It’s April -- finally. I thought winter here in the Northeast would never leave! We’re still waking up to mornings in the 30s, but the days are warmer now and staying lighter later, thanks to Daylight Savings Time. Can summer be far away? April means that thousands of college seniors are looking forward to graduation next month. For those who aren’t going on to graduate school, this means that once their degrees are in hand, they’ll be making the move from full-time student to full-time employee, or in some cases, full-time job seeker -- and that transition to the workplace can be jarring.
Making the transition from student life to work life can be a shock. In some ways, we might be able to see college as a battle, where students fight for victory over numerous graduation requirements -- and, sometimes, demanding professors. If you have been paying attention to the news over the past decade, you may have noted reports about wars. There may also have been video of various news conferences with generals and other high-ranking government personnel. Eventually, you would hear the term “exit strategy” as the wars de-escalate. Graduating college students also need an exit strategy after their college wars.
That strategy should involve both a mental and physical commitment to the major task at hand: Becoming a successful and well-adjusted contributor to the workplace. On the surface, this may sound easy, but reality has a way of messing up our plans. So I did some research to find points to keep in mind when preparing to make the transition from college to the workplace. Hopefully, the following suggestions will help you during your transition.
Among the best information I found was an article from Oregon State University’s career placement office: Transitioning from College to the Workplace. OSU offers 10 points but I thought I’d highlight four of the 10 -- the four that relate most memorably to my own experience -- and add my own perspectives to augment OSU’s. I encourage you to read all of OSU’s points about entering the workplace. They’re squarely on target. Here, then, are my four favorites:
1. Prepare to Make the Proper Exit
- As your final year winds down … Gather written references from professors, campus employers, career counselors, internship mentors, and any coaches or leaders of academic clubs … Whatever they can say favorably about your character, communication skills, academic proficiency, or motivation can be a part of your developing resume … As you exit the college community, make sure you leave with a clean slate in terms of financial obligations or unpaid parking tickets. Debts left unpaid may prove to be embarrassing in the future.
This is plain common-sense advice. I’ve been surprised many times by college seniors who have let these important actions slide as they approach graduation. Being the obsessive person that I am, if I were a college senior today, I would want to have at least several possible job leads on the books early in my final semester.
That would require starting to complete many of the tasks listed above not long after senior year has begun. The goal here is completeness and attention to detail. The real world may fall into your lap with an uncomfortable thud if you think that “things will just take care of themselves” after you graduate. Hit the ground running with your diploma, but don’t trip over your own laziness.
3. Finding Employment May Not be Easy
- One job opening can get hundreds of resumes or applications … As most experienced job-seekers already know, you have to spend time every day looking for employment. It can be a “full-time job trying to find a job” … Don’t rely too much on the internet … do not forget about networking—with family and friends, other students, alumni, professors, mentors, and former co-workers and bosses. Stay connected with organizations that can benefit you in terms of future networking … By staying in the right communication loop, you can be aware of opportunities before your peers do.
I recall my first job search after graduation. Of course, I didn’t have the advantages of the internet and its associated job-finding power. I was relegated to newspapers and the few people I knew in business with whom I could network. To add complications to my situation, the recession years of the early 1970s weren’t easy for finding meaningful employment, so I had to be creative.
I took stock of my life to date and made a list of those pursuits that brought me happiness and which I pursued with passion. My degree was in music history and I enhanced my love of music with quality audio equipment. Then, one day I was scanning the jobs ads in the Sunday Washington Post and saw an ad seeking staff for a new chain of audio stores in an adjacent state. I applied, interviewed, and, happily, was hired into the firm's management training program.
The point of citing my workplace experience is to urge you to take stock of all your skills and interests, especially those beyond the accomplishments of your degree. This kind of survey can allow you to create a more inviting profile to present to prospective employers. I combined a liberal arts degree with specific outside interests and knowledge. Fortunately, I found a strong match for all of that and I was able to market myself successfully. Don’t forget to include those aspects of your life that lie beyond academics. You may find that you’re a much more interesting job candidate than you suspect.
6. About That First Job
- … Your first job may serve as a chance to gain experience, maturity, and confidence. Many recent college graduates change jobs after their first year out of school … Your first job may be a stepping stone and not your true calling … the trend is for college graduates to change careers — not just jobs — multiple times over the course of their working life … Keep track of your accomplishments, publications, and developing skills so that you can obtain that job you desire … Your major may or may not dictate the type of job you can work. Many jobs simply require a college degree. However, science and engineering tend to be the exception because they are more specialized fields.
These points reflect some of my comments following number three above. I’ve had a number of different jobs across my life. However, the numerous job changes I had were mostly not because I wanted to make a change. My changes happened because economic circumstances caused those companies to release me from employment. Thus, I had to move to a new job because my previous one had disappeared.
My job changes were defensive reactions. Today’s young people change jobs for proactive reasons. They feel the need to move on. Fortunately, we’re currently enjoying a strong economy here in the United States and jobs are plentiful. Thus, new college graduates can, at least for the near future, look forward to a job market that will allow for the mobility that can lead them to accomplishing their career goals.
9. Starting Your New Job in a Positive Direction
- Employers are looking for entry-level workers who not only have aptitude, but who also display enthusiasm, excitement, and drive … Establish a reputation for being a good worker who is willing to learn. Most companies view the first three to six months as a honeymoon period for new employees. That's the time to get adjusted to the organization and to prove one's worth as a valuable worker. Doing the minimum required might enable you to keep your job, but base-line performance won't lead to promotion. Your supervisor will judge you on your work ethic, teamwork, ability to focus, ability to learn from your mistakes, and contributions to the organization or department.
To contrast the “positive direction” OSU encourages, I can cite a good example of the opposite that comes from an actual workplace incident I read about last year. A newly hired college graduate was working in an office and felt that the company dress code was too stringent, even though “casual Fridays” were in place. So this young man asked the office manager if casual Friday could become “weeklong casual.” The manager said no, in light of the need for a professional-looking workplace. The young man persisted, however, and circulated a petition in the office trying to get a majority to back the lax dress code. When the manager learned of the petition, he fired the new hire for insubordination and disrupting the office environment.
So, go the extra mile on your first job. I recall volunteering to keep the audio store’s restrooms squeaky clean, even though there was an alleged janitorial service, which wasn’t all that good. I instinctively followed the suggestions of number nine above and was eventually promoted to assistant store manager in a short time. I displayed “enthusiasm, excitement and drive” and it paid off for me. I did much more than the minimum required of me and made numerous suggestions to increase sales and make for a better atmosphere for all employees, not just myself.
So, follow OSU’s guidance. A first job can set the tone for future jobs … and success… if you make the right transition!