Workready Graduates: 10 tips for the transition from college to work
You’ve worked hard (and played hard, if we’re being honest) for 4 years that seemed an eternity at the beginning but sped towards the graduation finish line. You’ve arrived.
After the dust settles it is easy for the elation to be tainted by apprehension about what comes next. Making the transition from study to work is one of the biggest transitions you will make in your life. It’s exciting, but it also comes with stress, anxiety, and mistakes.
Up until now it’s been all about developing yourself and preparing for the “real world”. Now it’s time to step out of that bubble and into the working world, where you will begin to pave your own way. This requires some big mindset and lifestyle shifts.
We bring you our top 10 tips for making the transition from college to work easier.
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint: think long term
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Let’s face it. The job you land right out of college is not likely to be your dream job with your dream company. In fact, even if you believe it is, chances are you will be on the move within a few years as you develop professionally. With the gig economy changing the way we work and horizontal career trajectories looking to be the way of the future, staying at the same company for the entirety of your career has become the exception to the rule.
Every opportunity you get is a chance to build your career in the way that you want it to go. And if you haven’t landed your first big opportunity yet, it’s ok. As long as you keep taking positive steps forward, you’ll end up somewhere great.
“Every opportunity you get is a chance to build your career in the way that you want it to go.”
2. Master the key skills for you career
Regardless of the industry or job you are aiming for, there are certain hard skills that are valuable to any company such as design, writing, and presentation. Take the time to gain some of these skills so you have some bonus extras you can offer. Sometimes it just takes a free online tutorial to get that edge.
It’s also important to pay attention to soft skills. Most college graduates find that college doesn’t prepare them well with regards soft skills because they can’t really be taught in the classroom. Instead, they are developed through experience, and learning from yours and others’ mistakes. Some typical skills that new graduates struggle with but are valued by employees are:
- Relating with people of diverse backgrounds and personalities
- Work Ethic
- Problem solving + Taking initiative
- Listening + Communication Depending on your personality, you might already excel at some of these while find others a challenge. Take stock of your personal strengths and weaknesses and focus on those areas you need to improve on.
“Sometimes it just takes a free online tutorial to get that edge.”
3. Read and stay current
"Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it."
Obtaining a degree or credential in your chosen field is never the end of the story. With new technology and big ideas constantly disrupting the way we work, you can’t afford to sit back and expect your degree to open doors for you.
One thing successful people never do is stop learning. And one of the best ways to do that is by reading. In his survey of 233 wealthy individuals and 128 lower-earning individuals, Tom Corley (author of Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life” and “Change your Habits, Change your Life”, found that one of the habits that successful people share is reading. Urban legend says that most Fortune 500 company CEOs read 4-5 books per month, and various iconic business leaders have emphasized their voracious reading habit as being key to their success and growth including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Elon Musk.
And this isn’t just limited to books. Following key players and companies in your industry on Linkedin or LeaddMe and reading the latest thinkpieces and articles on trends in your industry is a great way to keep pace and stay current as well as understand what skills are important.
“One thing successful people never do is stop learning.”
4. Find your college transition tribe
At college, it’s all about you. Your teachers, tutors, and support network are all there to support you. In the real-world, it’s probably safest to assume that everyone is looking out for themselves first. They aren’t there to help you, but to earn their own success. So, it’s important to find your support network.
This will include mentors within your industry (or company, ideally) that you can trust to guide you, and peers you can talk through issues with as you go through similar experiences. If you are still job-hunting, those peers and mentors can also give you advice and hold you accountable for the your next steps in the job search such as completing an online course, creating a resume or online profile, or contacting your list of dream companies. It’s also important to have people who can remind you of your goals and values and keep you on track.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the bigshots you admire. When I was young and green I remember reaching out to a high-profile journalist on a whim to see if she might be willing to let me pick her brains over a coffee, not expecting my email to even be acknowledged. I was ecstatic when she immediately made time for me. I still vividly remember the advice she gave me and it has been an invaluable source of wisdom and inspiration over the years.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to the bigshots you admire.”
5. Don’t do what you are told
At college you are told exactly what you need to do to achieve the desired grade. In the workforce, noone is going to be handing you a rubric for success within nicely framed work assignments.
Joining the professional ranks requires a new mindset. Don’t wait around being told what to do. Instead, find a need and fill it. Make that your measurement for success.
