5 things I wish I knew before I got my first job

Millions of college seniors are about to enter the real world. Let’s just hope they don’t make the same mistakes I did. Here's everything I wish I knew:

Your boss is not your friend.

It’s great to like your boss and it’s even better when the feeling is mutual. But don’t let that friendship give you a false sense of security. Your boss's biggest priority might be their own boss or the company's performance, but it's not you. So if you want that raise, or that bonus, or that promotion, don’t wait for them to pat you on the head and hand it to you. Be prepared to ask for it.

Credit debt is not normal.

I grew up thinking credit cards were like a fountain I could dip into anytime I ran short on cash. That was pretty dumb. I’ve learned there’s only one smart way to use credit: charge what you can afford to pay off every month. Carrying a balance only wrecks your credit score and means you’ll get hit with high interest rates.

Yes, you can afford to save.

To me, saving always seemed like something rich people did. I barely made enough at my first job to pay the rent. So how could I possibly save 15% of my paycheck? But my mistake was setting the bar too high. If I had started putting away even just a tiny bit of money each month — even 5% or 6% — it would have had years to grow and I wouldn’t be playing catch-up now. 

Affordability is relative.

When I lived in Georgia, $35,000 seemed like a zillion dollars. But that’s nothing when you live in a crazy expensive city like New York. When you’re looking for jobs in another state, keep that in mind. Use a salary comparison calculator to find out what a comparable salary in another city would be. You want to have all the facts before you start to negotiate.

It’s OK to quit your job.

Look, not everyone is gonna love their first job. The average 20-something will have seven jobs by the time they hit 30 — and that’s OK. If you don’t like your first job, learn from it and move on. The worst thing you can do is let your own misery seep into your performance and leave a job on bad terms. You want to build bridges, not burn them.

Mandi Woodruff is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and host of Brown Ambition, a weekly podcast about career, life and money.

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