I'm new to "jobs" — what should I know?
January 23, 2019 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm in my late 20s, and have been a freelancer and small business owner (designing websites, solo and later supported by a small remote team) for nearly half of my life. I'm about to make a big shift though: on Monday, I start my first "real job". Having never been gainfully employed before, what should I know going in?

A bit of extra context: I'm in New York City and will be working for a major/large media and publishing company. I'll be leading a small team (no direct reports though) and serving as a senior engineer on a major internal project.

My commute is mercifully easy, andwe've also negotiated a period where I can wind down my business while simultaneously onboarding at the new job, which is very helpful.

I'm mostly curious about things like insurance and benefit tips, general workplace and office environment survival tips, and other things that are probably intuitive to most of the populace (but new to me). As much as possible, I really want to do this new job "right" and maximise this opportunity.

Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If there is a 401k match, make sure you have them take out enough to get the full match - right away. That way you never miss the money.
You will probably have a number of choices on insurance. Ask your new boss to point you toward the person who is most like you (age, health, etc) to see what insurance options they've selected.
Lots of offices have free food people bring in. Partake, but don't *always* partake - so you don't get the reputation as a freeloader.
Eat lunch with your co-workers, not at your desk.
posted by notsnot at 7:07 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

I've been sitting behind a desk outside a CEO's office for twenty years, and I will tell you that being positive and helpful is the single biggest indicator of success. We have two finance directors at the same level in my current office, for example, one of whom jumps in to help rearrange conference rooms or grab an ice bucket, the other of whom whines at being asked to do anything outside of the strict scope of her job. Guess who's more highly regarded by everyone from the office manager to HR to the C-level leader of their organization? Just be a nice person. Help out. Keep your ego in check. It goes such a long way.
posted by something something at 7:09 AM on January 23 [27 favorites]

A lot of stuff is going to depend on your industry and specific office culture, but some general stuff:

-If you have retirement benefits, use them. If you get any sort of 401(k) matching, contribute AT LEAST enough to your retirement plan to max out the match. Do the paperwork on your first day, you'll never miss the money. The more you can contribute to this now, the better.

-If there are caps on vacation accrual, don't reach that cap. Use your vacation time. Some people like to never take a day off in an effort to look hard-working, but you'll be essentially throwing money away if your PTO bank fills up and you can't accrue any more.

-Insurance will really depend on your particular needs and the plans you're offered. A lot of companies now offer a high deductible plan alongside a "regular" plan. Read up on the differences between flex savings accounts and health savings accounts (any money left in an FSA at the end of the year is forfeit!), how your company deals with them, etc. This is probably the most complicated choice you will have to make at the start of the job and it sucks.

-Be nice to the admin team. I mean, don't be a dick in general, but admins are the people you want on your side because nothing gets done without them. If you need office supplies, help with travel reimbursements, new equipment, or just about anything else you will have to work with an admin for it. If they like working with you, your requests will go to the top of the list.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:12 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]

Read the room. Figure out the work culture before you jump in with both feet.

No matter what your job description is, your real and primary job is to make your boss look good.
posted by lyssabee at 7:20 AM on January 23 [18 favorites]

Beware the urge to "hustle" (take on too much work and try to get your hand in everything) to prove your worth especially early on. I did this and a) it's obvious to the people around you and b) it can keep you from watching and learning and being flexible to where you can deliver the most value. Like definitely take on work you want to do and do your best and show up and engage but try not to let that motivation come from a place of neediness or unworthiness or trying to prove yourself, ask where you can deliver value and be helpful instead not "how can I look good".

The askamanager blog is wonderful for office issues.
posted by lafemma at 7:31 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]

Take time the first week to read through alllllllll the benefit details. I like to take a deep dive into the HR website cause I know once I start working, it won’t happen again. Aside from health insurance, what is there? Flexible spending accounts? Life? Death benefits? Attorney benefits? Gym subsidies? Travel subsidies? Discounts on computers or pet insurance, etc? How is dental and vision handled? And what are the logistics of these- when are you technically enrolled (start date?), when do you need to get your paperwork in, when and how are you allowed to make changes (annually? Life change issue?), when do you get confirmation so you can use the benefit?

I just embrace the paperwork during onboarding. It can be frustrating, but I go to a zen place and find myself enjoying getting all these life details in order. Then I won’t have to worry once I get busy working.

I also don’t bring any desk decorations or personal things the first week. Then I slowly ramp it up.

