Not Prepared for 'the Real World'

Not Prepared for 'the Real World'

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Throughout middle school "they" tell us, "You need to get ready for high school." In high school, we're constantly reminded that we need to prepare for college. Along the way, all this talk of preparing for the next stage seems to convey an unspoken promise that when we finally make it through college, we will magically be ready for "the real world" of employment and adulthood. 

I wasn't. 

I don't think most new college graduates are. 

And it ends up feeling like a sick joke. To go to college, choose a major, complete a degree and receive your diploma, but still have no clue of what you're supposed to do next seems like the ultimate bait-and-switch. Like, "Wait. Wasn't there supposed to be a road map included with my cap and gown?" Uh, nope.

Fifteen years after that rude awakening (three of which were spent supervising college interns who were totally obsessed with figuring out the perfect next step after college), I'd like to offer some practical suggestions for making the leap from college to your first job.

1) If you're feeling lost, start with the most practical question: "How will I pay the bills?"

2) Don't expect to like every aspect of your first job.

3) And don't expect to get rich at it. 

4) Take action. Evaluate. Then take action again. Even if you don't know what to do, do something. You will not have a clear picture of how your gifting and education fit together until you work them out in the marketplace for a while. 

5) It really isn't what you know, but who you know. 

Over the next five weeks, I'll unpack each of these ideas in its own post. But first, if you're coming up on — or are in the midst of — the college to career transition, how prepared do you feel? What resources have been helpful? What feels the most bewildering? 

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  • --This is good advice.

    My senior year and the months of unemployment were really scary. It is incredibly hard to get a job with little experience and not being a smooth talker. I did get better at interviews with time and practice though. I found it was important to keep track of how I was spending my time job-hunting because it is easy to not get much done, and not be fully aware of it.  

    It is easy to get stereotyped based on your major and past jobs. That is difficult to overcome, but I slowly learned how to use examples from my past experience to show I had skills that would be useful in jobs that were very different. I did not think I had any significant strengths, but I actually did. My job is teaching me many new skills, and I am also looking into self-study on my own so I will be more marketable and can move up when the time comes.

    Finally, it is important to keep an open mind because jobs that sound terrible on paper might be great when you actually do them, and vice versa. Trial and error is how most people find what they want to do and what they are good at.        

  • --Oh man.

    The transition from College Life to Post-College Life was probably one of the most frustrating and traumatic transition times I've had. My entire life up to that point was nearly singly focused on advancing my education -- so "arriving" at the end and ending up in the pond with all the other fish was unsettling.

    Here's a few other items:

    1) Start thinking about "How Will I Pay The Bills" before you graduate. Ideally start thinking about it around the time you select a major. Have a game plan, have a goal, make steps towards realistically achieving that goal. That doesn't mean "have a plan to get rich" it means, if you want to pay the bills by being a professional musician or a published or visual artist, learn from your professors what lifestyle changes (i.e. mobility, periods of joblessness supplemented by outside incomes) are neccessary to make that happen. Think all the way through your ideal career path -- if you graduate, for example with a degree in chemical engineering, are there local firms that hire into that area, or will you likely have to move to another region? Is staying local important to you, or do you want to start fresh? Also, think about the availability of those jobs. Realisticaly, if you want to be a tenured college professor, will you have to wait for someone to literally die before you will be promoted beyond staff? Do you have the patience to wait for your dreams?

    2) Your college friends will, in many ways, be just as transient as your high school friends. Once you graduate your friends who are still in school will hang out without you and forget to invite you to events, because you are no longer convenienty in their face 24/7. Out of sight, out of mind sounds harsh, but it is overwhelmingly true. Additionally, In the "Real World" no one is going to stop by on your lunch hour just to "hang out" and you won't get two hours of  free time in the afternoon to go outside and enjoy the sunshine.

    3) Speaking of the sunshine, unless your job specifically requires being outside a good deal, you probably won't be seeing a lot of it, particularly in the winter. It will be dark when you go to work, it will be dark when you come home from work, and if you're lucky you might be able to catch some rays on the weekend before you have to crawl back into a cave. Windows are for people of status, as a newbie pud, if you have one, you are very lucky.

    4) You might be smarter and more tech savvy than your boss, but you still have to respect them. Unlike the ( advanced: senior and graduate level) collegiate atmosphere where creative thinking, talking out of turn, debate and spitballing with your professors might be encouraged (though I know, sometimes it isn't), that behavior is fairly generally discouraged in the workforce until you've "earned your stripes" so to speak. You might have a million great ideas on how to make the company run better or make process improvements -- but until you prove your abilities by delivering on your actual job requirements no one is going to care. So you're a six sigma green belt with a master's degree in business administration and managerial science? If you can't meet your deadlines and effectively communicate with your superiors, no one gives a flip. That is -- people will take you more seriously if you are effective, and much LESS seriously if you are touting your degees and achievements like you should get a gold star for having them.

    5) You will make more friends by helping people than you will just by being friendly. In college, making new friends was easy. "Oh you're in "campus club" so am I! We have so much in common!" in the workplace, friendships are much more complicated, and more than you need friends, you need your coworkers to respect you. Paying attention and taking the breakout sections in collegiate retreats on budget management and servant leadership is going to take you a lot farther than taking the breakout session on... well... ... >.> "Finding your Identity" or "Learning to be a Warrior Woman for the Kingdom" or "Biblical Femininity and Dating." I'm not saying those things aren't important, but they aren't AS important, and there is less that you can learn from other people on those topics that you can learn through your own personal study and imersion in the word. BUT hearing someone talk you through a realistic budget (which takes generosity into account), from experience, and antecdotal stories of how you can effectively win the respect of your peers while being a Godly influence in your workplace? Those are learned skills. You aren't going to be able to walk up to people at your workplace, smile, and say, "I love Jesus, let's be friends!" like you did in college, but what you can do is learn skills that allow you to become a valuable asset to people, and become the kind of positive influence that allows joy to shine through you. You can learn to lead through service. If you're good at Excel you can bridge the generation gap by explaining spreadsheets to older employees who struggle wiht the software instead of rolling your eyes to your entry-level cohorts and releasing an exasperated "REALLY?? These people are our supervisors!?" You can mentor employees that come on after you and teach them tips and tricks that would have made your first few weeks on the job easier and less stressful. You can be the kind of person who nips workplace gossip in the bud, rather than gleefully passing it along. In the office-based workforce, reputation is EVERYTHING and people talk to people. In time, If you mold your office life to look like the Christlife -- people will respect you for that, and will come to depend on you for everything from consistency and honesty to personal woes.

  • --A year has passed since my commencement, and nothing has commenced. I have not found any work at all, I had to move back to my parents' house, and now it seems like I just wasted all this time. The student loans are still unpaid, and my resume is growing ever more unattractive as time passes since my last job. If often makes me wonder if God has any plans to put me to work anywhere or pay my own bills ever. I guess this is just who I am. Maybe God created me to be wasteful and useless after all.

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