It’s been a long time since I made the transition from college senior to workforce freshman. It wasn’t the easiest change, especially since I relocated about 125 miles from home, from the heart of a big city to a rural New England outpost; from the comfort of my childhood home to my own apartment; from hanging around my teenage and college friends to a place where I knew no one.
Two years later, when I left that job, I came away a different – and better – person. To put it in academic terms, I earned a master’s degree in life studies. The big lesson I picked up during that time of “study” was that no matter your education level, wisdom comes from life experience and not from what you learn in the classroom.
If you’re making the transition into the full-time workforce, here are three things to keep in mind:
- Your long-term goals may change as you gain real-world knowledge.
We learn something from every job experience, but the first job after college can go a long way toward figuring out your long-term career goals. If, for example, you’re starting out as a teacher, yet hope to become a school principal eventually, use your first teaching job to help determine whether you keep or alter your goal. Examine if you have the stomach to handle certain situations, such as an irate parent who wants to know why his son got such a low grade on a test, and try to determine if it’s something you foresee yourself doing long term, or if it makes you feel uneasy enough to consider taking your career in a different direction. Also, observe how administrators at your school do their work; get to know them and notice how their personality traits help them do their jobs effectively – or not.
After my first job, my long-term career goal did, in fact, change. It changed again after the second and third jobs, too.
- Practice silence or diplomacy when you disagree with management.
Got a beef with your boss? Keep it to yourself. You never know who’s listening and whether they might relay that information back to the boss. Even if your boss is open to criticism, be professional when discussing the issue. Let the experience teach you what personality traits you like in a boss, even if what you’re seeing is the polar opposite of “nice” or “cool.” Use this knowledge as a guide when you decide what to look for in your second job.
- Live within your means.
Chances are your first job won’t make you rich beyond your dreams. More likely, you’ll struggle financially, as I did. For example, in one of those first two years, when my bank account was low, I was ecstatic to receive a federal income tax refund, only to watch it disappear a week later when my car needed a new exhaust system. Then, of course, I also had to make that monthly college loan payment, plus the rent and utilities, and pay for gas and food. Stick to a budget and save 10% of your paycheck when you deposit it. Don’t touch it and live with what’s left. Good rule of thumb: Don’t let your rent and utilities – usually your largest expense – exceed 25 to 30% of your gross income. Learning financial discipline now can carry you well into the future.
The transition from college to the workforce might be the most challenging journey you’ll ever make. But the learning doesn’t stop with your last college class. You’ll be entering a different world, which will teach you lessons you didn’t learn in school. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s fine, as long as you learn from them. That’s just part of the curriculum for your master’s degree in life studies.
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Thanks to Pongo Resume for their guest post on our blog!