It’s pretty difficult to anticipate work life before actually graduating.
After four years of printed syllabi and having all your work cut out and assigned to you, the notion of being thrust onto a blank canvas, without numbers that correspond to colors, can be extremely overwhelming.
Even for those who excelled in undergrad, the habits and skills developed in college do not encompass enough for one to effectively navigate the array of opportunities that becomes immediately available to you as a recent graduate.
Most important lessons, unfortunately, can only be learned the hard way: by doing.
1. It transitions instantly from supportive to competitive.
You can easily track your progress in school by weighted exams, credits, GPA, rankings or discussing it with your professor during scheduled office hours. It’s easy to get by in college by simply having a plan and sticking to it.
In my first few jobs, it was difficult to measure and examine my output because my responsibilities seemed so minuscule compared to the broader scope of my companies missions -- especially at organizations that support many specialized talents working toward a single goal.
Being able to fathom how it all comes together and then doing your (small) part well in relation to everything else requires you to constantly build more drive and motivation than the next employee if you seek recognition and forward movement.
Nobody will hold your hand and show you where the bathroom is. Nobody will go out of his or her way to explain anything beyond a cursory manner because the ability to figure it out with few resources is a valued skill in itself.
Without solid years of experience, all you have is potential. At 20-something years old, potential is a dime-a-dozen. At best, it means very little to employers.
At worst, it only spells risk. Learn as much as possible, separate yourself, be aggressive and make no excuses.
2. Everything is strictly a business; it’s not evil.
There’s no more completing made-up projects for the sake of your own benefit to satisfy your professor. You have to learn to produce something that can be sold in the world.
Regardless of whether you work on Wall Street or for a non-profit charity, there are resources coming from somewhere, being spent by someone, who maximizes the return via some process, puts out some product or service and allows you to have a paid job.
Think about your work in this sense at all times. What can you do maximize return and make better use of your company’s resources? How can you make yourself and your time more valuable?
You can always do more, work smarter, and become indispensable.
In a well-run business, taking initiative to implement methods that have never been tried is always welcome. These possibilities can be found at every level, in any job.
3. If you are forthright and honest, you can have everything you want.
As the proverb goes, “Do right, and fear no man.” When you make conscientious efforts to come to work knowing that you always do your best, you’re able to gain a confidence that allows you to speak up when it is necessary.
Even if you are new, you can still show up, work hard, and feel comfortable approaching your superiors to discuss your short and long-term goals for the benefit of all.
Whether you want to spur some sort of change, ask for help, get a raise, control your schedule, or be promoted, you can start by fully owning the belief that you deserve it, you are worth it, and you can get it.
4. Everyone among you is your peer, and the people who matter actually want you to succeed.
It’s true; think about it. In college, was it beneficial to avoid your professor or not do work just because you thought they “didn’t like you?” Is it smarter to swallow your pride, buckle down and ask for help, or shirk your responsibilities altogether and write it off as someone else’s fault?
At a job, why would anyone believe in you enough to bring you on just to watch you fail?
What kind of organization exists to tear down its own team? Never get into the habit of “othering,” blaming or downplaying people you work with.
You will never get far diminishing other people's accomplishments because at the end of the day, all that matters is what you have done.
You are all there at once, to accomplish different things together. You may encounter a few selfish people who want you to fail, but they won't get far themselves and ultimately don't matter.
Congratulate and support your co-workers' successes. Your boss may be titled your superior, but never fall into the mindset of being inferior to anyone, whether it be by position, age, experience or gender.
Everyone deserves respect and acknowledgement, especially from the self.
5. Embrace the culture of your organization and its social aspects.
You are never too cool to participate in your company’s annual burlap sack race! Team building exercises and special events exist for a reason. Happy, productive people feed off happy productive people.
You're spending a third of your life at work, so never underestimate the impact of getting along and strengthening solidarity.
Show everyone that you're happy to be there. You are ready, willing and able to excel at your job, every day.
Photo via Wolf Of Wall St