I have been tasked with training a brand spanking new lab partner, fresh from the university system. It’s been so long since I was in that position I had to think long and hard about the basics of the workplace and sound finances for a young person.
My first thought went something like this: “I hope she has a sense of humor.” I would rather teach a dunce with a sense of humor than a delicate flower who might shatter with the slightest critique of correction. Like always, I only offer opinions on how to navigate in a huge company and only offer advice on saving and investing if asked. The trainee seems interested so here is what I have to offer in addition to the obvious “don’t make your career like I did” statement.
The Job Part
Once you’re hired and finally making some decent coin I suggest these moves. These are tailored to people like us in a technical field but you smart readers can figure out the comparable moves for different work environments.
- Know how much you’re being paid and make sure that is correct from the start. It pretty much goes along with Why You Should Review Your Paycheck Stub but you want to make sure you are being paid the agreed amount. The jobs at our place come with specific pay raises at specific intervals. Know exactly the amount of your expected increases and when they are due. When they’re due make sure they show up in your check. After all, most of us wouldn’t do these jobs for free.
- Don’t mess up while you’re on probation. Once the probation period ends after a few months you ought to still follow the basic rules but take extra care during the period when it’s easy for the company to cut bait with you. The biggest thing is showing up on time. We live in a winter climate here in Buffalo so if it’s going to snow 18 inches at night get your ass out of bed early in case you need to shovel your car out in order to be at work on time. Don’t eat or drink in areas where it’s not allowed and just generally don’t draw any negative attention. That big personality can come out and shine once you’re established a little bit.
- Find out about tuition reimbursement policies early. If you have ambitions beyond the entry level these large employers will usually reimburse for graduate school. Something I feel is often overlooked is the potential to attend training that isn’t necessarily towards a more advanced degree. You might be able to take a seminar or technical training that is less than a full class but could be considerably more useful to your new employer. For instance, we might have an instrument that very few people know how to repair or operate at it’s best and you might be able to take a one or two day course on that specialty.
- Once you found out where the coffee maker and the bathroom are, get yourself the lay of the land and try to scope out people with similar credentials who have progressed to higher paying roles that might interest you. I believe you can’t start this process too early but you can do it quietly where you don’t come off as pushy when you’re a newcomer. You have to balance patience with getting your name out there in a large organization.
- The company doesn’t care how smart you are. Look around. Everybody here is pretty smart. The company cares how you can add value.
- Find a mentor. In a large company like this they have all kinds of bullshit mentoring programs. In real life you might just find a non-bullshit mentor but around Big Brother Corp. it’s more like part of a game you play to get ahead. Recognize the rules of their game and play along. Don’t be like a Smidlap and go around calling out 100% of the BS you see with an abrasive tone! You might be right but Big Brother doesn’t care if you’re right. They own the field and the ball so if you want to play then understand they make the rules too. Find one of those mentors you meet with every so often and people will at least know you’re interested in trying to do more. I’ve seen it work for less qualified folks getting gravy jobs over more qualified candidates because they sucked up a little (or a lot).
- Keep an open mind and an up-to-date resume. I would not suggest to move just anywhere as I discussed in Get Your Money Straight and Say NO to Crappy Offers. However, I would keep an open mind and explore any potential fantastic opportunities even if that might mean relocation. I think it’s important early on to at least listen when the recruiter calls. You may have lowballed yourself just to be here at a first job and it takes a long time to catch up from that and be paid your real worth when you stick around.
- This one never gets mentioned so I’m going to take full credit for the idea. If you have graduate school on the brain the best time to attend full time is likely when the next recession hits. Maybe you could delay that in case you get laid off. Use your first year or two to build a big emergency fund and if you end up in a layoff in a downturn think about that as maybe an opportunity to run for cover in grad school for a couple of years.
That’s all I have for now for brand new employees. What have I left out? Next time I’ll cover some finance basics for somebody just starting out.