Recently, I’ve found myself talking a lot about the (sometimes rough) transition between school and work. As a recent college grad, I’m experiencing this transition first-hand and I’ve found it surprisingly more difficult than my transition from high school to college. In short, I’ve discussed this with many of my friends, and these are the (tentative) conclusions I’ve come to.
#1 You haven’t worked a day in your life.
You’re from a generation of kids who don’t believe they should work, a friend recently said. Entitlement is a strong word, but he was definitely implying it. In a way, he’s right. We are from a generation that didn’t need to walk 10 miles to school, uphill both ways, or edit a 60-page thesis with a typewriter. Modern technology and the rise of helicopter parents have assured us way too much convenience. We’ve all gone through the first 22 years of our lives without a real job, so yeah, the first one is supposed to kick you in the ass, a little. It’s the first time when we’re really responsible for the work we produce, and for that fact alone, it won’t be an easy transition.
#2 Your resume doesn’t mean anything once you’re on the job.
Through high school and college, we’ve all seen the students with the most stellar resumes get ahead. While that’ll get your foot in the door in the real world, it flies out the window once you start on the job. Your co-workers and your manager won’t care what kind of education you had or which club you presided over in school. All of that is immaterial to how you’re evaluated on the job. What they do care is how your contribution will make their jobs easier or better, or how your performance will add value to the team. So stop using that resume as a crutch. You’ve got a whole new game to prove.
#3 It’s about pursuing excellence and building work ethic.
More often than not, your first job out of college isn’t going to be glamorous. People very rarely find their dream job immediately post-graduating; the first job is usually a stepping stone to greener pastures. In other words, you won’t always be passionate and personally invested in the work that you’re doing, in the same way that you may have been passionate about your major and classes in college. But all that personal preference aside, you still have to make a choice to maintain integrity in the work that you do. And if that means spending several hours formatting your excel spreadsheet because your boss likes it “just so”, so be it.
#4 Learning happens only when you make it happen.
As the most junior person in the office, you’ll often get stuck with some of the grunt work. When things get busy, it’s easy to get lost in the amount of paperwork you have to process and forget to continue learning on the job. It’s difficult to focus on the bigger picture when you’re editing a presentation at 9PM on a Thursday. The truth of the matter is, unlike the professors and peers you interacted with in college, very few people at work would care about you actually learning on the job. Instead of mentally shutting down when you clock out at the end of a long day, take the extra time to figure out what you’re actually work on. It often boils down to holding onto your intellectual curiosity (that your liberal arts degree so instilled in you!) and asking the right questions in a non-annoying way.
#5 You are a dime a dozen.
For me, this was the hardest aspect of the transition. I’ve been raised in an educational environment that valued individual thought and empowered us to believe that we could and should do anything we want. American education has such an emphasis on student uniqueness and personal point-of-view, which is probably one of the things that makes it the best higher education in the world. For many of my friends, this kind of supportive environment broke down as they entered their first jobs. I have met some truly impressive people in college and have since realized that there is a further abundance of highly-competent, intelligent, and hard-working young people in the real world. For your job, there are hundreds of people out there who would kill for it (especially in this economy). Of those hundreds, there is likely at least a dozen who have the same or better competencies than you. With these kinds of stats, your manager could definitely be thinking, why you? The need to differentiate yourself from the pack has never been so great.