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How To Handle 6 Tough Sitches At Your New Job

There are things about work that college didn't prepare you for. Let Cosmo tell you how to ace some of the most common workplace challenges.

Once you land a job you really dig, it doesn't take long to figure out that getting ahead isn't simply about being good at what you do. In the current hyperactive work world, there are booby traps at every turn. So besides the skills, you need flexibility, street smarts, and people know-how.

"Things have gotten so tricky these days, work almost qualifies as an extreme sport," explains Barbara Moses, PhD, author of What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life. Below, we spell out the six most common new challenges, then give real-world advice on how to master them to set you on the path to success:

Challenge #1: From colleagues texting you on your lunch break to your boss calling your cell at night, you're always on the job.

It's ironic that the same high-tech tools meant to make life less rigid have become invisible leashes tethering you to the workplace. "Voice mail, text messages, and email let coworkers get in touch with you around the clock, erasing the boundary between work and the rest of your life," explains Joanne Ciulla, PhD, and author of The Working Life. "When you're constantly on call like this, you end up stressed in a new way."

Deal with it: Limit the number of times you check your digital devices outside the workplace. "Unless your boss has indicated that she may need you, logging in once a night is enough," says Ciulla. "This creates breathing room between your job and your life, but you're still being a conscientious employee."

Another tip on loosening the electronic umbilical cord: distinguishing between urgent messages and those that can wait until you're back at work. Next time you check your email at a friend's house and notice a message from a coworker, ask yourself, "Will attending to this now make or break my rep?" If not, go back to enjoying your downtime.

Finally, make sure you aren't unwittingly encouraging coworkers to call on you anytime by giving out your digits or offering to do nonessential projects at home. It's smart to let your boss and a few key folks know that you're available after hours, "but alerting the entire staff puts you at the mercy of disrespectful employees who can take advantage of you," says Ciulla.

Challenge #2: You're really, really hoping to snag a decent raise this year, but these days, it can be a one percent (or none at all) economy out there.

Not too long ago, skilled staffers could expect pay raises of five or even seven percent over their previous year's salary. But with the current economy still so sluggish, many businesses won't fork over more than a measly one percent.

Deal with it: Scoring a reasonable raise isn't hopeless. But since this probably isn't a decision your boss can make on her own, you have to convince her that it's worth asking her higher-ups if they'd consider doling out the extra dough, says Lynda McDermott, a management consultant in New York City.

Schedule a meeting with her around the time of your annual review, or at least six months after your start date. Then assure her that you understand her hands may be tied, but you'd like to make the case for why you merit more moolah. "Spell out your specific achievements and how they go beyond what the typical employee accomplishes," adds McDermott.

Next, map out how you plan to contribute in the future to assure her that you have invested in the job and aren't going to take the money and run in six months. "End by saying that you believe your efforts warrant more than the usual raise—then lay the target amount you have in mind on the line," she says. "Hopefully, you'll persuade her to go to bat for you and get her bosses to set aside what you're asking for."

In the end, while your supervisor may love to secure a bigger raise for you, she simply may not have the power to do so in this current financial climate. Your fallback plan: Negotiate for perks that don't have a price tag. Extra weeks of vacation, more comp time, a title change, or a weekly work-at-home day are all sweet deals, and she probably has more leeway in these areas, says McDermott.

Challenge #3: In a high-speed, super-connected work world, it's easier than ever to screw up royally.

People have been blowing it on the job forever. But what makes today's mistakes so terrifying is how quickly they can morph into a major snafu. Just think: the careless employee who in a mere second accidentally CCs a personal email about her latest hookup to hundreds of coworkers. Or consider the assistant who forgets to let her boss know that a crucial video conference was rescheduled, causing her department to lose out on a megabucks contract. "New technology and the intense pace of most jobs allow staffers to blunder with bigger, more instant ramifications," says Ciulla.

Deal with it: Finger-pointing travels as fast as your mistake did. In other words, there's no place to hide in the fishbowl world we work in. So as soon as you realize your faux pas, offer an in-person apology to your boss, as well as anyone else involved. A short "I'm so sorry, I totally dropped the ball" should do the trick. Hearing that you are apologetic, accept full responsibility, and understand the gravity of your gaffe will help you regain respect, says Ciulla. "Offer too many details or make excuses, however, and you'll come off as immature," she adds.

Challenge #4: Your inexperienced boss can't make a decision and doesn't know how to delegate—and it's starting to affect your reputation.

"Because employee turnover is so high these days and promoting from within is cheaper and easier, it's increasingly common for businesses to turn lower-level workers into managers before they have the right leadership skills," says McDermott. And though you'd think a younger boss would be less of a hard-ass and more relatable, her lack of experience often leaves her creating a general sense of disorder and confusion.

Deal with it: Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. After only a few years in her field, she's already under pressure from her higher-ups to do a stellar job while being responsible for lower-level staffers who may not quite know the ropes. No wonder she's struggling.

"Once you get where she's coming from, arrange an informal meeting, like lunch out of the office," says McDermott. There, tell her you want the company to be a success and you have a few questions about how you can help her make that happen. Bring up specific issues by framing them as your problem, for example "I'm confused about..." By putting the onus on yourself, she will be more apt to suggest solutions that benefit both of you. "Plus, she'll see you as an ally, and workplaces are more productive when staffers feel they're on the same side," she adds.

Challenge #5: Differences between your job and your guy's are throwing a curve in your relationship.

"Young women today are working longer and harder than women of any previous generation, and this makes it extremely difficult to date or tend to a steady relationship," says Moses. Also, there's now a good chance that you're taking home a heftier paycheck than your man is, you have a different work schedule, or you're serious about your career while he's still in slacker mode. "Even the most equality-minded dude is likely to have trouble handling the role reversal." says Moses.

Deal with it: A little reassurance can go a long way with a guy. So if your job duties prevent you two from seeing each other as often as you'd like, remind him that you don't actually prefer work over him—it just comes with the territory, at least right now. Also, checking in regularly via email and text messages will keep you two emotionally close, even though you're not physically together.

If a gap between your salary and status and those of your man have made him upset, don't question your ambition. "It's almost inevitable that a young guy today will at some point make less money or be in a lower position than his girlfriend, and if it truly bugs him, he may not be boyfriend material," says Moses.

To find out, sit him down and ask him if something deeper is really rattling him. He may admit that he's afraid other people will have less respect for him or you'll leave him for a man with a higher professional stature. "If so, assure him that you don't care how much he makes, what he does for a living, or what other people think—you just want him to be happy," she says.

Challenge #6: Your workplace is a cross between The Apprentice and Survivor.

A healthy dose of competition can push you to accomplish great things. But these days, the younger staffers who are your peers are more likely to be downright cut-throat. One possible reason for the ruthlessness: Thanks to self-esteem-enhancing praise and a sense of entitlement while growing up, lots of today's 20somethings expect to be moguls by the time they're 30. And they don't see anything wrong with playing hardball to reach their goal.

Deal with it: You can actually lighten the vibe by practicing random acts of kindness in the workplace—for-example, helping out a coworker with a deadline or covering someone's shift at the last minute. "Doing small yet significant things can create a ripple effect of goodwill," says Ciulla.

And even though the ultra-competitiveness is a recent phenomenon, some old-fashioned solutions can help dilute it, too. "Weekly happy-hour outings or a monthly lunch to celebrate the end of a deadline can build a sense of community," says Moses. "If no one is excluded and you make sure the get-together doesn't turn into a gripe session, it'll reinforce the idea that everyone is on the same team and there's no reason for hostility."

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