This guest post is by Susan Johnston who is 24 years old and blogs at The Urban Muse.
By Susan Johnston – It’s easy to get screwed when you’re fresh out of undergrad and starting a new job. Nobody tells you this, because it doesn’t make a particularly inspiring message for a graduation speech or greeting card. But it’s true. In college, you had professors to encourage intellectual exploration and advisors to make sure you stayed on track for graduation.
Unfortunately, in the workforce your boss is looking out for the bottom line and you don’t automatically get assigned to someone who will look out for your best interests (you have to find your own mentors and even then they could have their own agenda). I graduated a year early, so I was especially eager and open to managerial manipulations. So, class of 2008, here are some situations to look out for.
1. You could get screwed on a project basis.
If you don’t know what you want from your job, then how can you expect anyone else to know what kind of work to give you? It’s not your employer’s job to help you find yourself, so if you don’t have a clear picture of what you want to do, then you are an easy target for tasks that no one else wants to do. Not every manager is good at delegating or figuring out other people’s strengths, so the employees who know what they want and ask for it make their managers’ lives easier. Those who don’t, get stuck with the leftovers.
2. You could get screwed out of money.
In the past, I’ve been promised raises, and I failed to get it in writing because I trusted my bosses. The first time, I was working at a taco stand over the summer and my manager got fired a week later, meaning I missed out on that extra 25 cents an hour (tragic, I know). The second time my boss gave me a verbal raise but never told accounting. I straightened it out a few paychecks later, but I should have emailed him to confirm immediately after our meeting and avoided the confusion later. Another unfortunate salary manipulation is what I call the preemptive raise. Basically, you get a small raise when you’re not expecting it and they know that you won’t try to negotiate. But you should always negotiate so that you establish yourself as someone who knows what they’re worth.
3. You could screw up your image.
People worry about the stigma of job hopping, but sometimes it’s the only way to gain respect. Say you were interning somewhere and got offered a full time job at the company. Your parents would be elated, but I would caution you not to jump in without weighing your options. First of all, you’ll always be remembered as the Intern, so people will continue asking you to fetch coffee and locate office supplies. My first job out of college was as an admin but a new position opened within a few months and I grabbed it. Even a year after I’d moved up, people still treated me like the receptionist because that’s what I was doing when they met me. If your company thinks you’re worthy of a full time job, then trust your abilities and someone else will offer you a position with more money and more respect as well.
4. You could get screwed into working evenings and weekends.
If you don’t have 2.5 kids and a spouse waiting at home, then in many industries, you’ll be expected to put in extra hours (and no, you don’t necessarily get comp time or overtime). It’s not fair, but that’s just how it is. Take it from someone who didn’t have time to date her first year out of college, because she was running around helping at events on Friday and Saturday nights. I suggest you put in the extra time when you can so that no one can fault you when you have a family commitment or a friend’s birthday party. After all, you have outside obligations, too. Don’t let your eagerness to please prevent you from having a life.
5. You could get screwed by lack of feedback.
Lots of managers are uncomfortable giving feedback (especially negative), so they’ll avoid it if at all possible. For example, I once had a manager say to me “annual reviews are coming up in a month, but since you just started, we’ll wait until next year.” Fourteen months passed before I had a performance review, and I was blindsided by some of the comments I got, because no one brought up issues that had been going on for over a year! You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken, so you should take it upon yourself to check in with your boss periodically and avoid any surprises at your review. You could even ask what you need to do in the next six months to qualify for a raise. They may not give you clear directions, but at least you’ll show that you want to excel in your job.
Susan Johnston’s blog is The Urban Muse.