Moving from College Into Career: Is Your Student Career Ready?

Remember four years ago when you may have wondered whether your student was ready with the necessary skills for college? Wondered whether they realized how different college would be from high school? Now, as your student graduates from college you may have similar concerns. Is your graduate ready for a career?

Being career-ready is more than simply learning academic and/or technical skills. It includes understanding the world you are about to enter.

Does my student have an accurate picture?

The transition from college into a career is a big one, but students may not be sure how the workplace will be different. School has been your student’s world for the past 16+ years and it is the world they know.

One indication that students may not have as clear a picture of the career world as we think may be their salary and job search expectations. A recent Salary Expectations Survey of 1000 undergraduates conducted by Real Estate Witch showed that student expectations may not match reality.

  • 61% of those surveyed think they don’t need to build their resume because their degree alone will be enough to impress employers.
  • 61%+ believe they won’t have to work entry-level jobs because employers will see their potential and offer them senior-level positions right away.
  • Respondents said they expected to earn a salary of approximately $103,880 in their first job. (According to ThinkImpact analysts, the average salary for a college graduate is $55,260.)

What are the differences between college and career?

Helping your student understand some of the differences (and a few of the similarities) between their college life and their potential work life will help them prepare to enter this new phase. These differences may seem obvious to those of us with years of experience, and to some students, but some students may need a reminder.

  • Dress code – This depends on the job, of course, but while coming to class in your dorm pajamas and a baseball cap may be OK, even casual workplaces expect more. It’s always good advice to “dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have.”
  • Laptops and phone – This one depends on past classroom policy and new workplace policy. In many classes, students spend time scrolling on their laptops or phones and the professor may not care – even if it is obvious. When your student attends a business meeting, the expectation is likely to be different. Laptops may certainly be part of the experience (your student should check), but obvious inattention or scrolling is probably going to be frowned upon.
  • Attendance policy – Some professors don’t care whether you come to class or not as long as you get your work done or pass the exam. Unless they are working remotely or the company has a stated “out of office” policy, your student needs to remember that they will be expected to show up for work – on time – if they expect to get a paycheck.
  • Flexible deadlines and do-overs – The majority of classroom assignments have a deadline, but that is often ignored or negotiable. A late assignment might lose a few points, but still be accepted. And if the draft is incomplete or needs to be edited, many professors will give students a chance to resubmit. When the manager or boss asks for a report, the deadline is usually firm – and unless the boss asks for an early draft, they expect a polished product. There may be few second chances.
  • Email etiquette – Student emails are often very casual. Most professors can tell tales of the “Hey prof” email or the emails full of “textspeak” or typos. Although some workplaces may use email casually, it is best for students to plan to use email professionally.
  • Initiative and productivity – Students are used to being told what to do. They receive detailed assignments with expectations clearly spelled out and often a grading rubric attached. It is clear what the student needs to do to receive a “good grade.” Work assignments may often be self-initiated or more broadly explained and the employee is expected to know when it is “good enough” to deliver. An employee is often judged on productivity and the quality of the product produced. It is no longer about what is learned, how much time it took, or whether it meets minimum standards. The product is expected to be carefully completed, on time, and meet or exceed expectations.
  • Feedback – Students are used to constant feedback in the form of grades – on tests, on assignments, in courses. They are used to knowing exactly how they are doing. Some managers are better than others at giving feedback, but a new employee may not receive direct feedback until an annual performance review. They will be responsible for judging their own work objectively and asking for feedback or help when needed.
  • Long breaks – Academic life has a rhythm. The academic year is divided into semesters or terms, usually with a clean slate of new classes and new professors each term. Students have a long(ish) winter break, a spring break and a long summer break. Your newly employed student will need to adjust to the same work all year and a set amount of vacation days (often 2-4 weeks in a new job.)
  • Freshman all over again (sort of) – Your student worked their way up the ladder from freshman to senior. Now they need to remember, with humility, that they are a freshman all over again – starting at the bottom of the ladder. Straight from college, with lots of new knowledge, it may be difficult for your student to listen to and defer to those with more experience.
  • Flying solo – Your newly employed student may also find they are the only new employee or one of only a few new employees, so finding a peer group and forming new friendships may take more work.

Is anything the same as college?

There are a few things that your student probably already knows and will want to continue.

  • Integrity and honesty matter – Just as your student needed to be careful about academic integrity and plagiarism in school, it matters (perhaps even more) in the workplace. Being honest, acknowledging sources of material and crediting others’ ideas is essential. Not doing so can mean you’re out of a job.
  • Collaboration matters – Students often dislike groupwork and are anxious to be done with school so they will no longer need to participate in group assignments. However, collaboration and committee work is increasingly common in most workplaces. Communicating with others and sharing information and efforts will help your new employee advance more quickly.
  • There will be homework. Employees who want to advance rarely work only the required number of hours. Working extra hours, going above and beyond what is expected, attending conferences, webinars and trainings, and reading journals or articles about the latest developments in the field will help your student move forward.

And then there’s life . . .

If all of the workplace transition isn’t enough, your newly employed student may also be juggling all of the changes of life beyond college. They will need to master paying rent, buying and cooking meals, commuting/parking, budgeting, and managing life without the built in friends and free activities and entertainment of college.

There’s a lot to think about. As monumental as the adjustment to college may have felt, it was essentially just another type of school. Now, your student moves to a whole new world and may not know what they don’t know. Help them bridge the gap by helping them anticipate how different and life will be – and how exciting the road ahead can be, too!

Related articles:

What Matters for Your Student’s Career?

What Your College Student May Be Looking For in a Job

College Parents’ Role in the Job or Internship Hunt


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