Five Gears to Shift From College to First Job

One observation employers make about college recruits is that they are often not well prepared for the workplace.

Of the many reasons for this, one is that we don’t talk enough about the shifts that happen when you leave the academic system and transition to organizational work. Many of the expectations that hold true in the workplace are not typically part of a deep dive in the college curriculum.

Once you understand what is different about going from college to the workplace, you can adapt your approach – and shift gears – accordingly.

Let’s take a look at these five key shifts and start thinking about what you need to do to get up to speed.

1. You Learn Differently

No longer “by the book.” now you learn from experience. There’s no professor at the front of the room, and likely no manager, either. The day-to-day learning comes very much from doing.

2. It’s a Group Project

Except for the occasional team assignment, school life may have been largely a solo effort. You study, you take the test, and you get a grade. Rarely is any outcome in the workplace, however, exclusively your domain. Collaboration and teaming is the key, and it’s how work gets done.

3. It’s Not (Only) About What You Know

You achieve grades based on your ability to regurgitate acquired knowledge in some form. Your career success depends on different criteria. It may have little to do with what you know and more to do with the communication, collaboration or self-management skills you exhibit in the workplace.

4. Feedback is Packaged Differently

In college you knew where to find your feedback (the grade) and the date by which it would be posted. At work, the feedback you get may be less precise, less timely and far more subjective. Or you may have to ask for it. One recent grad said, “Compared to being in school, there was a lot less feedback about my progress and I had to figure out how to build an open communication stream with a superior.”

5. Co-workers as Old as Your Parents

One recent grad told me that he went from a college campus, to sitting between a jaded 60 year old man nearing retirement and a 45 year woman for whom English was a second language. Unless employed by a company filled with your contemporaries, the workplace will have an array of generations and ethnic diversity you may not have previously encountered.

Developing a strategy to make these shifts will facilitate your transition to the workplace. Here’s another thought … talking about your strategy in an interview could make for an interesting conversation with a potential employer.

What did you find most surprising in the move from college to the workplace? What was your strategy? Leave a comment below!


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Degrees of Transition!

About the Author: Lea McLeod helps recent grads and mid-careerists navigate the job search. And once you have a job, she’ll coach you to the brilliant performance of which you are capable! Her “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop has been deployed to help thousands of college hires worldwide do just that. She blogs at Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter, too.

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