From Student to Employee: How Work is Different From School

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

You may well be completely unprepared because work is very different from school. Here are nine ways things are different.

College is supposed to prepare you for work. Well, not really.

It was originally designed to broaden your minds and blah, blah, blah, but it's a necessary step on a path to most white collar jobs.

So congratulations on that degree.

And now it's time to get to work. You may well be completely unprepared because work is very different from school.

Here are nine ways things are different.

1. You Need Permission to Skip Work

I remember the feeling of freedom that came from realizing that no one was going to call my parents, and the professor wouldn't even notice if I skipped Physical Science 100.

So, I wouldn't go to class, but instead meet up with my other goody-two-shoes high school friend and we would revel in our newfound freedom and go buy donuts instead of sitting in a boring class. Not surprisingly, this wasn't my best grade. 

In the workplace, people will notice if you're not there and even if you're late. Sure, some companies have great flexibility, but you need to earn that right by being awesome. Clear it with your boss if you're not going to be there, or even if you'll be late until your boss makes it clear that you don't need to do that. This may never happen.

Related Article:Comparing Candidates: Should You Hire Experienced Workers or Recent College Graduates?

2. Deadlines Aren't Arbitrary

In school, deadlines are chosen because of semester end dates and the professor's schedule, but it doesn't matter in the eternal scheme of things whether a paper is turned in on Monday or Tuesday, and if you're sick your professor probably gave you an extension.

In the world of work, deadlines exist because someone else needs whatever work you're doing. If you miss your deadline, they miss theirs, and it is unpleasant. Your deadline won't change even if you get sick (although someone else may help you finish it up).

3. You Don't Get Nearly as Much Feedback

Some classes have daily quizzes to check your progress. At a minimum you have a midterm and a final exam or a paper that spell out precisely how you've done. The working world isn't like that. You don't get a specific grade on a presentation you made, and no one monitors (or rather, no one should monitor) every little thing that you do.

As a result, you can be left feeling like you don't know if you're succeeding or failing. You should be having regular contact with your direct boss, and if you're not, ask for more one-on-one time. Ask how you're doing. Otherwise, you might only get an annual review.

4. Your Contacts Are More Diverse Than Before

Sure, your college may have made sure to have people from every ethnic background they could, but almost everyone you've had contact with has been either a professor, who was not an equal, or a fellow student who was the same age as you were and who chose the college for the same reasons you did.

In the workplace, you'll work closely with people who are older than you, and eventually, younger than you. Your first boss is likely to be older than you, but your second or third might not be. You'll find that people who are in different phases of life are a lot more diverse than you're used to. 

Related Article:Why It's Okay to Skip Grad School and Start Your Own Business

5. Nobody Wants to Hear Your Little Complaints

If someone says to you, "if you don't have sex with me, you're fired," HR wants to know about it immediately. If someone asks you where you're from, it's not racial discrimination, and HR will not be amused if you complain and you'll get labeled as a whiner.

Colleges have been in the news lately with protests, and safe spaces, and all that. Businesses comply with the law, but what you may have experienced in college is not what you should expect. Toughen yourself up.

6. No More Long Vacations

In school, you get two-three-four weeks off at Christmas, a spring break, and a whole summer to work or travel Europe (depending on your parents' bank account). A lot of entry-level jobs come with two weeks, or even less, vacation. Other than that, you're expected to be into work every day, rain or shine. 

7. Nobody Maps Out Your Life for You

In school, you had an advisor who sat down with you and helped you map out your coursework so that you could graduate. Now? If you want to get that promotion, there's no one dedicated to helping you get there. You'll have to figure out that pathway yourself. Find a mentor who can help you, and often a boss is willing to do that, but not at the expense of the current work. Your current work will be the priority over the preparation for the job you want next.

8. Money, Money, Money

If you're like most people, you made it through college with a mix of grants, loans, parental help, and part-time jobs. This means money coming from a bunch of different sources, and sometimes it came in huge chunks, like grants or loans. Now, unless you keep a part time job or a self-employed side gig, all your money comes from one source, and it comes in smaller pieces.

Granted, the money comes regularly, and you can count on it (mostly), but that means there's no big infusion of cash. You need to get used to budgeting and saving for large purchases. Avoid debt like the plague. Yes, you'll have another paycheck next week, but don't put something on your credit card in anticipation of that. Get the money first, then buy it.

Related Article:The 5 Most Successful College Majors and Why Your Company Should Hire Them

9. the Role of Friends Change

Some people make life-long friends in the office, and that's great. However, don't treat your new colleagues like you did the people on your dorm floors. Be cautious about sharing information about your private life. You don't want to overshare. Additionally, you and all your friends could get an A in Econ 310, but only one of the people on your team gets the best project or the promotion.

This means there is a lot of competition going on when you're used to everyone working together. And your old friends? They will be busy with their new jobs. People will start paring off, marrying, and reproducing. This means you won't be spending as much time just hanging out as you used to.

Congratulations on landing that first "real" job. It will be a bit of a transition, but you'll adjust just fine.

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