You’ve completed all the required coursework, amassed a crazy amount of knowledge, and earned a pristine new diploma, but did those new letters behind your name really prepare you to enter the real world?
Unfortunately, the typical university doesn’t offer courses in getting a promotion, working with a difficult boss, and navigating the office setting. Even if your college years did teach you how to juggle multiple projects, manage your time, and create a sweet Excel model—all workplace essentials—the real world is full of many more surprises that you won’t figure out until you get there.
Here’s a crash course in the job skills that professors really can’t teach you and—more importantly—how to learn them before your first day of work.
1. Working with People
Sure, you’ve had countless group projects to complete and encountered quite a few different personalities in the process, so what else could you need to prepare for? Believe it or not, even more personalities.
You’ll need to learn how to deal with the subtle social aspects of your office culture and the people who make it that way: the receptionist who will appreciate a hello in the morning, the colleague who takes offense to too many questions, and the manager who shoots your ideas down every single time. You won’t just be working with your peers any more, you’ll need to understand how people from all generations and backgrounds operate.
Plus, your group won’t dissolve at the end of the semester—it will be there, day after day, year after year, so no matter what, you’ll need to get along with them.
If you were an athlete or had classes that graded on a curve, you’re probably used to pretty fierce competition. The cubicle world’s got nothing on the soccer field, right?
Wrong. When money and career advancement are on the line, it can be taken to a whole new extreme. Whether it’s for clients, promotions, or just being the boss’ go-to person, be prepared for people to push and compete like you’ve never seen before—and be ready to have to push and compete right along with them.
Unfortunately, it’s not typical for jobs to let you choose your schedule, which means you’ll have to be on time every single day—oversleeping has many more repercussions than a dirty look from your professor. Your new responsibilities will extend far beyond those early mornings, too. You’ll be accountable (solely, in some cases) for work, projects, meetings, and many, many emails. If you miss one of these or mess something up, you won’t just get a bad grade that can be made up for later with extra credit. Your work affects others, and it affects a business.
Giving a presentation in front of a class can help give you some public-speaking practice, but learning how to present effectively in front of a boss or client is something else entirely. You’ll need to learn how to sell an idea, not just explain it. And while you’re doing so, you’ll need to dodge questions, interruptions, and differences in opinion, all the while keeping your cool and being able to pick up where you left off without skipping a beat.
5. Handling Feedback
If you got a B on a paper, you might be ecstatic—especially if it was a tough topic and if the professor is known for his harsh grading. However, in the business world, a B just means that you should have gotten an A. In fact, you won’t even be told that you got a B. You’ll have to listen to the feedback you’re given, figure out what it really means, and constantly make the effort to do better next time.
On the flip side, when you do an exceptional job at work, you don’t get the satisfaction of that extra + on top of the A. Instead, you may get nothing at all, or you may have to wait the better part of the year to find out if you got that promotion. Dealing with feedback—and sometimes the lack of it—means adjusting to a whole new way of being evaluated.
So, how should you get yourself ready for this world of the unknown? You can’t know everything about a workplace until you get in there and get your feet wet, but learning some of these skills and lessons before you start your first job will prepare you and help you excel much more quickly.
Try to incorporate yourself into as many office settings as possible prior to graduation—navigating a full-time job will come much more naturally if you’ve had even a little work experience. Get an internship, a part-time job, or even volunteer.
You can also take specialized classes on business and business etiquette. But to really prepare yourself, don’t just listen to the teacher. Look at each class discussion or case study logically, and ask yourself how you would handle it in real life.
Finally, talk to as many people as possible, and try to find a professional mentor. Someone you admire and who has real-world experience can prepare you for an office environment and help you navigate new situations you encounter.
With some experience, knowledge, and an appropriate thought process, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running and navigate all the new situations that come your way.