How to prepare for workplace professionalism starting in college

By Aminah Koshul

Transitioning from an academic setting to the workplace is an inevitable lifestyle change that students may initially find challenging.

Experiences that enrich college careers, such as interning or studying abroad, can help ease the transition. In addition, building connections with people from diverse backgrounds serves as preparation for entering the workforce.

“Start developing professional relationships with individuals at least one generation older than you,” said Malcolm Jamal, academic adviser in global studies.ss

This helps bring to the table a different set of experiences and builds a platform that facilitates networking.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s unacceptable to exclusively contact people for favors, such as for a letter of recommendation or a reference. Jamal suggests checking in with people or staying informed about their accomplishments and congratulating them as a means of keeping regular contact.

In addition, most jobs require that employees become accustomed to working with each other. Whereas the academic setting may require the occasional group project, professional careers entail daily interaction with multiple personalities, ranging from colleagues to supervisors.

Kathleen Keane, senior in AHS, said there is more pressure in a work environment than in the classroom.ss

“In class, you work towards a personal goal, but with a job you have supervisors relying on you and specific duties to complete,” she said. “Overall, you experience a stronger sense of obligation.”

Similarly, one of the most common challenges new hires face during the transition is the rigidity of their schedules. Lauren Stites, senior assistant director of Engineering Career Services, explained that a student’s schedule offers much more variety and flexibility than the traditional 9-to-5 job.ss

In fact, there are numerous aspects of the academic setting that students erroneously expect will carry over to the workplace. For instance, because students are accustomed to being evaluated regularly based on their grades, they are inclined to seek the same quality and quantity of feedback from employers when they start working. However, it should be understood that employers may only offer yearly reviews.

“It’s important to manage your expectations; promotion after a year of work is unrealistic,” Stites said. “Our track of advancement doesn’t always happen as quickly as we hope it would.”

It’s equally as important to handle criticism in a positive way, because making mistakes is part of the learning process.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Speak with mentors to put things in perspective for the long term and really focus on the things that you learned by making those mistakes,” Jamal said.

He also advised that because clothing plays an instrumental role in how individuals choose to brand themselves, students should view everything — from interviews to internships — as opportunities to start wearing professional business attire.

“You can never get a first impression back,” Stites said.

Both Stites and Jamal also encouraged students to apply for summer internships between January and mid-March.

“Companies use internship candidate pools as pipelines to full-time hires,” Stites explained.

Internships are also beneficial to job seekers in that they are a way to gain experience, and they allow potential applicants to dabble in the work environment before committing to it fully.

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