested in something. Even if I 100% understand the information that was just presented to me, I think of ways to up level it and break into the next level of my career, I want to understand how all the things work at all levels of a project or organization. If I'm not asking questions about how things work higher up to get down to this super easy to understand info, then that's concerning too me. I'll probably loose interest soon.


It will all be worth it

Regardless of your experience with an employer, whether it's good or bad, it will be worth it. But only if you make it worth it. Every opportunity or experience we are presented in life is an opportunity to learn and grow. The jobs that have been the most painful for me, whether emotionally or physically, have taught me something about myself, the world, and others. They have shaped me and provided invaluable insight into my future. If you've been around here for a minute, you know my career hasn't been linear. In fact, it's been all over the place at times. However, I wouldn't be able to work full time as a blogger and coach other bloggers to do the same, without the experiences I've had in my career.

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122 thoughts on “8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering The Workforce After College”

  1. The 9-5 grind (or well, 8-5:30/6) is a pretty serious eye opener. You’re right about being tired and time management

    I think after 7 years of the grind, the best advice I can offer is the same as when people sign up to a gym: if the commute is manageable, it makes all the difference.

    I used to drive 40 minutes to work each way and it was horrible. If there was an accident I’d lose so much of my day. Now I take the train, it’s ALWAYS 30 minutes and I get caught up on personal work/correspondence to manage my time. Game.changer.

    Laura @ http://www.cookwineandthinker.com

  2. I love this post. I will be graduating in the spring and this will be a great thing to remember! Thanks!

  3. Alissa Carpenter

    LOVE this post and I couldn’t agree more about the gossip! This can be more detrimental than people thing and can lead to negativity in the workplace.

  4. Not gonna lie, the first part of this post scared the crap out of me. When are we, as a society, going to realise that the way we’ve structured work is not sustainable?
    Thank you for ending on a positive note, and reminding me that it will all be worth it in the end. And thank you for that listening to gossip reminder… I might have gotten sucked into that one recently.

    1. YESS!! I could not agree more with your first point! It’s a large reason why I couldn’t stay in the traditional workforce. It’s not normal to sit in a box all day, and the 40 hour work week isn’t the 40 our work week anymore so it makes it even more of a mess! I actually write for Forbes on the side solely about work-life balance and burnout (https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelritlop/#3f8ba6604274) – it amazes me the number of CEO’s I interview (who happen to be millennials) still subscribe to the “work harder, not smarter” mentality and then don’t realize why the company struggles to grow #SMH — but really it is all worth it IMO. I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what I do, had I not gone through those ups and downs, and fallen a ton. It helped me figure out how to create a career that suits my lifestyle and can support me!

  5. I love your bit about bosses being human, too. I was in the professional working world for awhile before going back to grad school and it took A LOT for me to see certain things from my boss’s perspective…but then I realized they had quite a bit going on. Even now in grad school, some of my fellow classmates think our supervisors should have it “together” all the time…but that’s impossible! It’s so important to be empathetic in the working world.

  6. These are all SUCH GOOD POINTS, Rach. The personal thing…yup. I’ve seen that with everyone I know, literally. The second you start getting personal, there’s no going back. People are nosy! And YUP, bosses are human too. For better or worse…it’s worth it to remember before jumping to judgment.

    Coming Up Roses

  7. Stephanie Parrell

    Great post! I wish there was something like this to read when I first started working. I didnt find it to bad as I was already used to being exhausted from school but I guess I kind of thought I would make more money right away… sill me. It is hard work!

  8. I’ve been working full time for years and still haven’t quite mastered the art of waking up early to fit more in! It’s so true, by the time you get home there isn’t much time to fit in extra things. Love your advice about taking a full lunch break. I left a job where my coworkers would leave the office unattended and then next thing you know I didn’t get to have my lunch. I’m sure to use every moment wisely at my new position!

  9. Brittany Williams

    As a millennial, I wish I could share this with everyone! Such a great post and it really hits it on the head what we are going to experience entering the real world. It’s definitely a shocker and we need help preparing for it. Generations before us had it differently and it’s hard to kind of do this on our own so we need to talk about it! We’ve also gotta stop working these crazy 9-5 lives! It’s taxing, unnecessary, and affects our quality of life! Rant over! lol but thanks for this great post!

