Unlike College, Work Won’t Have a Syllabus

syllabus-shirtA few months after graduation, in my first real-world job, I received a piece of feedback from my boss on my performance. It seems although I was out of school, I was still in college mode.

Here’s the paraphrased transcript below:

Manager: “You seem to have a hard time just going and doing without my direction on each step by step move.”

Me:  “I have spent my entire life going by a syllabus each semester from my teacher. When I show up, I get an outline of exactly what to expect in the coming months. Now that I’m at work, I have to figure all that out on my own. The week to week and the for the long-term. I’ve never had to do that before!”

After that conversation, my boss started working with me on how to create my own “work syllabus,” including day to day actions and longer term strategic thinking. This is an important lesson for all new, or soon to be, graduates. When you get to work the first week, there will be no printed sheet of deadlines and expectations. I mean, what would that even look like?

  • Showing up on time: 10%
  • Being a team player: 20%
  • Meeting project X deadlines: 15%
  • Making small talk in the break room: 5%
  • Delivering product to customer on schedule with high quality to meet company goals: 40%
  • Killer PowerPoint Presentations: 10%

Now don’t panic. All the information you need to make a stellar work syllabus for yourself exists in your organization; you just have to find it.

  • Of course you will have your “course description” which is now your job description
  • Goals and expectations for that “semester” (aka the next quarter, the entire year) are likely outlined in company or departmental goals which a manager should be providing to the team
  • Combine that with personal performance goals, feedback from coaches, and advice from mentors, and there is the individual “lesson plan”; what do you want to get out of this “course” (aka job)
  • There is probably a “grading scale” from HR that dictates what it means to be “exceeding expectation” (A) “meeting requirements”(grade B) or “needs improvement”, (grade C/D) on your end of year review
  • Your daily & weekly reading materials, team meetings, and assignments are now the work you perform in your job
  • Project timelines provide you with due dates on your longer term assignments
  • Finally, for extra credit (and here I’m talking about continued career success and development), invest time in seeking out mentors, connecting with people at your company and within industry, staying in tune with company performance and competitors, and reading the occasional career book or online article

So no one gave you the much sought after and frequently referenced piece of paper known for the past 16 years of your life as “The Syllabus”…make your own!





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Catch Careers!


Christina KachAbout the Author: Christina Kach is a Senior Business Analyst on the Continuous Improvement team for a financial services company in Boston, MA. She holds a BS Degree in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University. While at NU, Christina completed three internships in the fields consumer products, aviation, and government defense. It was during this time Christina’s interest in mentoring began.

Before starting her new position in Boston this fall, Christina spent five years at a Government Defense Company, focusing on Lean implementation and process improvement in a manufacturing environment, while also completing an Operations leadership development program. Outside of work, she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management also from Northeastern, continues developing her Lean and business skills, enjoys coaching students and young professionals, and is SME Lean Bronze Certified.

Christina invites you to connect with her via Twitter or at her blog for young professionals!



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