Professional Development

How to Transition From College to Your Career

If you think finals week is hard, just wait until the post-grad struggles.


Here are 6 things you need to know when transitioning from college to your career

  • It might be harder to find a job than you think
  • Most college grads start at entry level jobs – and that’s OK!
  • You’ll need to learn how to manage your time
  • Being professional doesn’t just mean wearing a suit and tie
  • You won’t know everything before walking into your first job
  • Learning to be humble is a huge advantage

It’s getting closer and closer. You know it’s coming but you’re not sure if you’re prepared or what to expect. You’ve been good at juggling studying, writing papers, taking exams, partying and having a social life during college. Are you ready to tackle life after college? Are you ready to be a productive full-time employee and not just a full-time student anymore?

The transition from college to career can be a stressful time if you’re not prepared. To help you in this time of transition, here are 6 challenges most college students face as they start to make the transition from college to career.

It might be harder to find a job than you think

The economy is doing pretty well, at the current time of writing, and the job prospects for college graduates are fairly good. However, it’s still going to be harder and take more time than you think. That’s why the time for preparing yourself for the job search and life after graduation isn’t your final semester of college. You should have been thinking about life after college by the end of your second year (if not sooner).

Taking classes that make sense for your career choice, taking on internships, building public speaking, networking and leadership skills are all part of the college experience beyond just the classwork. Making yourself and your experience stand out is the key. How is an employer going to choose you from 100’s of resumes that all look the same?

One of the bigger misconceptions is that a job search can be done solely on the Internet. A good deal of your time and efforts should be on networking, especially with other students and alumni. While using LinkedIn is great as a way to connect, follow up and getting to know the connection is the key.

  • Get out to local and industry-specific events.
  • Invite those in your network to conduct an informational interview.
  • Ask your network if there are opportunities at their place of employment for entry-level positions.
  • Get involved in campus organizations that can help uncover available jobs.
  • Organizations like Beta Alpha Psi or Women in Business are good ones to check out.

Understanding that most jobs for college grads are entry-level jobs

This may be hard to believe but it’s true – a large number of the jobs available to college grads are entry-level jobs. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad jobs – just jobs that will typically start with lower pay and less responsibilities.

It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to come out of college and enter the workforce making a salary similar to your parents, older siblings or others who have been in the workforce longer. Of course, there are exceptions based on your degree and area of study but the exception is not the rule.

Most employers want to see employees start at a certain entry level to gain a better understanding of the business and the industry. You’ll want to do some research on the company and see what the typical career path might look like.

Keep in mind that you won’t be in that entry-level job forever. If you do well, you will move on to something better. If you don’t do well, you will be asked to move on from the organization. That’s how most organizations work.

Can you learn to manage your time differently?

Being a college student is different from being a full-time employee. When you’re a student, you can control your schedule to a certain degree to build in days where you don’t have class or scheduling classes later in the morning so you can sleep in.

Most college graduates start jobs where they have to be at work 5 days a week for at least 8 hours. That is a drastic change from the student life. And, it’s really tough to blow off a day of work because you over slept or were hung over. If that becomes routine, your employment will end.

Learning to manage your social life and calendar is a skill you will also need to master. People’s lives tend to become more time-constrained after graduation and scheduling time for lunch, dinner or a night at the movies can be more difficult. Having less time off can be problematic as well.

The opportunity for long weekends, spring breaks and summer holidays is often not there for those in the first few years of their post-college career. Learning to manage your time so that you aren’t trying to get everything done on the weekend is a skill worth having.

Are you able to be professional?

Things are definitely different in the workplace than on a college campus. Adhering to deadlines, being accountable for your time and work quality, and being dependable are qualities most employers value. Sometimes it takes awhile to learn these skills after graduation. But, learn them you must.

If you aren’t able to get your work done on time, attend meetings on time or even show up on time, your time with your employer will come to a not so pleasant end. There are real consequences to missed deadlines and very rarely is there partial credit given.

Learning to be professional means learning to be accountable, learning to be productive and working well in collaborative situations. Can you play nice on the playground? Yes, you will even be asked to work closely with people you may not like. There’s a reason you did so many group projects in college, you will have even more team-based projects in your career.

You’re not ready for everything that will be thrown at you after graduation.

College is a place to learn concepts and theories and how to approach problem solving in a certain way. It’s a place to start to learn how to be independent and take care of yourself.

Unfortunately, many of the challenges you face in your career aren’t covered in college. Sure, if you’re an accounting major you will certainly know your debits and credits but you won’t know how to categorize all of the things you’ll come across. Nor should you.

That’s why it’s important to find a job where you’ll have a good mentor and quality training. However, you will be expected to solve problems and contribute to the teams you’re on and you’ll be expected to come prepared for meetings and presentations.

Unlike college, in the workplace you encounter different types of people you may not have to interact with on campus. You will have co-workers that are older than you, more skilled than you, at different stages of their life and career than you.

Learning how to effectively deal with individuals who have children, who are divorced, who have different political beliefs, and unhappy and unproductive individuals is a skill that college doesn’t necessarily prepare you for. The basic interaction skills are important. It’s hard to hide behind texts and instant messaging at work.

You will have a learning curve outside of the workplace as well. Learning the ins and outs of personal finance, budgeting, networking, health benefits and retirement options is something you will need to do. You might even find yourself having to learn how to navigate a new and unfamiliar city.

Learning to be humble

In many cases, college grads learn pretty quickly that once you have the job no one cares too much about your GPA or what school you went to. Sure, the GPA and the name on your diploma can help open doors but once you start the job, you’re just another employee there to fill a role.

Learning the company, the industry and how your role fits in is important. Individuals that learn how to use their education and talent to make the company more successful are those who get rewarded. At that point it really doesn’t matter what school you went to.

Remember, most everyone you interact with will be a college graduate too. You might even have a boss that you feel has an “inferior” education to yours. The education isn’t what is going to make you stand out; your attitude and aptitude are what make you stand out.

Learning to thrive in a collaborative environment, asking questions, taking on challenges and responsibilities and sharing credit for success (and failure) will help you succeed. Understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know, and you have a lot to learn is a good place to start. Going about the learning process is key to starting your career on the right foot.

Final Thoughts

Transitioning from the college lifestyle to a full-time career can be stressful. But, it doesn’t have to be. Those who have made the transition successfully are those that have stayed humble and learned to manage their time, stay on track with goals and assignments, and integrate themselves into the organizational structure.

Tim Allen is an experienced professional services marketing professional with broad experience in strategy creation, branding and business development. Mr. Allen has held top marketing positions in both large, national CPA firms as well as smaller, regional firms where he has been instrumental in creating and implementing a firm-wide marketing culture. He has written and presented extensively on the intricacies of services marketing and is currently writing his first book on the transition from college to career and creating your personal brand for the millennial generation.

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