I also don’t bring lunch my first week. I set lunch with coworkers or I take the lunch myself and get a breather out of the office.
posted by inevitability at 7:37 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]

Be on time, which means 5 minutes early. Not just for work in the morning, but meetings, lunches, etc. If you haven't been tied to someone else's clock for awhile or since school, this might not be immediately obvious. If you are habitually late someone will notice and it will not reflect well on you.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:05 AM on January 23 [16 favorites]

Get ready to realize that you work until 5pm (or whatever office culture is) even if the work is done at 3pm.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:16 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]

One thing that I have seen from a number of people who have come into an office from a non-traditional environment is a lot of shitting on the mundane inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies of office life. Making sure the right people are copied on emails, the complications of making a group lunch order, the "wasted" time planning and celebrating birthdays, etc. We all know it is silly and unnecessary, and we could all come up with a way of doing it better, but this is how the machine runs, and you kind of need to either embrace it or not be in an office.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:33 AM on January 23 [21 favorites]

If you have not already, check out askamanager. Especially if you'll be serving in some kind of leadership capacity.

As a not-totally-neurotypical person with adhd, it can be helpful to know what office norms people expect by reading what people write in about. Of course, a lot of the situations there are really extreme, so it also serves the purpose of a bit of perspective (and humor).

Also, if you're a leader, she often helps people navigate through difficult conversations with subordinates; those can be really hard if you are a nice person who doesn't want to hurt others' feelings! I know I am not cut out for leadership (at least at this stage in my life) for that reason.
posted by ZeroDivides at 8:55 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]

Oops: I didn't notice lafemma's rec above, but perhaps some additional context helps explain its utility.
posted by ZeroDivides at 8:56 AM on January 23

I second the Ask A Manager advice column. You might check out the new grads category (I realize you're not a new grad, but if you skip over the GPA/career-center advice, there's still a lot of "how to office" advice there), work habits, and workplace practices.
posted by lazuli at 8:56 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Don't talk shit about people (this will seem easy at first, build the habit for when it is really hard) and don't complain.
posted by InkaLomax at 9:15 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

One thing that I have seen from a number of people who have come into an office from a non-traditional environment is a lot of shitting on the mundane inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies of office life.

I have also seen this, and inadvertently did it myself, and yes it is a good thing to avoid.

Depending on your office/desk situation, if you are seated in the vicinity of your coworkers, you want to be careful about things like: wearing scents, eating loudly, constantly sniffling, talking really loudly on the phone, etc.

Basically try to do a lot of observing and listening to get to know the norms in your office and the particular culture.

Best of luck!
posted by JenMarie at 9:29 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

In an office with other people at various removes from you on the org chart, your soft skills need to be on. The first and best rule for getting along with people that you have to spend hours with but have not necessarily chosen is: listen more than you speak. (For whatever reason this often harder for men than for women; it is possible you are already adept at this, but it is important.)

Err on the side of not grousing about things. Keep negative observations to yourself unless you have a business purpose for raising them.[1] When you have to say "this is a bad idea that will cost us money" that will land more powerfully if you have not established yourself as someone who sees most things in a negative light.

Remember people's names. This goes along with listening but it is a good way to make a good impression on people.

Own your mistakes. If the price of a single error is getting fired, you don't want to work there anyway. Run anything that has the potential to be a costly mistake by your supervisor and keep a written record of your conversation with them.

Office politics exist, but you don't have a bead on them when you are new. Check in with your supervisor when something feels off to you. Your goal is to make them look good, as lyssabee said above.

[1] A business purpose can include "this is racial/sexual/&c. harassment and you need to stop." I'm not saying don't call out things that need to be called out: I'm saying don't be a downer about the ordinary vicissitudes of life, the weather, your commute, the office furniture, &c. without reason.
posted by gauche at 9:34 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Depending on your office/desk situation, if you are seated in the vicinity of your coworkers, you want to be careful about things like: wearing scents, eating loudly, constantly sniffling, talking really loudly on the phone, etc.

Don't whistle. And, as I had to let a recent grad / hire know just last week, wearing headphones while you listen to podcasts or music does not magically mean that your cube-vicinity mates cannot hear you chuckling or singing. Yes, even if they are wearing headphones too. Similarly, always wear headphones while enjoying your personal noise. Turn the ringer down on your phone so that you can hear it at your desk, but not necessarily all the way over at the copier.

Seriously, don't wear scents. Those with allergies will thank you (and typically avoid face-to-face contact with those who do wear scents - you can't tell someone in a politically correct way that you can't stand the smell of them. Those people who are being avoided sometimes have no idea why others are avoiding them, and it colors their whole experience of work and interpersonal relationships).
posted by vignettist at 9:51 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

Be prepared to be tired. A full day at work being around other people can be incredibly draining, depending on your degree of introversion.

Every office and industry has its own culture and norms - part of learning a job is picking these up. And not criticizing them, early on.

