13 Important Tips For Twentysomethings In Their First Jobs

ALWAYS negotiate your starting salary. Plus, more stuff no one actually teaches you in college.

1. DO: Negotiate your starting salary, even if you’re afraid.

Most people don’t negotiate, both because of fear and because no one teaches you how to negotiate in the first place. A report by Salary.com showed that 18% of job seekers never negotiate their salaries, 44% negotiate occasionally, and only 37% of prospective employees will always become an active participant in determining their salary. Many recent grads, so grateful to land a job in today’s sluggish economy, accept their first salary offer without question because they’re nervous. But if you don’t ask, you’re leaving money on the table! Think of all the Chipotle that could buy (and, you know, rent).

This is especially important for women, who statistically negotiate their starting salaries less often than men do. A recent Pew study found that in 2012, hourly earnings for younger women aged 25 to 34 were 93% of what men earned, compared with a national average of 77%.

Here are some tips from Forbes on how to negotiate a salary early in your career. Remember: NOW is the time to get your money, because as every employee will testify, it’s harder to bump up your salary once you’re in your position and have to try to do it incrementally with raises and promotions.

2. DON’T: Text or Gchat on your personal account while you’re on the clock, if you can help it.

This varies company by company, and some office workers dread the thought of getting through the day without IMing friends who are just as miserable at their desks. But even if your company is A-OK with you indulging in some personal Gchatting, you have to admit: It’s pretty darn distracting. And if you work for a stodgier organization, it can be hard to completely tear yourself away from your iPhone and instant message sidebar during business hours, but David Lewis, CEO of Operations Inc., recommends doing everything you can to suppress that urge. “Personal matters are for before 8 and after 6,” he says. “You’re there to work.”

But…what if you sneak your phone into the bathroom stall? (Not that you would ever do such a thing.) Lewis says that’s also a distraction. “Doing so in the bathroom stall is not disconnecting.”

3. DO: Learn how to network, even if you think you have no connections.

I mean, what new graduate really slides out of college or grad school with a bustling Rolodex? (Or whatever the 2014 version of that is.) But even if networking terrifies you, and you feel like you have no contacts or connections, you can still work it like everyone else. To start with, writes Terri Tierney Clark at the New Careerist, you “know” every single alumnus from your university in your prospective industry. Email them! Go out of your comfort zone and message them on Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also reach out to any contacts from previous internships, or friends of friends of friends; don’t be embarrassed about hitting up family connections, either. The worst that can happen? They don’t return your emails. And you can live with that.

If you’re not the “gregarious” type, sometimes the best way to leap that hurdle is to tell yourself, Well, I’m going to be gregarious [when I’m at this conference][for the next 10 minutes of sending emails] or [after this presentation, and introduce myself to the speaker]. Fake it until you, you know.

4. DON’T: Spill personal details to Mandy the PR girl just because she sits next to you.

When you’re a young person at an office filled with lots of young people, it can be tempting to cross the friend–colleague line and talk to your co-workers just like you would your pals at a bar. But even if you just went through a heart-wrenching breakup AND you just got in a fight with your mom AND you’re stressed because you just bounced a check, it might be best to save the cathartic chat for your BFF.

“Leave your life at home,” says Stefany Fattor, director of Career Services at Fordham University. “Yes, I know that girl in marketing is such a good listener. But it’s not the time or place.”

5. DO: Consider negotiating for more vacation days or a flexible schedule if your company is firm on salary.

Even if your boss is wary of tossing you a few extra G’s when you ask at a review, don’t be hesitant about asking for a couple more PTO days, or if maybe you can work from home every other Friday. The worst they can say is no, and non-monetary benefits like these can go a long way toward your peace of mind.

6. DON’T: Be too shy or closed off.

Many of us, but especially women, assume the best thing to do at work is to keep your head down and focus on getting your tasks done. But building personal relationships, and yes, making small talk, is a vital part of office culture.

If you’re not spending at least 5% of your day talking to your co-workers, you’re sabotaging yourself. Try to stop by someone’s desk on the way back from lunch for a few minutes of chit-chat, or ask your colleague about her vacation in person. You can also put up a few family or friend photos at your desk, or set up some “flair” to function as conversation starters. You don’t want to be the office oversharer, of course, but it’s just as bad to be the person whom no one knows anything about.

7. DO: Use your youthful enthusiasm to your advantage.

You’re fresh out of school and eager to learn, so embrace your energy instead of trying to keep your head down to seem like you have all the answers already. “You should provide a spark in the office,” says Kevin Nall, director of Employer Relations at the Office of Career and Professional Development at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Ask questions, seek out mentors, invite people to lunch, and really get the most out of your current career, even if your job isn’t totally thrilling and stimulating to you.

8. DON’T: Get *too* drunk at happy hour.

When faced with an open bar, it’s a natural human impulse to want to “get your money’s worth” and get absolutely wasted at 6:30 p.m. after three chardonnays on an empty stomach. But nothing, NOTHING good comes from getting too drunk around your colleagues, whether it’s mild personal oversharing or a full-on hookup. Keep it to two drinks at most, and make sure to eat something before you hit the bar.

9. DO: Know that “soft skills” are the most important thing about your new job.

What are soft skills? “The ability to communicate, prioritize work, keep a positive attitude and adapt to change,” according to Dan Schwabel, author of Promote Yourself, and millennials apparently are terrible at them, thanks to technology making us all social awkward.

How do you fix this? Take public speaking classes, attend networking conferences, or practice the most simple and maybe most effective communication fix: Get up and go talk to your colleagues about projects, instead of emailing or IMing them.

10. DON’T: Ask for a raise until one year in, unless it seems natural to broach the topic at a semi-annual review.

“You are just starting a job. This is not the time to think about a raise,” says communication and leadership coach Leslie G. Ungar. “Focus on doing your work better than anyone else.”

You can, however, ask to have a semiannual performance review twice a year, at which you can evaluate your chance for a raise. If it’s been six months AND you’ve brought tremendous value or money to the company already, you can gently bring up the issue with your manager. But be prepared to really prove your case.

11. DO: Try your hardest to stay at your company for at least a year.

If you land a dazzling new work opportunity seven months into your job that you just can’t pass up, you can probably explain that in a job interview years down the road. But in general, EVEN if your job is sucking the living hell out of you, put in at least a year with your company before moving on. You’ll learn a lot about perseverance, and avoid any potential résumé-damaging blips.

12. DON’T: Get bummed out if this isn’t your dream job.

You have the rest of your life to figure out what you want to do with your life. Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel like scanning documents all day or serving up lattes is fulfilling everything you ever wanted, professionally: Focus on getting experience and the skills you’re learning that will help you in the long run, like managing conflict and dealing with supervisors.

13. DO: Ask your co-workers what they make, if you trust them.

This is tricky, and experts will advise you both ways. Some ground rules: DON’T do this when you’re still new at your company, or put pressure on anyone to share their salaries if they’re not comfortable. Also, make sure you’re talking to colleagues you can trust. In my experience, salary-sharing usually evolves naturally when you’re in a casual setting with a few colleagues discussing reviews and raises. Salary transparency helps you realize if you’re getting paid way less than someone doing the same work as you, or if a whole slew of you are being underpaid. Knowledge is power.

Knowing what your colleagues make and acting on it can change your entire career arc, especially for women who might be facing a pay gap at their companies, according to Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and TheLi.st, who says the best career advice she ever received was “know your value, know what you’re worth, know what kind of money you should be making.”

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