How to Transition from College to Career

The transition from college to career can be very difficult. You thought you were more than ready for the real world but the hours are rigid, the salary is nowhere near enough or the generational gap gets in the way of every conversation with a majority of your colleagues.

I have been in the ‘real world’ for about two years now and let me assure you, for most people, it get better. Here are ten ways to help your transition smoother.

1. ACCEPTANCE

Acknowledging that your life is changing is the fastest way to get to a comfortable place. The more you try to hold on to aspects of your student days that have no place in your current life, the more resistance you will have to break. Like a person swimming against the current.

It will bode well for you to accept that changes have to be made and start making them. 

- Changes to your routine such as going straight to bed on week nights instead of watching Netflix till late at night, midweek partying, saying yes to everything.

- Changes in your habits such as waking up early and showing to work on time, then staying there until close of business. I can honestly say that this was the hardest part for me. I was so used to having two classes in a day and spending the rest of the time doing whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted so long as I did my assignments.

- Changes to your flexibility. With the exception of leave days, you will have to go to work pretty much every single week day of the year. You need to schedule your life around that. 

2. UNDERSTANDING PROFESSIONALISM

Unprofessional conduct can get you fired, even in the most laid back and progressive work places. Being professional is about more than dress-code. It means working and behaving in such a way that others think of you as competent, reliable and respectful.

Professional behavior includes but is not limited to showing up on time, getting your work done on time, dressing appropriately, addressing and talking to colleagues and superiors respectfully, avoiding emotional outbursts in the work place and so on. Read my article on professionalism for beginners.

Professionalism is always rewarded even for freelancers like myself. You will be surprised at how many flaky people are out here. Even in creative industries or entertainment, people who see themselves and act as professionals go further.

A 21st century aspect to professionalism is social media. A 2018 study by Career Builder reported that about 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees while 73% use social media to screen job applicants.

If you haven’t yet, this is the time to do a complete social media overhaul. You do not have to go crazy, put privacy settings, remove every offensive, illegal, drug related, adult or abusive content from your social media pages and remove drunken selfies. Remove complaints about your job (your boss or HR are probably reading them) and then update your bios.

3. MASTER YOUR CRAFT

If you become good at your job, you will have a smoother transition. Not only will the work feel significantly easier and more enjoyable, but it will give you leverage and options.

Very few people get to the top of the career ladder because very many people are mediocre at what they do. When I first started in the legal department of one of the worlds oldest international charity, I quickly realized that there were a lot of different aspects to the job, many of them I sucked at.

But I was a good researcher and writer. Whenever something required research or writing like drafting contracts or preparing court documents, I volunteered to do it. Within two months, I had mastered legal research and writing to the point that it took me half the time it used to take me and afterwards, half that time.

Soon, people in other departments starting knowing me as the contracts girl. It got me a promotion. Also my boss hired me to write articles for her personal website on the side. 

In a professional environment, there are soft and hard skills. Learn hard skills such as excel, power point, writing reports, using the various software used in your office and then work on the soft skills such as interacting with coworkers, socializing with bosses etc. Invest time and effort into these seemingly minute things. They will make life so much easier at work.

4. DO NOT EXPECT TO ALWAYS FEEL FULFILLED AND MOTIVATED

Quite often your first job is not going to be your dream job and even if it is, you will not always feel motivated to work and the work will not always feel worth it or fulfilling. I begun every job the same way: eager and at the two month mark, I was always feeling the same way: drained.

What I wish I knew before quitting my first two jobs was that if you push through the hard days, you will eventually get to a better mental space concerning your job. I only recently realized that I hated my first job for nothing more than the long commute that required me to wake up super early.

I ended up feeling exhausted and sick almost everyday at work. I begun hating the job with everything within me and quit within two months and two weeks. If I had known then that there was nothing wrong with the actual work, it was the commute, I would have had a completely different mindset.

Even if you worked the absolutely perfect job, you will still struggle. You need to prepare your mind to identify and solve problems.

In another job, I was severely unhappy and feeling unappreciated because my boss only spoke when something went wrong. The problem was my need for outside affirmation. I knew I was doing a great job and I was getting a paycheck at the end of the month for it, why did I need somebody else to pat me on the back?

I hope you are getting what I am saying. So many things can lead to you being unhappy at a job. Find them and fix them. 

On the other hand, if the things cannot be fixed (which is the case for many first jobs after college), find a way out. Keep showing up to work but also keep networking and applying for different better jobs or building your business on the side.

5. PREPARE FOR THE STEEP LEARNING CURVE

If you have any ounce of humility in you, on the first day of a new job, you know you have a lot to learn. What you do not understand is the sheer volume of things you do not know.

College classes and summer internships did not teach you everything. There is so much information that you will need to process on a daily basis in those first few months of working somewhere.

Humility to ask questions and a willingness to look stupid and make mistakes will save many a times. Teamwork is your best asset. Take notes of everything you are told those first few weeks at a job and refer to them regularly.

When it comes to operating in the real world effectively, make use of personal development resources such as books, podcasts, YouTube videos and blogs like this one. Never stop learning and never stop improving. Master personal finance, habit formation, relationships and so on.

Check out my list of things you need to master to function in the real world and our personal development resource list.

6. LEARN TO COMMUNICATE ACROSS GENERATIONS

Few things will frustrate you as much as the communication barrier caused by the generational gap. After spending four years in college surrounded by people your own age, it almost never occurs to you that people from other generations see the world from a very different angle than you. People who understand ‘woke’ as the past tense of wake.

People who often have very little patience with everyone they label ‘millenial.’ People who will also mentor you and cheer you on and set you up for success if you speak their language.

The important point here is to be self aware in the work place. Change the language you use depending on the person you are talking to and avoid any other condescending or excluding behavior. Also, some of these old timers are obsessed with using appropriate titles. Just go with it ma’am/sir.

7. SALARY NEGOTIATIONS

More money for the same amount of work is always better. Employers will take advantage of you if you do not learn to speak up. This will leave you feeling underpaid and unhappy with your career.

You need to learn the art of salary negotiations before getting hired and asking for a salary increment after working in a place for a while.

Most employers are looking to pay as low as possible for the best person they can get. That means that although they are looking to hire the cheapest person, they will often prioritize getting the best person for the job at a higher costs.

That is why pouching is so rampant. Employers are willing to pay to dollar for top value. Learn early on how to be more valuable in your industry and then how to negotiate your worth when getting job offers and also later on.

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