The transition from studying to working full-time is one of the biggest learning curves I ever experienced. I count my blessings every day for the fact that easing from my Creative Writing degree into my first full-time role as a content writer with a marketing agency was fairly painless, with only three months of job-hunting required. Since settling into this role, I’ve learned how to live a routine 9-5 life as opposed to a fluid uni schedule, tried to figure out how to find the time and energy for activities and hobbies, and worked out how to choose valuable side hustles that are worth the burnout and ditch the ones that are causing more pain than gain. Needless to say, this first year of full-time work certainly served up plenty of lessons, from time management to the value of prioritization. But let’s talk money first — here are the five key money lessons I learned from my first year of full-time work.
1. Be bold from the get-go
Ask for the salary you truly deserve, not just what you think they’ll hire you for. The salary you start at will influence your earning potential throughout the rest of your career, so make sure it is a baseline that is both realistic and fair. You may not be able to do this depending on the availability of jobs in your area, but if you can afford to be demanding, then please do so for the sake of your future self. A year into my job, I discovered that I was being paid the least in my entire department despite my experience and specialization, which was most likely as a result of me being young, female, and too timid to fight for a fair salary at the beginning like my male colleagues had done (this drama will be discussed in more detail below).
2. Negotiate when needed
Three months into my role, I realized the work I was doing was far more creatively demanding than the picture the job description had painted. While this was okay with me, as it reflected my interests better and pushed to grow, I didn’t feel the salary I was hired at was appropriate anymore. Although the company followed a protocol of salary reviews at 6-12 month intervals, I initiated talks. Now, as a soft-spoken, recent uni grad, negotiating my salary was downright terrifying. I relied heavily on friends and family to help me compile strong points, such as evidence of the original ideas I was pitching and creative work I was producing. I asked for a 10% raise, which, after a month of nervous waiting, was approved! Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can never happen. If you feel strongly about your position, entitlements or anything else in the workplace, don’t be afraid to break the status quo and ask for what you think you deserve. Remember to be equipped with quantifiable evidence of your contribution to the company when you initiate talks.
But wait, have I got a plot twist for you. Despite the aforementioned pay rise at the three-month mark, I discovered nine months later that I was still being underpaid when compared to my male colleagues! After negotiating, the higher-ups decided I’d only be considered for a raise in another six months. While I don’t regret asking for another raise to rectify this gap, I’ve decided I need to step up my freelance efforts to compensate for this pay gap myself, and to establish a better foothold in the industry. Discovering this pay gap has reminded me of the importance of sticking to your guns when it comes to getting the pay you deserve!
3. Take initiative
The pay raise at the three-month mark could only have happened because I went beyond what was expected of me — bonuses and pay raises don’t come from doing the bare minimum, i.e. just what your job description says! Among my female friends who are also working professionals, I have noticed some tend to keep their heads down and only do what is asked of them. This can be very detrimental when you’re starting out in the workforce, possibly costing you when it comes to the end of your probation or your annual review. In fact, a friend of mine was even directly told by her boss that her internship would not translate into a permanent role with the company because of her lack of initiative. So, ladies, pitch your ideas, speak up in meetings, take a few rejections. This won’t always be comfortable, but it will demonstrate your value to your boss. Of course, this is easier said than done. Young women especially struggle to speak up in the workplace when meetings are dominated by more outspoken characters, or if we feel we are not valued, respected, or perhaps even worthy enough to speak up. As I have learned, however, having a request for a raise denied or an idea rejected will not be the end of the world.
4. Be mindful with the newfound cash
Most of us work unstable casual jobs while at uni, which offer low, fluctuating pay. This means that when your first paycheck comes in from your new full-time job, you’ll likely be over the moon! While we get warned about lifestyle inflation all the time, I believe you can still enjoy your newfound money as long as you are mindful and responsible. Lifestyle inflation is not a vice — it is simply something we need to check ourselves against. Since making more money, I have started going to yoga classes, which have been great for my physical and mental wellbeing, and have also began shifting from fast fashion to higher-quality clothing whenever I can afford it. Yes, I get my nails done sometimes and buy tickets to more events than when I was a student, but as long as I have budgeted appropriately and set aside money for my savings goals, I know there’s no shame in enjoying these treats or experiences.
5. You’ll make some budgeting mistakes, and that’s okay
Budgeting, saving, and spending from my regular paychecks certainly took some trial and error. In the beginning, I found myself being overly optimistic about how much of every paycheck I could immediately put into my savings account, before having to shamefully transfer the money back into my checking account a week later. It’s okay to take some time to work out how to manage your finances, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember that budgets should be seasonal, and keep yourself in check by sticking to a base figure you’d like to have in your account at all times. For example, as I get paid fortnightly and pay rent monthly, I’ve worked out that I need to immediately set aside half this rent money from every paycheck, plus any forecasted living expenses over the next fortnight. The rest of the money is then siphoned off into my emergency savings account, travel fund, or “fun” account (which I tap regularly for life’s little joys).
From getting paid what you deserve to managing your finances, your first year of work will offer loads of learning opportunities. As I continue to stumble around the world of full-time work, freelancing, and trying to build my portfolio, I’m sure I will learn plenty more lessons from mistakes and successes alike!
Hania Syed is a Melbourne-based writer working in marketing while trying to keep the embers of her passion projects glowing by furiously fanning them. Read some of her work here.
Image via Unsplash