A family friend of mine recently graduated from college and it got me thinking about my own transition from college life to the business world. Moving from a life of sleeping late, summers off, and outlandish parties to a more professional existence can be filled with hazards and hard lessons to learn. I decided to jot down a few tips about the transition from college to the business world.
1. Learn how to dress.
I'm sorry, but I don't care if you're an engineer or an executive how you dress is a reflection of who you are. Find out what your boss wears and emulate him. Don't worry about your co-workers. Your goal is to beat them out for promotions and raises. If you want a promotion then dress the part. If you're ever in doubt dress up.
2. No one ever notices if you're early, but they always remember when you stay late.
The business world is very macho and one of the things people will brag about is how late they stay at the office. Don't worry about the fact that these same people stroll into the office at 10:30 every morning, they stay late and so should you. Staying later makes you look like a harder worker. You're "burning the midnight oil". Also, executives are rarely in early so if you arrive by the crack of dawn no one will be around to see it. If you have the luxury, adjust your work schedule so you work later and can join the good ol' boys club that convenes every day after 5:30.
3. Manage your image.
Remember that awesome picture on your MySpace profile of you upside down slamming 4 beers in a beer bong? Well guess what? So does your next employer. Search for yourself on Google, Yahoo, etc and see what pages exist out there about you. If you find something that could harm your professional image get rid of it immediately. If you can find it then others can too. If you don't control the page, ask the person who does to remove the reference. If they won't, offer to pay for their trouble. A hundred bucks is a small price to pay for your reputation.
4. Get a new car.
Okay, so your 96 Corvette is fast, but at some point one of your business associates is going to have to ride in that car. Clear out your dirty laundry and discarded Taco Bell wrappers. If you can afford it, buy something fairly new and keep it in good condition. You don't want the boss reading your "I Got Slammed in Amsterdam" bumper sticker on his way into the office from the parking garage. Get a nice ride and keep it nice.
5. Read, read, read.
So you've graduated high in your class and you've mastered everything that's been put in front of you. Congratulations, you've just started. The industry you'll be working in is a microcosm with it's own celebrities, customs and lingo. Read every blog, trade mag, and news site you can about your industry. You'll have a better point of reference for the responsibilities of your new job and you'll be much better equipped to communicate with people in your industry.
6. Pay your off your credit cards every month.
Besides just being plain old smart, paying off your credit cards will help you avoid embarrassing business lunches with a rejected card. This will also help to keep your debt low and allow you to save money and invest. If you're sound with your own money then other people may trust you with theirs. Keep your credit in line and increase your chances for professional success.
7. Leave your politics and religion at home.
I know you had fun reducing your carbon footprint your senior year by protesting pants, but your co-workers don't care. Everyone at your new job is there for very serious reasons. They all have to pay bills, feed kids, and save for their retirement. Everyone wants to coexist with the least amount of drama and friction. If you walk around preaching about Scientology and asking people to sign your petition to end the war you may be endangering your job. Wait for the weekend or after work to start your crusade. If you are going to be political or religious make sure anything published on the web about you and your cause is kind to your reputation.
8. Work sick, but not if you're contagious.
Remember that part in the "Pursuit of Happyness" where Will Smith gets hit by a car and still goes to work? Do that. That exact same thing happened to me and after a quick trip to the hospital and some x rays I went back into the office. The amount of respect I received from that one little act was immeasurable. Show your boss how committed you are and cruise into work regardless of that nagging hang nail.
On the other hand, if you're hacking up green phlegm so much you look like you're possessed it may be a better idea to stay home. If you're forced into taking a sick day make sure you work from home and send emails to everyone so they know you're not sitting there catching up on soap operas.
9. Forget the words "I should get", "I deserve", and "I'm entitled".
You're not in the academic world any more. Tenure doesn't mean anything and no one is politically correct. What you get and what you deserve is tied directly to your value as an employee. If you have the opportunity to expand your duties, take it! Don't worry about whether you're paid at the right level for those responsibilities. This may be a test by your boss to see if you would be a good candidate for something more advanced. Additional duties also teach you new skills which will be very valuable to your career later in life. Prove your worth with exceptional work and avoid long winded emails about how everyone should get free sodas from the soda machine. No one cares.
10. Work for a small company at least once.
So you got that job at Dell answering tech support calls. Good for you! Unfortunately your career path at Dell is answering phones, hoping to get promoted to manage people who answer phones, and then maybe one day managing people who manage people who answer phones. Large corporations tend to pigeon hole you into one skill set. You'll have few opportunities to try out other challenges. Combine this with the fact that you have a whole host of people above you keeping you from advancing and you can see why this can be frustrating.
Work for a small company and expand your opportunities to try out new things. The experience you gain by having the opportunity to try on many different hats will be priceless. You'll have a much better perspective on how business is done and you'll have more opportunity to prove your worth.
Transitioning from college life to the business world can be a fun and exciting time in your life, but with a little proper planning you can get a leg up on other recent grads in the race to get ahead.