First Post Grad Job: Expectations vs. Reality

Sara Timberlake

When I was a student, my feelings about life after college were bittersweet. I was really excited about starting a job and actually getting to work in the field I had been studying for the past four years. Not having to spend my days writing discussion boards or studying for tests seemed super exciting.

At the same time, I worried about not knowing what this new life change would bring. After all, I had just spent the last 17 years of my life in school. I was leaving an era that had become so predictable. Moving into a season of life where I had no idea what was coming was scary. Would I even find a job? If I do, will I be good at it? Would I be in a cubicle working my life away?

What I know now makes me wish I could tell my about-to-graduate-and-find-a-job self to relax and tell her that getting a job and starting a new chapter isn’t so scary.

Finding Work-Life Balance


I thought I would have little to no time during the week to do things that I enjoy. Once I graduated from college, I thought that my life would be only work–especially after four years of choosing how my classes were scheduled and what to do with my spare time.


Yes, you do work for longer stints of the day compared to college, but work ends when you go home (usually). The evenings are for you and what you want to do, like spending nights with friends, going to the gym, happy hours with coworkers, etc.

You also get to have weekends without due dates and homework hanging over your head, which I love. And, we cannot forget paid time off. Getting time off when you want, not just during a school break? Groundbreaking.


I will have to be at work from 9-5, Monday through Friday. No ifs, and, or buts.


We love the flexibility, baby! (At least at 116 & West.) Especially during the pandemic, companies began to allow work to be done from remote locations at any time of day. The whole clock in at 9 and out 5 is no longer as much of a priority for some employers. Whether it’s due to sickness, leaving early for a trip, or having a mid-day appointment or activity, it’s easy to switch up the routine.

I love being able to work longer hours Monday-Thursday to make Fridays a bit shorter and less chaotic. When weekend trips come around, I have also been able to leave Thursday and work remotely Friday, allowing my vacation to start a little early. (Again, this is true for 116 & West, but I can’t speak for all other companies.) As long as we ensure our deadlines are being met and that we get advance approval, we’re given a great amount of freedom.

Knowledge of the Job


I will know (at least somewhat) what I’m doing since I have a degree in this field.


Nope. I learned a lot in college, but doing a job is really different. Education teaches you a lot of fundamentals, and how to learn, but not much about the jobs that you could be actually doing. For example, when I was in college, I learned nothing about media buying software or the intricacies of what my job actually entails.

Talking to my college marketing professors now, they have genuinely no idea what media buying looks like, but they do want to learn. (The student has now become the master 😈).


The job will start slowly, and I will be eased into harder work as I am trained. Once the training period is over, I will feel secure and know what I am doing at all times.


It likely depends on the job, but in mine, I was thrown right into the (supervised) fire. You get hired because a company needs to fill a specific role, so get ready to work hard and learn quickly. But also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes–you’re still new and people expect you to have a lot of questions and understand that accidents happen.

In any new position, you’re learning as you go. As a media buyer, my job is constantly changing. Some days I’m working on traditional radio and TV buys that I know well, and on other days I’m navigating a new digital medium that we want to start tomorrow. I’m learning to go with the flow.

Work Environment & Company Culture


The people I interact with will be formal and professional all the time.


People are people. They’re not as stiff and boring as I imagined. I thought working with people older than me, vendors from other companies and clients would be really scary and intimidating.

However, I quickly learned that most people in our industry aren’t always prim and proper in the professional world. Most colleagues want to connect and work together successfully, and that doesn’t always require bland, boring business talk. All of these unique, thoughtful, creative personalities are what make an agency an interesting place to work.


It will feel like work, like a job. Will I even like working in this field?


Work can be really fun! Especially if you like what you’re doing and the people with whom you work. Every so often I’ll look around and wonder, “Damn, this is what I do for ‘work?’” It’s a great feeling to enjoy the job you  A.) put so much effort into getting and B.) put so much work into once hired.

Working 9-5: The Truth

When I think back to my college self, I wish I could go back and tell her to not worry as much. It all ended up working out for me. I’m confident it will continue to work out in the future, too–for me, and for everyone else who works hard, prepares, and enters the professional world with optimism.

There is only so much preparing we can do, but usually, our expectations aren’t always reality.

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