Your role of leading a team but not supervising anyone is interesting - who is doing the supervising? I would make a great working relationship with this person a priority.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 9:52 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Be civil and pleasant but remember your co-workers are not your friends. Do not overshare private information or opinions even if you take a liking to someone. Remember to do the usual stuff about wishing people nice weekends, asking after their weekends and so on, but on the basis of keeping up a pleasant atmosphere, not of confessionality.
posted by zadcat at 10:28 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]

People can be territorial about their roles, duties, place in the chain, and knowledge. Some people hoard knowledge as they think it ensures their job security, and if they feel at all threatened by you will shut down and only give the barest minimum of help you need. I wish I had great advice on how to counter this, I usually did it by making clear my ambitions didn't extend to their role, and I just wanted to learn so I wouldn't bother them.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:58 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Don't be the person that comes in, takes a look at the work landscape, and goes THIS IS REALLY DUMB WHY DO YOU DO IT THIS WAY I KNOW A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS. Even if any of those three clauses is true, nobody wants to hear that from the new person. Get fluent with how your office does its work (both functionally and culturally) before starting, gently, to suggest better ways to do things.

Here's a small example. Does your office labor along with Outlook while you've been burning through emails with Gmail/Gsuite while doing your own thing? Awesome! Does Gmail do a lot of things better than Outlook? Probably, but...protip: Nobody at your office cares! Everyone there is in the same boat, using the same tools, that on some level they all know either aren't as good as they could be or are actively bad. But sometimes, that's just the state of things, and that has to be OK.

At a company the size of the one it sounds like you'll be working at, there are any number of decisions, big and small, that are not made on the fly, nor are they made in a transparent manner. That's not always bad; it's just how it is, and no amount of complaining (even in a lighthearted tone) about bad technology X or flawed business process 1 is going to make your company change things on a dime.

Basically, learn to pick your battles. At first, the number of battles you pick should be zero. There will come a time when your input on how work can get done better is sought out and valued; that time is not now. Now, be a sponge. Learn as much as you can. Then, over time, you'll be able to provide more value as a change agent if you choose to do so.
posted by pdb at 1:14 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

You will meet lots of new people. Don't be so quick to judge who you like and don't like, and who you're going to get chummy with. Over time, you'll develop a deeper sense of these people and may regret having gotten all buddy with the guy who turns out to be hated by everyone (and by the transitive property, you). Be nice to everyone, but keep some distance for a while.
posted by intermod at 2:41 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]

Start good desk habits: mind your posture, be aware of ergonomics, take a couple minutes to hide in a stairwell and stretch every time you pee, go for a walk at lunch, make your commute active if you can, eat well, don't become a caffeine junkie because you're bored, keep a bag of apples in your desk, resist the urge to eat fries and drink after work every day, drink a ton of water, etc etc.

Office life is sedentary and it's really easy to gain 15 pounds and some new joint pain in the first 6 months.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:07 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]

When do you need to get your paperwork in, when and how are you allowed to make changes (annually? Life change issue?)

As a quick note, the annual period for making these changes in larger organizations is known as "open enrollment." Do not ignore the open enrollment period, as sometimes you will be required to re-enroll in things, or risk losing them during the next benefit year!
posted by mostly vowels at 3:34 PM on January 23

We have two finance directors at the same level in my current office, for example, one of whom jumps in to help rearrange conference rooms or grab an ice bucket, the other of whom whines at being asked to do anything outside of the strict scope of her job.

OP, you didn't mention your gender, but if you are female-presenting, beware that you are very likely to be initiated into your first real office job with something ranging between a polite request and a command to start taking on the "women's work" of the office. This includes things like arranging birthday celebrations for coworkers, holiday parties, get well cards, work anniversary cards, administrative work that the actual admins don't want to do or habitually screw up, etc.

It's a well documented phenomenon that women who elect not to do these things are perceived as cold and unhelpful, while of course the downsides of taking on these extra tasks (particularly if you don't want to do them) are clear. Therefore, all I'll say is you should make your decisions consciously and deliberately. It may very well be easier to decline now when you're "just settling in" than to refuse to continue an ongoing task later.
posted by telegraph at 3:43 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]

A lot of great advice upthread, especially about working with others and learning unspoken norms. And it's totally ok to quietly ask someone on your team or who sits near you if you're not sure about something ("psstt...hey...what time do people normally take lunch?").

Agree with "Be prepared to be tired." Remember that it takes 3 weeks to form a habit, so it will take about that amount of time to get used to your new job. Don't plan anything in the evenings for the first few weeks (and see if you can have light weekends as well).
posted by radioamy at 8:06 PM on January 23

Good communication skills are critical. People get a lot of email and won't want to read through a novel to get the important information. Try and keep things clear and short. If you need to communicate something with a lot of details, put a short summary at the start so people know if they need to read through the details, and what to pay attention to if they do.

Keep your boss informed of any important information, changes, delays or problems, even if they don't need to do anything with that information directly. This helps them look smart and informed if someone talked to them, rather then your boss being surprised.

Make time to chat with people, particularly on your team, about non work related stuff, and try to remember things about them. This can go a long way to having a good relationship.
posted by nalyd at 3:31 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

« Older Treatment for depression and close relationships   |   Good reading about Mexico class/ethnicity... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments