Do you remember coming out of college thinking you were going to light the professional world on fire?
I sure do. And I remember feeling confident that everyone was going to be so impressed by my political science and history double major and my 3.7 GPA. I made sure to pack my resume full of that and my impressive college activities:
· Vice President of the Student Alumni Association? Check!
· Mediocre rower for one year before I quit because I didn’t want to get up at 4AM every morning? Check!
· Semi-committed member of the pre-law society who went to meetings when I felt like it and skipped when I wanted to watch the latest episode of House (I went to college in the mid-aughts, ok)? Check!
My plan worked because I heard from numerous hiring managers. But you can imagine the shock and confusion I experienced at the very bizarre questions I was getting in interviews:
What experience do you have that will make you successful in this role? (Why would they even ask that? Can’t they see that I studied abroad in Prague?)
This position requires a lot of writing. What experience do you have writing in a professional environment? (I wrote my senior thesis over the course of six months after sleeping in until ten every day in between The Office episodes. Next question.)
Have you ever worked in an office and showed up consistently from 9-5? (What is with these people? It’s almost like they didn’t notice that I earned not one but TWO humanities degrees.)
And then it hit me like an 8am Mesopotamian History exam: I might have been a successful student, but that didn’t mean I was ready for the real world.
The professional world is dramatically different from student life! There is a reason I didn’t start drinking coffee until I had to go to the office every day. Showing up to a job for eight hours, consistently meeting deadlines, keeping your word, and maintaining your professional reputation are all things for which college doesn’t prepare you!
When you enter the workforce, it is vital that you make the mental transition from seeing yourself as a student to seeing yourself as a professional.
Did you ever see the Amy Schumer movie I Feel Pretty? In that film, she hits her head and then afterwards, whenever she looks in the mirror, she sees a gorgeous model. This new perspective completely shifts the way she behaves and her life changes overnight. She lands her dream job, gets a boyfriend, and has more confidence and poise in everything she does.
Metaphorically speaking, I wish every graduating student would hit their head and instead of seeing themselves as students, they would see themselves as professionals.
Once you hit your head, so to speak, and make this critical mental transition, everything else will naturally fall into place.
· You will start emphasizing how your experience translates to the professional world. Specifically, you will highlight relevant internships, jobs, and other accomplishments that demonstrate your ability to work hard and get results. As time goes on, you’ll start replacing the college activities on your resume with your real-world experience.
· You will start reading application instructions closely. One of the most common reasons recent graduates get declined for openings is they fail to follow basic instructions. Unlike your favorite college prof who will let it slide if you write a term paper about Impressionism instead of Post-Impressionism, the hiring manager will be quite happy to relegate you to the digital trash heap if you don’t follow directions.
· You will start taking deadlines seriously. Unfortunately, professors have a habit of relenting easily when students ask for extensions and failing to follow through on any real world consequences. But the professional world is full of real world consequences! If you don’t meet deadlines in the work place, you will very likely lose your job.
· You will keep your word and understand that your professional reputation follows you around. In college you said you were going to attend a Young Beer Lovers’ meeting and then bailed at the last second with no consequences. Not so in the real world! If you accept a job offer and then back out of it, that will have a negative impact on your reputation and cause employers to be wary of you.
· You will dress like a professional instead of a student. If you wore that cute dress to a bar that had sticky floors, I bet it’s not appropriate for a job. And if you wore that shirt whilst doing a keg stand at a frat party, I am thinking it’s not meant for the workplace. When you stop shopping at Forever 21 (because, you know, you aren’t 21 anymore) you’ll know you’ve crossed the Rubicon to adulthood. Welcome. It’s not as bad as you think.
If you are entering the workforce (or even if have been in the workforce for a while!) and find that you are struggling to get where you want to be, skip the painful part where you hit your head and focus on making the mental transition from a student to a professional. (And don’t worry, you can still wear that keg stand shirt on the weekends.)