And when you are asked to do a job, don’t just do what you are asked. I remember one of my first mentors looking over a job assignment I had completed. Stroking his chin in sage-like fashion, he wondered out loud “hmm, how can we add more value to this?” and it’s a question I’ve never forgotten.
Constantly ask yourself “how can I add value?” and go above and beyond to deliver.
“Ask yourself ‘how can I add value?’”
6. Have a growth mindset
Don’t get me wrong: you are awesome. But as a graduate, you can expect to make mistakes. While you might be used to stellar grades in college, making missteps is part of graduate life, and the people around you will expect that. Don’t let this rock your confidence. Instead, adopt a growth mindset. Take on challenges with a willingness to learn, and don’t ever make the same mistake twice. Instead, let your experiences develop you and use this time to ask as many questions as you can.
Also don’t be afraid to offer your own suggestions and ideas. Your thoughts might get rejected more often than not, but you will learn how to pitch yourself and what kinds of ideas gain traction. This also shows your colleagues that you are engaged and motivated.
Henry Ford is often quoted as saying “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right”. Often the only difference separating a successful and unsuccessful person is their attitude, regardless of skills and experience. In our constantly evolving economy, everyone needs to constantly learn new skills anyway, so having a growth mindset is key.
“Take on challenges with a willingness to learn, and don’t ever make the same mistake twice.”
7. Learn time-management skills
You might think that you became the master of time management at college juggling various papers, exam prep, extra-curriculars, a part-time job, and a rampant social life. However, the professional world takes this to a whole new level, and you won’t be able to sweet talk your professor into an extension this time. There are also only so many last minute all-nighters you can pull before you burn out. In the real-world, missing a deadline has real consequences and there are no excuses for sub-par work. As a graduate you will also likely have a range of tasks on your to-do list coming from different directions, not to mention the steep learning curve when you start a new job. It can get overwhelming.
Take the time to invest in learning time management skills and creating a system for multitasking and prioritising your work so that you can remain unflustered while performing strongly.
“In the real-world, missing a deadline has real consequences and there are no excuses for sub-par work.”
8. Craft your brand wisely
The personal “brand” you built at college won’t necessarily work in the professional world. College is a time to go crazy and be adventurous, but this doesn’t translate well to the workplace. Professionalism is key to making a good first impression and projecting yourself as a valuable employee to those around you. And let’s face it: your reputation can really hinder or help your progression and the opportunities you get. Creating a professional personal brand includes:
- Dressing the part
- Being on time
- Doing what you say you will do
- Taking personal accountability when things go wrong
- Cleaning up your online profiles by deleting questionable content from your public profiles and creating a professional profile on platforms such as Twitter, Linkedin or right here on LeaddMe. (Learn about how to get the most out of LeaddMe here).
“Professionalism is key to making a good first impression and projecting yourself as a valuable employee to those around you.”
9. Create new routines
The human brain is wired for routine and a successful transition from college life to work life requires a new one.
In order to be at your best you will likely need to go to bed and wake up earlier, establish a strong morning routine, exercise regularly and figure out how to fit in personal errands such as grocery shopping and cooking. Creating a set routine for those daily functions reduces those other stressors so you can focus on your work, which will in turn help you feel capable, calm, and confident.
“The human brain is wired for routine and a successful transition from college life to work life requires a new one.“
10. Learn to take care of yourself
Transitioning from college to career means it’s time to take care of yourself aka learn to “adult” in Millennial-speak.
Some find that they have more free time than when they were in college, whereas others feel the time crunch. When pressured, usually the first thing to go is self-care and personal relationships. Our society is more stressed than ever and mental illness is on the rise for a reason. Make sure you are looking after yourself physically and mentally and learn what works for you.
Struggling to eat healthy? Order your groceries online or meal prep. Losing touch with friends or family? Schedule regular catch-ups. Feeling flustered and lost? Start a journal to help you organize your thoughts and reflect on your dreams. Struggling with budgeting? Use an app.
Now is the time to examine your habits and ditch unhealthy for healthy so that you can be a high-performer at work and live your best life.
“When pressured, usually the first thing to go is self-care and personal relationships.”
We hope that our tips help you navigate your transition from college. Congratulations! And remember, you’ve got this!