Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Things New Grads Should (But Never Do) Think About Come First-Time Employment

The newly graduated 20-somethings in the world today face a lot of struggles in the personal and professional realms. Of course, college grads have a long history of struggling with the transition from college dorm rooms and heated academic lectures to office politics and frenzied company meetings. While our college careers certainly prepare us for some aspects of adult life and self-preservation, there are some areas of becoming a true adult that college, term papers, and frat parties just can't teach us. With the added challenges facing college grads in today's society, most 20-somethings are simply thrilled to be employed at all. But, even after all the resume sending, cover letter writing, and eventual employment, there are still many aspects of becoming employed for the first time that newbie graduates need to consider. These three things are employment musts that many first-time employees overlook and underestimate.

The Retirement Plan
I know, I know. How can you possibly start to think about retirement, if you only just found a job after months of searching? Trust me—I shared your sentiments as well. But, as far away and dull as it sounds, retirement plans are a very important aspect of becoming a responsible, employed adult. Look into your company's retirement offerings. You want to begin thinking about the future right away. By starting to think about and plan out your retirement now, you can set yourself up for a very comfortable future. At the very least, when you start your first "real world" job out of college, look into the retirement options you have. What types of plans does your company offer? What options might make the most sense for your situation? By simply becoming better educated on the topics of retirement and IRA accounts, you can more responsibly plan for your future and manage your finances.

Actual Financial Planning
While retirement falls in place with financial planning, there is much more to the topic than just thinking about starting a retirement plan. For many newly employed college grads, "saving" is not necessarily at the top of our to-do list. This is the first time that you're making "real" money for yourself and have only yourself (and your college loans) to spend it on. With this freedom comes a lot of reckless or at least thoughtless spending. You want to celebrate the fact that you've actually graduated from college, landed a job, and survived. Spending is easy to do and it seems logical in the first few months. However (and this is a big however), it's a very wise idea to look into your financial situation very carefully after you get your first paycheck. Sit down and look through things. See exactly how much money you earn, learn where that money is going (loans, rent, groceries, gas, etc.), and try to create a financial plan. Divvy up your finances and try to make a plan as to where things will go. How much will you spend on necessities (rent, gas, food), how much goes to "fun", and how much will you put towards savings?

Professional* Networking
One of the most challenging aspects of entering the professional world is learning how to navigate the social world of an office. This is by far one of the things I struggled with most in the first few months of my first "real" job. The bottom line is that communication and friendships just can't be the same when you're in a professional office atmosphere. Though you may be surrounded by people your age day in and day out (much like college), you can't treat these colleagues the same way you would college dorm mates. Of course, you're going to make friends and build relationships with your coworkers after a period of time. It's good to be friends with your coworkers, but you want to be careful with your interactions. The professional world is different from any other realm. You need to keep things professional. Watch the way you talk about certain aspects of your work like. Try to compartmentalize to some degree. If you become close friends with a coworker, remain solely coworkers in the office and solely friends inside the office.

An education blogger by trade, Maria Rainer loves to explore the connections between the web and a college education. She writes for on online student advice columns and substantive posts on the latest trends in online education. Please share your comments with Maria.


  1. Good advice - all. The best retirement advice I ever got was in my second post-grad job with Xerox. My boss just insisted I consider putting 2% into the company stock plan - which was doing gang busters back in those days. It was too little to miss from my check, and it did grow to have a good value before Xerox tanked. Much more importantly, tho, it got me in the habit of putting something away all the time. By the time I had the opportunity for a 401(k), I was ready to go with a bigger percentage and never miss it.

    I often suggest to folks in mid-career that they take half their raise and put that into their 401(k). Again, if you are not used to having it, you don't miss it.

  2. Great advice, Savvy. My daughter's graduating next year. I'm saving this for her. Thanks!

  3. Webb,
    Such a wise boss you had. When recommending that my boss inform our young employees about the Tax Savers Credit which I wrote about here: he said - it won’t do any good. Young employees aren’t interested in retirement. They don’t think that far into the future. All they are thinking about now is buying a nice car.
    At my first “real” job I had a 401(k) plan and a profit sharing plan. When I left the company I rolled over the 401(k) monies and cashed in the profit sharing. I have no idea what I spent that money on plus I was taxed and penalized – not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

    On a side note my mentor retired early from her job of 30 years on July 1st. As a retirement gift to herself she bought her very first brand new car - a Toyota Camry. Previously she had bought only used. Sensible priorities at a young age can make such a difference come retirement.

  4. Monica,
    I hope it is helpful and good luck to your daughter.