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Working 101: First Job Basics

June 9th, 2011 Jamie

Congratulations, you’ve gotten your first college–or post college–job! (And if you haven’t, go ahead and check out the archives to learn about how to get job experience and how to write a resume and how to apply for a job.)

Welcome to the workforce… Now what?

Fill Out Your W-4 Correctly(!!!)

Before you start working, your new employer will hand you a scary looking tax form called a W-4. Don’t toss it in your bag and forget it–this little form will help determine how much you owe in taxes at the end of the year.

The most confusing (but important!) part of this form is the “Allowances” box, where you enter a withholding number that tells your employer how much they should take out of your paycheck to pay towards taxes. If you don’t have them withhold anything (or enough), you will owe a ton of taxes at the end of the year. (Guess how I know that?)

Not sure what to enter? Don’t worry–try using the IRS’s Withholding Allowance Calculator.

Walk the Line

Now that we’ve got the scary tax stuff out of the way, on to the rest of the basics–the things that will make you look good to your boss (which can obviously lead to more responsibility, a promotion, or at least a good reference when you move on to greener pastures). These are pretty obvious, but they can make a big difference!

  • Watch the Clock. Time management is a big deal when you’re on the job, and you can bet your boss will notice if you’re good (or bad) at it. So be on time (or better yet, early!) for work, be honest about your break time, and don’t stay late at lunch.
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  • Look the Part. Have you heard that cheesy saying, “Dress for success”? Well, in some ways, it’s true: the way you dress–and the first impression it gives–usually makes a difference in the workforce, because it sends a signal about how seriously you take your job. So, look good (and professional) for work, and save your sweatpants or fishnets for after hours.
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  • Skip the Surfing. Think your employer doesn’t notice you poking around Facebook when you should be filing? Think again. Many offices have software that keeps track of your every click (yikes!), but even if they don’t, most bosses will notice how your internet time detracts from your productivity. (BUT it is totally fine to surf on appropriate sites during break time as long as your boss doesn’t say that’s taboo!)
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  • Trash the Trash Talk. Want to know what’s not fun? Office politics–especially if you’re on the wrong side of them. You can moan and groan about your co-workers as much as you want to at home (if you must), but keep the smack talk and gossip out of the workplace as much as possible. Negative energy is contagious and does not make for a fun work environment.
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  • Work Hard. Really. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours doing whatever you’ve just been hired to do, so do your best work–it will make it feel more worthwhile. Plus, it should (hopefully!) be something your employer will notice and reward you for.
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  • Be Honest. This one can be hard–for example, who wants to confess to the boss if they’ve messed up?–but it is also, in my opinion, the most important. Honesty, even when you’ve completely bungled something, is what will allow your employer to trust you, possibly encourage him or her to give you more responsibility (and maybe a raise eventually!) and want to keep you around.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Former College Idiot  |  June 11th, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I have realized that college student after graduation have to start wearing a watch. It is amazing but I’ve seen so many new employees where I work come in late from just sleeping in. Maybe in college that is ok but in the real world that will get you fire. Keep your eye on the clock is a great tip.

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