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March 19, 2018

Starting Your First Job: Expectations Versus Reality

Rosie Robinson

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Starting a new job is scary. But starting your first job is a whole different ball game.

You’ve spent most of your life in full-time education, and suddenly you find yourself thrust into the “real world.” It feels like a step into the unknown. But remember, the anticipation is often the worst part, and the reality will likely be far less intimidating than you expected.

Let's look at four key concerns that might keep you awake at night when you're starting your first job: your qualifications, the workload, the work ethic, and the office culture.


Expectation: I’ve never had a “grown up” job before – what do I know about real work? What if I turn up on my first day and I have no idea how to do anything? I’ll be fired before the end of the day!

Reality: You likely had similar thoughts before you started school. These important life changes can seem like a big leap – and, in many ways, they are. Fear of failure is normal when you start any new job, not just your first. But you soon find your feet, and start to make a genuine contribution. Don't forget that you have value to add. Your new bosses certainly think so - otherwise they wouldn't have hired you!

And, never underestimate your natural talents. Even if you lack formal qualifications, instinctive skills such as computing or writing – or being organized and efficient – are all highly desirable traits in the workplace. You are more capable than you give yourself credit for.


Expectation: As soon as I walk through the door, I’ll be bombarded with mountains of work that are far beyond my skill set. I’ve got no idea how to manage a merger or negotiate a deal with a supplier!

Reality: The first few days at your new job will feel like a blur. This is natural. You’ll probably be far too busy meeting all the new faces to do any serious work. Plus, you’re a newbie. You will likely be in an entry-level position that involves a lot of scut work. Nothing you can’t handle. Even so, you may feel as if all this information is going in one ear and out the other. Again, this is normal. Breathe, and take your time. You’ll get there.

Alternatively, you might feel that your work is too easy, or not as exciting as you had envisioned. But, according to LifeHacker writer Thorin Klosowski, you should "revel in working hard no matter what the job is." So, be patient. We all have to "pay our dues." Greater responsibility will come in time, as you prove your worth.

Work Ethic

Expectation: If I'm not feverishly tapping away at my computer all day I’ll be considered a layabout and a waste of space. I must jump at any chance to take on new tasks. How else can I prove myself to my more seasoned peers?

Reality: No one will expect to you to be 100 percent on the ball all the time – at least, not straight away! You may feel the need to prove your worth, but if you’re too eager you can come across as pushy. By all means, volunteer to take on new roles and learn new skills, but pace yourself. You don’t want to burn out before you’ve even got going. Take breaks, be sure to give each task your full attention, and stick to deadlines.

Focus on small wins in your formative weeks, and leave yourself capacity for big wins later on. After all, you don’t have to turn up already equipped with every tool your job requires. Part of the fun of your first job – or any new job – is learning as you go.

Office Culture

Expectation: I’ve sold my soul and I won’t get along with all the other cogs in the corporate machine! My new colleagues will think I'm stupid because I don’t know what acronyms like SEO or OGSM mean. I’ll end up eating lunch alone in the bathroom stall, and I’ll never “fit in.”

Reality: Corporate jargon, business attire, and regular hours may be a far cry from your free-and-easy life at college, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. Most companies now have a casual dress code in open-plan offices. You’ll get a chance to chat to people from a range of departments and backgrounds. And, while eight-hour days might be a shock to the system at first, you’ll slip into a routine soon enough.

As for your colleagues, if their language is unfamiliar to you, just ask them what they mean. They probably don’t even notice they’re doing it. Focus on making a great first impression and on being sociable. Some working relationships take longer to form, but out-of-work social events are a great way to start building a foundation of friendship and trust with your new co-workers. So, as awkward as you may feel, put yourself out there and join in as much as you can.

Stay Positive

On your first day, leave your expectations at the door. When you assume that your job will be a certain way, you open yourself up to disappointment or deflation if life presents you with something different. Instead, stay open-minded and take your first job for what it is – a fresh start, a learning opportunity, a stepping stone to something “bigger and better,” or all of the above.

Believe in yourself and your capabilities, and trust that if there's anything you don’t yet know, you will learn it on the job. Plus, remember that you are not alone. You'll have regular one-on-ones with your line manager where you'll receive constructive feedback. If you feel that you're not getting the support you need - or your role is deviating from your job description - speak to your line manager, or if needs be, the HR manager. You're part of something bigger now, and you'll need all the support you can get. Don't worry, you’ve got this.

Are you taking the leap from college or university to your first job? Or, is there any advice that you wish someone had given to you when you started work? Share your thoughts, below.

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4 comments on “Starting Your First Job: Expectations Versus Reality”

  1. Thanks a lot for this post, i have been looking for the information because in next week there will be my joining day and i was feeling stressed about it but after reading this article i have a idea about that, thanks to you. Going to prepare according too this blog.

    1. Great to hear Shalmali that you will be using the ideas in this post to help you prepare for your new job. What in particular stood out for you? What do you think will be the most beneficial?

  2. You’re probably going to have to go through a few jobs before you get a job that you feel is right for you. You’ll get it eventually, but just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen right away.

    1. I know I certainly evolved into the various jobs I did and currently love where I am at now. There is a thread that I can see (in hindsight) how each job helped me become clearer on what I liked and wanted and what I didn't like and wanted to avoid.

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