  10. I loved my first big girl job too. It was a huge change of pace from working 2 part time jobs during school to one full time job. I wish I would have known to negotiate my salary.

  11. Elizabeth Johnson

    Yes!! So so true! When I worked a 9-5 I was exhausted all the time. Most companies, if you let them, will use and abuse you. That’s why saying no is so important. Love this post! Every soon-to-be graduate needs to read this!

  12. I definitely think it’s super important to keep your personal life personal and I would also add to keep it professional as well. I’ve worked countless jobs where coworkers wanna play high school and be mean girls but it just shows unprofessionalism.

  13. Yes to all of this!!! I seriously give huge props to people who work full time jobs and have kids. When I get home from my job the last thing I want to do is deal with anything at home. I am not a morning person at all but when you have a 9-5 job….you have no other choice but to suck it up the best way you can. I try to start some laundry, do dishes,etc before I leave for work every morning. Loved this post!

  14. So accurate! I think interning really helps give you a glimpse into what full-time life is like which is incredibly helpful. And I’m not a morning person at all either, but I’ve found that when I do wake up early I’m happy with what I’m able to get done!

  15. It isn’t easy, but it IS worth it! I love this so much!! Taking advantage of your time in the mornings is so helpful too!

  16. I can definitely relate to this post, Rachel! I always tried to make the most of my lunch break during my internship, and it definitely made me tired by the end of the day! Love that last bit though – good reminder!

  17. It’s funny because I have a similar post drafted on this topic. I love that you talked about some office etiquette and the importance of it (like leaving your personal life personal and not getting too involved in gossip). And yes, the exhaustion is SO REAL and you do have to make time for yourself and doing things for yourself.

  18. This is all too true! I definitely relate to the “Your Boss Is Human Too” one now that I am a manager and have seen it from both perspectives. Also, I’ve had to learn the hard way about creating boundaries with work friends. Great read!

  19. Yes to all of these! I only worked a traditional 9-5 for a few years before becoming my own boss but these are so spot on.

  20. As a teacher, I learned the hard way about working full-time. I began to follow a few your recommendations and they helped, but then they made me more of an outcast. Adulting is hard! And tiring!

  21. Ugh, this post is so true. Seriously, my 9-5 is killing me slowly inside, but I can’t let it go right now. I completely agree with the EVERY thing on here. Gossiping is HUGE! And I totally snack all day long! LOL

  22. You have nailed this post. Thank you for sharing! I too work 9-5 and this was such a good reminder of the things I know but let slip.

  23. You completely nailed this post! I completely agree with enjoying (and actually taking) your lunch break. So often newbies like to skip thinking it will win them cool points, but it’s important to remember that everyone deserves a break and taking one will actually make you more productive.

  24. OurCookery Com

    Keeping your personal life personal is key. I think that was a lesson learned early on for me – something my parents always talked about. The joy starts *sarcasm* when you meet a boss who tries to squeeze into your personal life because they’re new and don’t understand boundaries.

  25. Robert Stukowski

    Always good advice. I would also add that you might not be able to get In to field you went to school for. Times change and that degree that look promising when you entered college could end up as a flop once your graduate.

  26. Sharon Glascoe

    I totally agree with Asking for Help! That is something that I really had to learn. I was independent all through high school and college so it was hard for me to reach out when I was drowning in work. Such a great tip!

  27. I have been dipping my toes into the 9-5 world for around 9 months know and I have to tell you it is massively exhausting. We have to invest massive parts of our day and our time into our workplace and we have very little time to invest that into ourselves. I’ve wanted to start swimming for the longest of times so I can give myself something in the morning but even that is a ball ache! I love everything about this post !


  28. The point about gossiping is definitelyyyyy a great one to make. It happens everywhere. I am a teacher and, luckily, it allows me to be home between 3-5 every day. I am tired, but I still have so much time to get things done! What helps is, my job is insanely rewarding. I am a 10th grade special education teacher. I think if people choose a job that lifts you up and allows them to serve others (like what you do, too!), it is worth it in the long run. All the long hours and everything else that comes with a 9-5 (for me.. a 7-3 haha). I am a morning person, so it works out for me. I was up at 6am this morning & I am not even working today. Great advice, girl xx I always love reading your material.

