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Happy graduation, grads! You’ve learned all the things, passed all the tests, wrote all the papers. You. Are. Done.

LOLJK. The real world is weird and fun and scary and complicated and (I’ll say it again) weird.

Here are some things recent college grads have to navigate in the real world with little-to-no prior experience, advice or even realm of understanding.

It’s not all about money

I know what you’re thinking: girl, please. I’m serious. I remember when I got offered my first job out of college and they presented the salary, paid time off and insurance package options. I might as well have been looking at Mandarin Chinese. Sure, it was written in English, but the terms and the concepts didn’t make much sense. What’s a PPO versus an HMO? Is that much PTO a lot, or am I going to run out? Does the K in 401(k) mean “thousand” or are they teasing me? (*Googles “what does the K mean in 401(k)” because I actually don’t know the answer to that.*)(Update: don’t look it up, it just gets more confusing.)

What I’m getting at here, is a good benefits package and decent paid time off is huge.

There’s also something to be said about a great company culture. In college I would hear about the “culture” of companies and just assume all companies were going to be business casual and slightly stuffy. That’s not at all true. Some companies are stuffy. Some companies have a full kegerator in the basement and a pool table. Each person needs to think about how they thrive best as an employee and understand the company culture to make sure the company is a good fit for their work habits and personality traits.

Internal relationships are precarious

In college you learn how to work with teams, but those teams are mostly people of the same age and expertise and many times life-stage as you. That changes big-time in the real world. Now you’re on a team with people 30 years older than you who have children your age. Your direct boss is on your team. Your team is made up of people with different experiences and proficiencies, whose brains work differently than yours. Navigating these relationships and earning the trust of each of these people is sometimes hard, but it is doable as long as you get work done and have a positive attitude.

School Assignments ≠ Work Assignment

Students are so used to having deadlines for when things have to be done. Out of college, we’re used to things running on a 3- to 4-month cycle of semesters, broken up by project deadlines, midterms and finals. If you miss the mark on a school assignment, there may be extra credit or a bigger project coming up that can raise up your grade.

In the working world, projects can take months and months or even years to come to fruition. People on your team may have other priorities and obligations than the project you’re completing together. Things never move as quickly as you think they should. If you miss the mark on a work project, it could cost your company some business or damage the trust a client has in the company.

Understanding the importance of projects and the nuances between your team can help achieve the outcome that’s best for the company and the client.

Work/life balance isn’t for the faint of heart

Your job will take a lot out of you. Working 8 – 5 sounds easy, but in reality, you only have 5 hours in the evening to exercise, cook, clean, watch your trashy television shows and socialize with friends. You may scoff at the 10 p.m. bedtime right out of college, but it will soon become not only the norm, but a necessity.

It is essential to make time for each and every thing that is important to you. Maybe not each thing every night, but make sure to have some time each week for the things you love. This will help your mood, motivation and keep you sane.

The most important thing to remember when graduating from one stage to another is that there’s always more to learn. Whether it’s your client’s business, relationships with coworkers, or what the K in 401(k) really means, there are always ways to become a better employee, a better coworker and to better your career.

Hillary Hodges

Author Hillary Hodges

Hillary is an Account Supervisor at InQuest Marketing. She helps with strategy, communication and project management for client accounts. Her favorite things about her job are that no two days are the same and she's always on some new learning adventure. Hillary loves to hang out with her dogs and eat popcorn for dinner when her husband isn't home. She describes her spirit animal as a mixture of each character from one of her favorite shows, Parks & Recreation.

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