10 Scary Realizations You Have in Your First Job

The things that surprised or even shocked you about being an employee.

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Lindsay Olson
For recent grads, ghouls and goblins aren’t what cause the most fear this time of year. If you’re working your first job, there are likely several things that have surprised or even shocked you about being an employee.

1. Your paycheck is shriekingly shrunken. You’re not the first recent grad to be horrified at how much taxes eat up your paycheck. You may have been excited about what you were offered as your salary and thought you would be bringing home more than you are. Now you’re wondering how you will be able to pay your phone bill.

Here’s an illustration: If you make $35,000 in Arizona and are filing as single on your taxes, you’d take home $1,346 every two weeks and pay just over $300 in Social Security and federal and state tax. That doesn’t take into account any 401(k) or health insurance costs you may also have to pay for.

2. You don’t always get to leave at 5:00. Your idea of work is coming in at 9 a.m. (or a few minutes late) and leaving at 5 p.m. on the dot. Unfortunately, your new boss has other ideas. You frequently end up staying late to finish up, and all you want to do is whine about it.

For many career paths, there is an unspoken expectation to put in additional hours regularly. If you feel that you’re being taken advantage of, however, talk to your boss about expectations and see if you can cut back on the overtime.

3. Your job description has grown since you were hired. Just like a ghost, extra assignments keep appearing out of thin air. You’re indignant. After all, you were hired to do a specific set of tasks, not be the office workhorse.

Again, think before you complain. If you take on additional assignments willingly, people will notice, and you’ll be rewarded down the road. It’s a résumé booster and possibly the key to getting to work on more interesting and high-profile assignments within your company.

4. The office is spookily similar to school. Thought you’d gotten away from those annoying school cliques, did you? The office is a social landscape, just like school, only with better-dressed players. You’ve probably observed the Lazy Losers, who always try to pawn off their work, the Go Get ‘Em Ghouls, who are professional brown nosers, and the Manipulative Monsters, who try to have their way at all times.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama but in the long term, staying centered and not focusing on the gossip will increase your productivity and gain the respect of your colleagues and superiors.

5. Gray areas are everywhere. You read the employee handbook cover to cover the minute you were hired. You know that office relationships, open-toed shoes and latecomers are strictly forbidden, and yet you see signs of violations of these rules all over the place.

Every company culture is different. Some adhere to the rules more strictly, while others are more lax. Follow suit to what others are doing, and if you’re not sure if it’s OK to bend the written rules, ask someone.

6. Not a lot of work gets done. Your cubicle buddy takes 10 coffee breaks each day. Most of your co-workers take two-hour lunches. Your office probably isn’t the pit of productivity you envisioned. That makes it easy for you to shine! Minimize your trips to the office cooler and focus on your work, and you’ll have a case for your first raise when employee review time comes around.

7. The secret romances aren’t so secret. Despite that rule on page 72 of the employee handbook, you see co-workers sneaking into the copy room for a quick smooch. You’ve been warned against the dangers of interoffice romances, and can’t understand why these couples would jeopardize their work relationships in this way.

8. Your boss is the worst manager in the world. So much for people getting ahead based on their own merit. Your boss may be a slavering spook, unable to manage himself, let alone a team. While it’s certainly no picnic to work for a maniacal boss, it’s actually an excellent lesson in your career. You’ll have to work for and with all manner of people, so adjusting to different personalities and temperaments can help you acclimate to a new work environment.

9. You think someone’s out to sabotage you. If there’s a co-worker who lusted after your job before you were hired, there might be some resentment radiating in your general direction. You may feel her hostility in meetings, and she may even go so far as to trip you up. Don’t engage. Focus on your work, and if the situation becomes severe, talk to HR to intervene.

10. They’re watching your every move. Just like the old reality show “Big Brother,” your employer may keep tabs on you. Your computer activity, your daily activity and the time you come to work and leave may be under sharp scrutiny. If you work in a professional service, you may have to log up to the minute what you are doing for your clients. Some of this tracking is to enforce company policies, and other times it essential for budgeting and billing purposes.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.