    1. yes! thats a huge benefit of being a teacher! i much prefer the “tilted” schedule where you go in early and get out early or go in late and get out late rather than the smack middle of the day thing! And totally agree with rewarding careers for the win! Thanks for your kind words always <3

  29. Not gonna lie, I’m actually super nervous about starting work full time next year. I will be 26 and I feel slightly guilty about this, but I guess that’s the #GradSchool life . Hope I at least have some time for myself and don’t go insane. Can’t imagine throwing kids in the mix, lol

  30. These tips were so great! I completely agree about making the most of your mornings- when I first started working, I would spend most of my day answering emails. Once I got smarter about time management, I realized that if I dedicated an hour in the morning to email, then I could spend the rest of my morning on tasks that were also important

  31. If only work weeks were 4 days and weekends were 3 days! I’m a year into the work force and even found myself guilty of some of the things on here. This was a great reminder to keep myself in check while at work! Also, I totally feel you on the mornings. Just need to sleep with my blinds open so getting up is easier!

  32. I was always guilty of working through lunch when I had a professional career. By the end of the day, I was burnt out! It pays to step out, even for a few minutes, to get some fresh air and to get away from the office!

  33. All so true! It is absolutely exhausting and even in the smallest of offices, one has to be mindful of anything negative, including gossip, and keeping personal life personal is key.

  34. Great tips!! And they are are very true! Especially keeping your personal like personal. It’s amazing the difference it can make.

  35. nicole simonetti

    totally agree w/ you about listening to gossip = gossiping. it’s hard to get caught up in the work drama throughout the office, but a noble (and less stressful) thing to do as an employee. not to mention, it won’t break your focus from what you should actually be focusing on. great tips, as always! x, nicole // http://www.nicoleeigh.com

  36. Oh man, I needed this post! I can completely relate. It’s so important to get this info out so we know we aren’t alone!

  37. Hey Rachel, thanks for these invaluable tips? I do agree with you when you say to do something that fuels your soul and take a moment for yourself and making your mornings count! That’s something i constantly have to remind myself to do.

    Again, Thanks for sharing?

    Lindsay | http://www.faithfullyme.co.uk

  38. These are such great points! Hearing the job structure thing though is definitely scary as another person also pointed out – it’s great that an internship resulted with a regular 9-to-5, but holy cow that schedule is crazy, especially while going to grad school! I literally could not have had a job wile I was doing mine – my classes were during the day and only at that offered time. And the idea of sitting in a cubicle for that many hours of the day is literally the reason I didn’t go into another field – I would go insane!

  39. This is such good advice! I still have two years left of college, but I’m both excited and terrified to start working after graduation.

  40. As someone who’s been in the workforce a loooong time this is a great post. I loved the tip about not mixing business and pleasure. While it can be tempting I’ve never found it to work. Although I’m sure it has for some.

  41. Great advice for those who are just entering the work force. However, 11 years in and I can say some of my absolute best friends are those who I’ve made at work. It’s great to build each other up in the work place and when someone wants to vent, helping them redirect that energy elsewhere or at least help them zip it until the work day is over…that’s what Happy Hours are for! Oh, and one main thing: NETWORK. I spent one day a week networking when I was out of college and now in my current role people area always saying to me “Who don’t you know?” it’s a good thing!!

    1. Thats awesome that was your experience Erika!! I think the key difference is that you’ve been working for 11 years, and those relationships had time to develop into your best friends and become a support system! This is really for young professionals who don’t have a clear grasp on boundaries in the workplace yet! I think today, especially with social media, we have a tendency to overshare a little too soon before we can really understand the consequences of getting personal with people! And loveee the point about networking!

  42. Agree on mornings. I really wish early in my post college career I had done a better job of that.

  43. I never understood how some people are happy work-a-holics – never carving out a personal life for themselves. And lunch time is the BEST part of the day! No one ever had to tell me it was time to go! ?

  44. Great points! I wish I could have read this advice for my first job after college. Even though I worked on campus, I was woefully unprepared for this stuff.

  45. I definitely think it is important to prioritize self care especially as you adjust to a new work schedule. I also really don’t believe in having my social circle be friends from work…I know that is a bit controversial and I am ALWAYS friendly with people i work with but I don’t want the awkwardness that comes with everyone at my job knowing everything about my personal life.

