What I Learned at My First Job After College

Your first job after you graduate college is unique. You’ve spent years training for it, yet you have no experience.

Here is what I learned after starting my food scientist job one week after I walked across the podium (you can’t take a gap year when you graduate at age 26):

1. Everyone else is busy. It’s not that they don’t want to get to know you, but they’ve been around for years and are drowning in project work and emails. They see new employees and all they want to do is say hi and then get back to work.

Very few people want to stop what they’re doing and show you around for weeks as you find your footing. This was my experience, and it was rough because I wandered around a lot, so now when we have new employees I go out of my way to make them feel welcome and answer any questions they have.

2. Working for 8 hours a day at a desk can drain you. I’ve heard this complaint from other millennials and I wholeheartedly agree. I used to work as a bank teller and in corn research fields, and nothing is as tiring as sitting in front of my computer getting data analyzed or researching cheese all day.

Make sure you stretch, hydrate, walk around the building, go out at lunch, chat with coworkers (networking!), anything to break up your day and survive the 8 hours.

3. Responsibility is terrifying, and awesome. I had several fellow grads who ended up at jobs where they were doing work that was, frankly, beneath their talent and expertise. Graduates often feel like companies aren’t giving them a chance to step up.

Related: Job Hopping is a Great Idea!

I was very lucky to be thrown into several challenges, including running a plant trial independently within 6 months of learning the ropes. It sounded scary, but I never said no to any opportunity, because as long as you have the resources you can do anything!

4. Write down your major wins. You are going to work 2,000 hours a year on average, and maybe 200 hours on something really major. As you go along, keep track of everything you do and re-visit the list often to narrow it and focus on what you’re most proud of. This helps during reviews, and also future job interviews or promotion opportunities!

5. Make your space work for you. Whether you get a cubicle like I eventually did or you’re in an “open-concept” work space like I started out doing (they put me in a work trailer due to remodeling), you may want headphones, a scarf to keep warm during those breezy a/c days, pictures of nature or family to remind you there is life outside these 4 walls, tea or coffee because workplace coffee is just not great, snacks to keep you awake past 2 pm, etc.

Don’t live at work, but make your space bright and cozy so that you don’t want to run away as soon as you get to work. I didn’t think this was worth the effort. I was wrong.

6. Money. Oh, money. The more you make, the more they take! And now that you’re a responsible adult, you’ll say goodbye to another percentage to fund your 401k and health insurance, yay. I recommend using a take-home pay calculator when you get your first job offer.

Figure up your budget and decide if that’s going to work for you or if you need to negotiate a better starting salary. Which leads me to my next, most important point.

7. Negotiate your starting wage!! I didn’t do this. I’ve regretted it. Don’t be like me. Even if it’s a good offer, like more money than you’ve ever made in your life, add 10% and go back to them. This is why you went to college, remember? Even if you have nothing else on the table, do it! Because every raise you get at that company will be 4% MAX, so the higher your base pay is to start with, the bigger every single raise will be. Set yourself up for the future so you don’t have to job-hop just to advance significantly.

Related: I Just Graduated, What’s The Best Advice For Negotiating My Salary?

8. Enjoy the perks. My cushy office job can get boring at times (when it’s slow, I want to die, or at least sleep), but it’s full of perks. I have time to track my health and wellness points to get an extra day off per year, I’m allowed to research awesome new ingredients and technologies, I can snack on free food all day and cook stuff in our culinary kitchen and I get paid for it! I am in love with being a product development scientist and I know I’ll be learning a lot more in the next few years.

Author: Anna Dice

Anna is currently pursuing a Masters degree at Washington State University and enjoying the fast paced work environment of product development. She is currently working on cheese sauce and frozen breaded product formulations.

“I created a new food product on my own ( because I wanted to produce healthy foods that anyone can afford”. Originally published Feb 13th 2018 on

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