Six Steps to Transition from College to the Workplace With Class

1.  Realize that college did NOT give you ALL the answers, and was only the beginning to what you will learn

Even if you have a very high GPA and graduated from a highly respected college, you may not automatically succeed in job hunting or in success at your new workplace without having good soft skills.  Soft skills are interpersonal or “people skills”.  You may have taken electives that educated you in some of these areas or learned some while working on team projects or from participating in social clubs, but these soft skills can be more important than your “Hard skills.” Hard skills would be the skills you gain in the 300 and 400 level classes in your degree program.

Below are examples of some soft skills you should be working on:

  • Communication – to include speaking, written communication, body language, and listening
  • Leadership – it will be a process to build this skill. Leadership might include leading a small team on a project or pulling a team together to get a critical task completed.  As you gain more experience and you have success with leading smaller projects, your supervisors will give you exponentially bigger and bigger projects.  How do you interact with your team in team meeting, are you a good team builder, can you manage virtual teams?
  • Work ethic – are you a self-starter? When you know the next step to take, do you wait or do you jump on it? If you were told to do three things, but you can clearly see four things are necessary, do you take on the fourth as well?  As a leader – this is the absolute biggest let down for me, when one of my team members is intelligent to know the next step, especially when it is obvious, and they only do exactly what is asked of them.  I expect more out of people and you should expect more out of yourself.
  • Dealing with people – this could include conflict resolution, dealing with mean girls in the workplace, making sure YOU are not one of the mean girls, and generally how you navigate office politics.
  • How you handle yourself personally, your emotional intelligence, how you accept feedback, how you manage your stress, your nervousness, your attitude, and how well you adjust to a changing environment.
  • Problem solving and critical thinking
  • Professional skills, such as time management, organizing, scheduling, process improvement, customer service, etc.

Focus on the contribution YOU can make on day one!

Focus less on why employers should be so impressed with your credentials and more on how you can use your talent and skills to make a contribution to the employer’s bottom line or the department’s group effort. Be sure to state in the job interview how you will make a strong contribution. Once you’re hired, your new employer will be assessing your ongoing progress. Annual evaluations in the workplace are common and are directly linked to promotion.

2.  Get busy looking for first a job that fits you and also pays well enough, and THEN you can work on finding a better job, and maybe even a dream job.

  • The job market does have ups and downs and its possible that you may be entering the workplace at a time when it is very competitive. Each job opening might get hundreds of resumes. The reality is that getting that first job offer may be a very time-consuming task.  If you want to have many job offers to choose from, that is going to be exponentially more work.
  • You should not spend too much time on passive job-hunting methods, like internet postings, to find employment. The Internet is important, but do not forget about networking with family and friends, other students, professors, mentors, former co-workers and bosses. Connect with organizations that can benefit you with future networking:
  • alumni associations
  • academic clubs
  • sports teams
  • fraternities or sororities
  • professional organizations.

College Graduates won’t be hired to be the CEO, you will usually start at position suitable for someone just graduating from college.

  • The reality of transition from college life to a working professional is that most jobs available for college graduates are entry-level. These jobs often require hard work, long hours, and low pay. Employers want to see all employees start at a certain level to better understand the business or profession. Recent college graduates should not necessarily reject a job offer because they sense that it is beneath them – but be realistic in your expectations.
  • Before you go to an interview: Get as much information as you can about the company and other leadership. You can use:  public relations material (company brochures, newsletters, etc.) What the organization says about itself in print provides a good indication of its management philosophy and style. Do you have friends or associates who are current or previous employees?  They could provide insights into the inner workings of the company.
  • As we discuss often, you need to have a vision of what you want your career path to be after graduation, but even if your first job is not perfect for this vision, it is ok. You will still get experience, learn new skills, mature as a person and future leader and gain confidence.  It is common to change jobs in your first year after graduation.  After all – your first job will probably be a stepping stone and not your true calling.
  • The days of working your whole life at one company are over. The trend is for college graduates to change careers multiple times over the course of their working life. So, don’t worry if that first job is not exactly right. If you find you want something different, simply start planning so you can make the transition to something more preferable as soon as it is practical.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments and new skills so that you can update your resume and continue the search.

3.  Be prepared to negotiate for your first salary

  • Some college graduates get more than one job offer. If you do have more than one offer gives you the bonus of deciding if one, or any of them is right for you. Be prepared to negotiate the salary and any compensation or benefit package. Have a clear sense of what you want before the offer arrives or negotiations begin. A great book to read to understand HOW to negotiate is “Getting to Yes.”  You should read the book for more details, but the steps to a good negotiation from this book are:
  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on using objective criteria
  • Know your BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement). This is the most advantageous alternative course of action a party can take if negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached.

4.  It will be a demanding first year, that’s ok, you got this!

  • You may have thought it was difficult managing various classes, laboratories, tests, and other activities while in college, but it may be even more of a struggle to manage your time once you are in the professional environment. Most jobs require that employees be at work at a specific time, take lunch at a specific time, and leave work at a specific time. As a college student, your day was less structured. This can be frustrating for a new professional, and the new time structure will require an adjustment. Show up late too many times or miss too many meetings, and you’ll soon find yourself unemployed. Your future with your new employer depends on how well you can manage your time.
  • Another big adjustment will be the harsh reality of vacation time. In college, you get long winter and summer breaks. Unfortunately, most employers are not that generous with time off. You will probably get two weeks of vacation in your first job, and you can expect it to take years before you accrue vacation time at a higher rate. Furthermore, because you are one of the newest employees, you may not have much choice as to when you can take your vacation.

5.  Prepare to go forward with a professional demeanor and positive attitude

  • In the workplace, acting unprofessionally can get you fired. Your employers and co-workers will judge evaluate you on your speech, attire, behavior, and motivation. It is up to you to show them that you are intelligent, articulate, and professional.
  • To succeed, you must be seen as a dependable member of a team that can be relied on. Deadlines are critical, much more so than in college. Identify a supportive mentor who can show you the ropes and steer you in a direction that will enhance your long-term career goals. Professionalism also encompasses motivation, initiative, and being a self-starter. Staying organized and managing your time will be critical.
  • Employers are looking for entry-level workers who not only have aptitude, but who also display enthusiasm, excitement, and drive. A new employee may be looked upon to bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to the team. 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.

6.  Say goodbye to college with class

  • As your final year winds down, it’s easy to lose focus and dream of the fun stuff associated with graduation and life beyond. As important as your final days on campus may be, it’s just as important to take care of business before you receive that diploma.
  • You should already be facing the demands of job-hunting and interviewing. Gather written references from professors, campus employers, career counselors, internship mentors, and any coaches or leaders of academic clubs. It’s better to do this now while they still remember you. If you think you may need another letter of recommendation in a few months, talk to them now. Whatever they can say favorably about your character, communication skills, academic proficiency, or motivation can be a part of your developing resume. These are the positive attributes that employers look for when hiring employees.
  • 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.


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