  46. Super Millennial

    Great tips I agree so much being able to take advantage of the mornings! To many people sleep in, rush to work, and get there flustered. I love waking up early to accomplish more than most by the time you get into work!

  47. Christine Martinez

    Love all of this. I work 8-5 and man am I tired! That’s why I started blogging! hahaha! My butt hurts from sitting all day, i’m gaining weight from lack of exercise, and don’t have time for myself on most days. I wish I could get up early and just do things for me. I just can’t get myself up! One day it will all be worth it!

  48. These are all super important tips. I too wish I knew these before entering the workforce!

  49. I wish I would have learned years ago to make my mornings about me! It’s so true most of our day is spent on someone else. I’ve recently started waking up earlier to do things for myself and while I hate waking up early, I love that I can get so much done before heading out to work.

  50. YES. Everything yes. The instructor for my conference today was like “ever come home from work after sitting for 8 hours and you’re just exhausted? How can that be?!” And it was so funny because it was so true. I do enjoy my job but avoiding burnout is essential in order to do it long term.

  51. That’s why I hated so much my internships. Yes. I learned a lot. But honestly, I don’t see myself going through it. Those two experiences taught me that’s not what I want in my life. Specially giving most of my time to another person. That’s why I want to work in my own business. Everyone is looking me like I need way more than two internships to start my own business. For me was enough. And I’ll work extra hard to make it work. I loved your post!!

  52. So helpful for those of us who are anxious about this, I wouldn’t even have considered some of these things before reading you post!

  53. Totalllllly agree with all of this! It’s crazy how work can seem like high school over again sometimes when it comes to gossip and whatnot!

  54. Shannon Graham

    The personal life personal part….on point. I never made that mistake and cringed when I watched others pay for that one. Work is overwhelming and college can’t prepare you for what will meet you!

  55. I love this! I also would add, always have a stopping point or end time. Many jobs (like teaching for me) means you take your work home with you. You could end up ALWAYS working, even when you aren’t being payed for it unless you give yourself strict end points. Same goes for blogging, too!

  56. I went thru this and everything you say is 100% true. I realized that giving my whole day to someone else just isn’t for me! Taking lunch was always a big one for me. I could tell that I was much more relaxed and in a better mood to get more work done if my belly was happy!

    BTW I’m watching the Today show right now as I type this, love it!

  57. Thank you for being so honest in this post about what it’s like to start working in the “real world”. I think so many new college students entering the workforce think that a 9-5 job is so glamorous and that it’ll be easy but it definitely isn’t! It’s such a big adjustment to get used to (heck I’m STILL getting used to it 3 years later). These are all amazing tips, especially the one about ACTUALLY taking a lunch break!!

  58. I love this post, thanks for sharing! I can absolutely agree about keeping your personal life personal!

  59. These are awesome Rach. I just couldn’t do a 9-5 building someone else’s dream when I could be building my own!!!!

  60. Great points here, Rachel! It can be difficult to navigate one’s way through the professional landscape without being entirely prepped for it! Glad to see you took steps to regain your work-life balance! xx, Lindsay

  61. OMG YASSS!!! My first job I so thought I was owning it and I could handle the world. Long story short it sucked and here I am doing something I love!

  62. I completely agree with all of these! I learned the hard way on most of these – and am still learning. I didn’t expect the real world to be like this. I was much better at balancing my free time when I worked 3 jobs and was getting my masters. Now, I still work 3 jobs but one is an 8-5 and the other two are only 3 hours a week (each). I think part of my problem is that I do very similar things at my 8-5 as I do for Glitter so when I come home the last thing I want to do is engage on social media more or write another blog post. I’m currently trying to find another job that allows me to stay in marketing but on a different level so I am not so burnt out by the end of the day. Thanks for the tips!
    xoxo Lauren | Glitter & Grandeur

  63. Loving this advice! It’s so true that starting your career is a transition. And, I think it’s important to set boundaries and make time for yourself (e.g. your lunch hour) to not get overwhelmed and burned out.

  64. The exhaustion never ends either!! And I agree about taking advantage of your mornings. I love the extra time I get to myself

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