Back To Career News

Graduating Seniors, Get Ready for These 5 Big Surprises About Office Life


If you’ve ever heard parents pine for their college days, it could be easy to think that once you graduate your best days are behind you. When you get out into the real world, things can be startlingly different. Your habits will change, your norms will shift, and more than a few men will start losing their hair. But when it comes to office life, there are several changes you probably won’t be able to predict.


(Photo Credit: Olu Eletu/

As you’re preparing for or settling into your new post-grad job, get ready to adjust to these five big surprises about office life. If you can learn to tackle them now, it could make your transition a whole lot easier.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

1. Hierarchy

In college, the hierarchy was pretty cut and dry: you had the students, and then the professors, and maybe the looming threat of campus security. When it came time for group projects, you were all on the same level. Things were essentially “flat,” which meant that you got an equal say because you all would be getting the same grade.

As much as businesses today aspire towards a similarly “flat” structure, it has largely proven necessary to have some chain of command — more so the more complicated the project gets. In one study, teams with mixed power levels were twice as productive as teams with mostly dominant players.

2. Schedule

How many times have you skipped class because of a “long night?” Did you have to email your professor? After a certain number of absences, was anything more than your grade affected?

According to a study highlighted by The Atlantic, 17 percent of the workforce, nearly 1 in 5 people, are subjected to an erratic work schedule. That puts serious pressure on every other area of your life — whether it’s social obligations or commitments you’ve made to help out with your family. And when you don’t show up for the Xth time in a row, it’s not a letter grade that’s going to be dropped: it’s going to be you.

3. Responsibility

In college, for the most part, your main responsibility was likely to yourself: get a good grade, and graduate. As long as you did those things, you had a decent amount of wiggle room. Now your responsibilities are to your team, and performance can directly affect your employment status and your future success or promotion.

Practically speaking, employers can measure this in terms of “added value.” In other words, what value are you bringing to the company and the team? Everything from the amount of time you spend at your desk to your attitude can be put under this metric.

4. Incentives

Compared to the 22 weeks of vacation that most college students get, the average worker gets less than three. Additionally, you’ll average about an hour less free time per day than your college self, and your average commute will be about 45 minutes. In other words, your time at the office will eclipse most any other activity in your life, which makes incentives a whole new game.

If you’re not prepared to hold incentives like vacation time, travel stipends, and overtime pay in high regard, you may miss opportunities to negotiate those things in your contract. Learn how to do that well, so that when you’re ready for a break, you actually have the time to take off.

5. Money

The majority of the time that you’re in school, you’re either borrowing huge sums of money, paying it to the school, or making an hourly wage that pretty much covers your weekly beer expenses. Once you start working after graduation, you’ll likely be making close to $40,000 or more. Getting used to that paycheck, and knowing how to manage that money can be extremely difficult for a lot of people.

Learn how to budget well, pay off your debts, and enjoy the newfound freedom you have in being your own person out in the real world.

Tell Us What You Think

What were the most startling transitions for you when you started your job. What did we miss? Share your opinion in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter!

Peter Swanson
Read more from Peter

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.