After nearly two decades in school, it can be jarring to enter the workplace. We do it without much preparation (except perhaps a handful of internships), so sometimes we aren’t quite sure what we’re getting ourselves into. On top of that, we’ve spent a lifetime hearing we can do and be anything we want, so our expectations about what it means to “work” can get a little… distorted.
Okay, fine, some of us are imagining workplaces that involve unicorns and rainbows. Sorry, but that ain’t happening.
We can partly blame that new-age “follow your dreams” mantra for our unfair expectations about our jobs. We likely won’t be CEOs by the time we’re 25, nor will we be making six-figure salaries. Someone won’t pluck us out of our job and say, “You! You are better than your peers, just for being you! Let me hand you over a company to run!” because that’s not quite how life works for most of us.
And that’s okay. Still, it can be challenging to shake those over-the-top expectations about what it means to have a job. What should we really be worrying about?
Your job should pay you well.
Let’s be clear: what pays “well” for one person is not the same for everyone. For a ballpark starting figure, the National Association of Colleges and Employers estimates the Class of 2013 will have an average salary of $44,928. While this figure is just the average — meaning high-paying jobs are lumped right in with the lower-paying jobs — it does give a starting point for a realistic salary.
To get a better understanding of what you should be earning, search around on the internet to see what a typical starting salary is based on what the job is plus your education level, geographical location, and experience. All of these things should factor in to your search, given that costs of living, pay, and other things differ from state to state. Sometimes you can even find out the average salary at a company if you do a little digging. Indeed.com, for example, lets you view profiles for companies, including what the compensation/benefits are. Use these resources to your advantage!
From there, you can figure out whether your salary is fair… and whether you can live with it.
Your job should treat you well.
There are legal things your job is required to do, of course, so if you ever feel like something unethical, shady, or unfair is happening, look into it and speak up! Most places will at least do the bare minimum, given that they are bound by the law. Still, some things — like a paid lunch hour or vacation time — do not fall under the law and instead be at the discretion of the employer. But a good job will offer you more than just what the law requires.
Things a good job should offer you:
- Adequate health care coverage
- Fair breaks (lunch, time to take a few minutes away from your desk)
- Paid sick time
- Paid vacation time
- Strong communication between departments and within departments
- An accessible HR department
- An approachable boss
- Clearly stated goals/expectations
- Opportunities for growth
Your job should make you feel okay while you’re there.
This is slightly different than the last point in that this has to do with the “big picture.” Feeling “okay” at or with your job is largely dependent on you, the type of person you are, and the things you value. What is crucial in a job for me (the ability to leave work at work, for example) is not remotely important to someone else.
- The atmosphere
- Your co-workers
- Your day-to-day duties
- Your job title
And a few helpful reminders
In keeping with realistic expectations in the workplace, try to remember:
- Bad days happen. They suck, but they happen, and we move on. If every day is a bad day for you at work, then perhaps it’s time to consider working elsewhere.
- While it would be nice if we all worked fun jobs that let us leave each day at 2 p.m. and treated us to crepes for breakfast each morning, that’s not how it works. In truth, we may not feel 100 percent fulfilled, busy, used to our fullest potential, or engaged at all times. That’s okay; that’s normal.
- Goofing off is a thing everyone does. It’s just that no one talks about it. Shh.
- Sometimes jobs are boring. Sometimes school was, too, remember? But instead of quitting school, we pushed through it and hoped for better days. Some days, that’s all you can hope for at work, too.
- Everyone else is wondering, “Is this it for me? What do I want to do with my life?” too.
These things can help you figure out if your job is the right fit and provide a realistic way to evaluate if your job is right for you. Your job may not give you butterflies in your belly when you think about it, but it doesn’t have to. Aim less for an over-the-top, perfect career, and more for a job that makes you feel content. Who knows? It could help take the pressure off of you so much that you end up falling into that “dream job.”