Frequently asked questions for starting your first office job
With summer quickly approaching, there will soon be an influx of recent grads and seasonal interns in offices all over the country. And, for many, this will be the first time they’ve been able to put their classroom skills to the test.
But understanding your job description is only half the battle when it comes to 9-to-5 culture. The first day of your first desk job can be a difficult adjustment. And your seasoned coworkers who don’t remember what it’s like to be brand new at anything are likely to be of little help.
Enter: this blog post. I’m coming up on my four year anniversary of my first day working in an office, and I very clearly remember all of the things other interns taught me and what I had to learn myself along the way.
And now I’m answering all the questions I had and giving all the advice I wish I knew then.
What does “putting time on your calendar” mean?
In your typical office environment, companies will usually have some sort of program that can be used to schedule meetings. All of my jobs have used Outlook, but I know Google Calendar is another popular one. When it’s time to schedule a call or meeting with one of your colleagues, you probably have the ability to view that person’s calendar and schedule based on both of your availability.
When you send that invite, that is called putting time on someone’s calendar. When someone asks you to put some time on their calendar, they are asking you to look at their availability and send a meeting request.
How do I use my PTO?
The actual process of requesting your days off will vary by company– some have programs that let you submit an actual request, while others may just have you run it by your manager for approval. However, one thing should always remain consistent: take your PTO. Take all of it, every year.
Young professionals can often feel guilty about requesting time off, especially if they are brand new to their company. But if you have the days, use them.
Even if your company has a PTO rollover policy, check to see whether or not those days are paid out if you were to leave. And if they aren’t, consider what you’d be giving up if you were to change jobs without ever taking that unplanned vacation you were saving the days for.
Think of your PTO as part of your compensation package – because it is. Would you willingly give up part of your salary? Didn’t think so. Take your days.
How should I prepare to go out of office?
Going out of office (OOO) can feel unnerving the first time you do it. So make sure you and your coworkers are prepared before you take that first well-deserved day off.
The first thing you’ll want to do is let your colleagues know you’ll be out. Whether that’s the team on your organizational chart or partners from other teams that you’re working on projects with, you’ll want to make sure that they know you won’t be online those days.
Next, you’ll want to adjust your project schedules to accommodate your time off. If something is due on a day you won’t be in office, plan to get that done a day early. You’ll also want to brief your manager and/or coworkers on anything they may have to cover while you’re out. If I’m going OOO for a longer time, I’ll typically put together a “worst case scenario” email or document on my open projects and what to do if someone needs something while I’m out.
Once all your ducks are in a row from a project standpoint, the last thing you’ll want to do is set your Out of Office message. If someone emails you while you’re out, your email client will automatically kick back a pre-written message from you to state you’re out of office until this day, and who to contact if there’s an emergency.
Another thing to remember: if you leave your phone number in your OOO message, people will use it. So if you really aren’t planning to do any work while you’re gone, consider leaving that out and giving it just to your manager instead.
What's the difference between an email and a ping?
In addition to whatever email client your company uses (Outlook, Gmail, etc.), you probably also have some kind of instant messaging software. Common programs include Slack and Microsoft Teams, but there are a ton of options depending on your business needs and size.
So if you are embarking on a new project, sending files to a large group of people, or starting a discussion that you expect to take longer than a few minutes, you may want to kick off that process with an email. But if you have a quick question or message for a colleague that needs an immediate response, try pinging them using the aforementioned IMing software.
Can we move today’s meeting to 3?
I sent you an email about XYZ – the client is expecting a response by this afternoon.
Want to grab lunch today?
I’m running about 2 minutes late but will be there!
Et cetera, et cetera.
Should I take a lunch break?
Always. Similar to my feelings about PTO, lunch is a break built-in to your day, and you are entitled to that time away from your computer.
Especially while working from home, it’s easy to just grab a quick bite while powering through your to-do list, but this can quickly lead to burnout. Give your brain a break and come back full-force once you’ve checked out for a bit and gotten some food in you.
Whether your company has a set time for everyone to eat or it’s more of a “take it when you can” sort of thing, block off your calendar and set a reminder to step away and grab some food. And if you do have the occasional day where a project requires you to work through the lunch hour, take a well-deserved break as soon as you can.
What if I don’t understand somebody’s office jargon?
Office jargon is an annoying yet unavoidable part of 9-to-5 life, so it’s probably in your best interest to study up before your first day.
However, there are always new phrases being invented and used (not to mention all the acronyms specific to your company/industry), so you’re bound to come across sentences from your coworkers that make zero sense at first. And in the times you can’t get away with a subtle Google search, one of my favorite ways to say I have no idea what you’re saying is “could you elaborate on what you mean by that?”
What are some things you wished you knew before your first day?
I am so glad you asked.
First: if someone tells you they’re “doing that right now”, don’t send a thank you right away. Wait until either it’s done or enough time has passed to where it should be done to send a passive aggressive “thanks, just let me know once that’s ready!” to give another reminder without feeling annoying.
Next, keep a list of all your accomplishments. Tackled a problem by yourself? Streamlined a dated process? Handled a rush request on your day off? Write it all down. It’s easy to forget how often we go above and beyond, and that list will come in handy when you’re doing your performance review or interviewing for a promotion.
Finally, remember to say no sometimes. If you truly do not have the bandwidth (that’s a good jargon word to remember) for whatever you’re being asked to do, say no or give a realistic timeline of how long it will take. The exceptions you make now will become the expectation in the future, so don’t consistently overextend yourself and pretend it’s temporary.
Starting a new job can already feel overwhelming, and being in a totally new environment can heighten that even more. Knowing what to expect from your first and future jobs can make all the difference. And by the way, your boss isn’t mad at you.
Have a question I didn’t answer? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org so I can address it in my next FAQ – because you’re definitely not the only one wondering.
Good luck on your new adventure.
is a marketer by day and writer by night, weekend, and sometimes lunch break. You can often find her with a good book or in the Taco Bell drive-thru.