One Year Later: Expectations vs. Reality of Working Full-Time

Ben Hsieh (Q22)

By Sam Weaver (Q26)

It’s easy to forget in your first two years of college that you (most likely) have to graduate after four years. As a current junior, it’s a reality that’s becoming more and more pressing in my life, along with all the stress and anxiousness that comes with it. We spend a lot of time in college focusing on our eventual careers: where we want to be in ten years, how to chase our passions, and what corner office we want to have one day. We don’t, however, spend much time talking about what your first couple of years in the workforce will be like. This month I caught up with Ben Hsieh (Q22) to talk about his first year as an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company.

Q: What surprised you most about working full time?

I think the “realness” of it all hits pretty quickly, especially in jobs in professional services. Because clients are paying for our work, there’s a need for everything to be 100% correct – a 93% no longer gets you an A-. That being said, I think at most companies that QUEST students end up at have great cultures where there are large support networks for employees.

Having to focus straight for 8-15 hours is also a lot more challenging than I anticipated it being. While there’s no doubt that QUEST students are busy, running from class to extracurricular activity, the pockets of “break time” between classes don’t exist when you’re working.

Q: What’s been the easiest change from school to work?

Definitely the paychecks that come biweekly. Boy, does that feel good.

Q: How has consulting been different from what you expected going in? How has it been similar to your expectations?

The difference between recruiting (expectations) and work (reality) exists for every company. When going through the recruiting process, most employers only tell students about the coolest projects in the office or the biggest perks while glossing over the bad parts of the job. That being said, I still think that the work that I do is interesting and the people with whom I work are extremely talented, both reasons that I chose the job that I did. [One of the biggest differences is] we do a lot of presentations sitting down and having a conversation with our clients in a casual setting, there’s no stand up presentations. There are still lots and lots of PowerPoints though.

Q: There’s a lot of pressure to find your “dream job” right out of college. Do you think that ever really happens?

Call me cynical but I don’t think there’s a perfect first job; I think there are positives and negatives to every job. Our generation is very focused on optimizing “optionality” – we have to eat at the best restaurants and find the best jobs – but I think it’s more important to find some components [of work] that energize you and focus on getting those in your job. For me, it’s working with people — I really enjoy sitting in a team room and whiteboarding ideas.

To handle the parts of the job that are not as pleasant, I think there are two things you can do. First, remember the parts of the job that you do enjoy and see if the “math works out” — are you doing things you enjoy more often than things you don’t enjoy (factoring in the level of enjoyment)? Second, think about how you could change the negatives or shift them to be more enjoyable.

Q: You relocated across the country for your job, what advice do you have for handling that change?

Moving is hard, especially when you don’t know anyone in the city. I think the best advice I can offer here is to level-set expectations and to be positive. It’s a strange experience because you go from senior year, where you’ve made great friends, know your way around, and have the trust/respect of your peers and professors, to starting from zero (even if you interned at the same place).  It takes some time to adjust, and I think a great corollary is first semester freshman year, which for most people was a fairly difficult transition. Tacking on the change to working full time and getting to know a new city, the “struggle is real,” but talking to friends, both those who have and haven’t moved, helps smooth the process a lot as well.

Q: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself from your first year on the job?

Work is not the most important for me. I really enjoy my job and all the benefits it has, but, at the end of the day, I find more fulfillment in having great relationships, making food and music, and playing golf. There are some people who don’t enjoy hobbies and prefer the intellectual stimulus and excitement of work; I’m just not one of them and that’s okay.

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