My First Job-How Little I Knew

Paul Morrone |

I graduated college at a very interesting time, May of 2009. This was a time that many people remember all too well, mostly for negative reasons. The stock market had just hit its bottom (March ’09) and the overall outlook for the economy was more grim I can ever remember in my lifetime. Going to a business school, we were inundated with news on the market meltdown, a shattered US economy, a tight job market, regulatory chaos and an overall feeling of mass hysteria. Talk about raining on our parade! Here we were, fat, dumb (maybe naive is the better word), and happy with our newly minted degrees ready to enter the next stage of our life: being an adult.

I’ll never forget my first day of work at KPMG, an international accounting and advisory firm. I walked in early (because no one is late on their first day) and was escorted to a conference room where I would meet the rest of my class. The rest of the day was spent doing icebreaker-type activities and filling out piles of ‘paperwork.’ Everyone knows what I’m referring to when it comes to paperwork, the obligatory HR suite of documents with everything from the formal employment contract to a W-4. Soon thereafter we were provided with the benefits summary, which was a document the size of a small phonebook. I don’t know why it took 6 years for me to realize it, but at the time I honestly didn’t know what 80% of that stuff really meant.  Sure I had seen a W-4, but I didn’t know what that meant to me. What’s an exemption? Of course the most expensive health plan had the best benefits, but was it worth the cost? How much should I put in my 401(k) and what do all these investment options really mean? What’s group term? Why do I have to name a beneficiary? Pension, what!? My head hurt and it was only 10am. It was overwhelming. What baffles me more, however, was how I graduated from a business school with a degree in accounting and finance and still felt like I was reading Chinese.

Hindsight tells me I had most of it all wrong. But hey, its ok nothing bad happened, right? What I don’t think is ok is that there really is no way for most people to know if they are doing anything right until it’s too late. As far as asking for help, I really think it’s an ego thing. No one at age 21, on the first day of their new job, wants to admit that they have no idea how to fill out their benefits paperwork – I mean, it doesn’t look good, right? I think it’s based on the same concept that prevents men from having the ability to ask for directions. Picked the wrong medical coverage? Sorry! Have your ex-girlfriend as the beneficiary of your group term life insurance policy? Too bad! In light of my recent epiphany I figured I would provide some extremely valuable words of advice: Ask for help and don’t believe everything you see on the internet!