From classroom to office: 4 important tips for fresh grads at first jobs

MANILA, Philippines – You burned the midnight oil till it burned no more. You spent days and nights dreading the classes of your terror professors. Your fingers bled from all that typing for your thesis, papers, projects. For maybe 4 long years, those were the staples of your life.

So after all the tests, reports, group work, drama, and BS, you reached the end. You’re a graduate now; you have a degree. You’re ready for the next step. (READ: Your 10 common job interview questions, answered

But, what is the next step? For others, going on a vacation or a sabbatical is the priority. They want to chill and enjoy the moment; YOLO is their motto. There are those who will get another degree by going to medical or law school. The majority, which in all possibility includes you, will join the labor force and earn your keep. (READ: 10 work resolutions for your career)

If this is your reality, then the following pieces of unsolicited advice may be worth noting:  

1. Absorb actively – and contribute! 

In looking for a job, the opportunity to learn provides more value than pay. This may seem paradoxical, but it is true. Learning in this sense doesnt mean hitting the books again. Its now time to immerse yourself in life, specifically the realities of earning for a living, trying to fit in at a workplace, collaborating with colleagues 5, 10, or even 15 years older than you. (READ: The 4 things you should stop doing at work)

TEAMWORK. At work, you'll learn to work with people of all ages and varying backgrounds.

Embrace the opportunity

These are things that a classroom wont give you. While you may have gone through an apprenticeship program or on-the-job training scheme, thats an inaccurate gauge of what is in store for you. So absorb as much as you can, be a sponge and take everything in. 

So as you take on your first job, strive to be an expert in what you do. This shows your eagerness for development and capacity to achieve. That is not only impressive to your higher ups but also speaks volumes of you who are.

Observe your peers and read them like books. Emulate their good practices. Learn vicariously from their successes and mistakes. (READ: 5 tips to communicate better at work)

Even if they weren't your triumphs or oversights, that doesnt mean you can't learn from their situations.

As for the compensation, it may seem low now, but what you get in terms of experience balances things out. 

2. Find your mentor 

Next, try to find your Yoda. This person might be your boss, but in some cases, an older or more experienced colleague may do.

Assuming your superior takes you under his or her wing, then learn as much as you can. It’s not everyday that you can find a willing mentor. So ask questions, get pieces of advice and seek help especially if you want to be a better worker, professional, or eventual c-suite executive.

If the situation allows, the key is to be a page to your knight, a Padawan to your Jedi master. And once youre ready, youll become the master.

Not every fresh graduate who works for the first time will have a Yoda. There is a possibility that your superior will be a Sith Lord, a Darth Sidious a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine.

In this case, you have to make a decision: talk to your human resources department, give feedback, open communication lines, think hard before you quit, if it comes to that. After all, no person, fresh graduate or veteran, deserves to be treated with cruelty. When this happens, work becomes hell and service turns into involuntary servitude. (Read more on holding your boss accountable here.

Remember that your right to be treated with dignity is inherent. 

So, how do you distinguish if your boss is a Yoda or Darth Sidious? If he or she looks after you, talks to you, make you feel safe, and provides guidance as you go through challenges, then you have a Yoda.

But, if your superior focuses only on results, treats you as a statistic or a cog in a machine, doesnt care about your engagement or commitment level, dishes out challenges but leaves you on your own, or berates or talks down on you either in public or in private, then your supervisor is a Darth Sidious. 

Quitting may or may not be the answer, depending on the situation. Even a terrible boss can teach you a few things. (READ: 'I hate my boss!': 5 tips to deal)

The lines can be blurred, but youll have to figure it out. 

3. Your own take on work-life balance

Aside from the relationship with your superior, youll have to learn this early to manage your time.

Try to find your own breed of work-life balance, because there is no concrete standard for this. For example, there are those who would rather work on weekends rather than put in extra hours after their shifts. (READ: At work, it's okay to say no to your boss)

Regardless of the method, what is evident is that too much of anything is bad. So remember to go hard when needed. This means being prepared to work beyond the call of duty.

Remember: that should be an exception to the general rule of finishing tasks during office hours. This not only shows your efficiency but also indicates your ability to prioritize. Getting your feet wet doesn’t mean you have to drown in the process. 

Finally, your work must enable you to be the best person you can be. Your job must be an instrument in making you a better human being and not act as an impetus for your regression.

So if you find yourself neglecting your family or yourself, then youll have to evaluate. If your work brings out the worst in you, e.g., empowers you to be an A-hole, or makes you betray your teammates, then think twice. (READ: 4 undeniable signs that it's time to quit your job)

Your eventual career should be a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Work isnt your whole life; its just a part of your being. 

4. It's okay not to know exactly how your future will turn out 

HANG IN THERE. It's okay not to be sure of your future.

But make sure you learn (and apply what you've picked up) along the way

Working for a living should excite you. Now, that youve finished college, youre ready to take on the world and establish your niche. If there's a feeling of dread, thats understandable. If you dont know whether you will be successful, thats normal, too. You have to get used to this fact: you dont know yet where or how your career will end up. 

In school, you had the comfort of knowing that your class, term, or semester will end. The conclusion was in sight. Working and eventually building a career doesnt provide the same certainty. Thats the beauty of it. You dont know whats next.

You may tumble; you may rise. You may fail; you may succeed. Most of these are not in your control anyway. But, what you can manage is your attitude. You can choose to enjoy the journey, and that’s what counts.

So as you take this first step, embrace the experience, learn as you go along, and good luck. –

The author, a business development director for an outsourcing company, considers his true calling to be a father to a 5-year-old ball of energy and a husband to the love of his life. During his spare time, he plays basketball or blogs. He is also a fanboy at heart.