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College to Career Transitioning: 8 Critical Factors to Consider for Success

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Many college students experience a gap between graduation and landing their first job.

While this is a challenging situation, there are proven strategies for adjusting to this time.

Perhaps you’re on the verge of graduating college or a recent college graduate; learning about the transition from college to career might benefit you.

This article discusses transitioning from college to the workplace by explaining eight critical challenges you’ll encounter beforehand to prepare you for a smooth college-to-career transition.    

For many seniors, the time leading up to college graduation and landing a first job is often chaotic.

This is because you are trying to complete your college career while dealing with the demands of job-hunting, interviewing, and facing the reality of graduation.

With our extensive interviews with college seniors and recent college graduates, we identified eight issues repeatedly arising when making a successful transition from life as a student to life as a productive employee.

Keeping abreast of these issues and being prepared for them before they happen should help you make a seamless transition.  

Without much ado, let’s dive into a reality check using these eight critical challenges you’ll encounter.

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8 Critical Challenges You’ll Face When Transitioning from College to Career

1. Time Constraints

Some students are skilled at planning their college schedules, so they have only afternoon classes or classes on certain days of the week.

This category of students finds it difficult to face the reality of going to work every day, from as early as 6 or 7 in the morning to 6 or 7 in the evening.

And it’s not like the 8 a.m. class you often skipped when you hit the snooze button too many times on your alarm clock.

In this case, you show up late once too many times, and you’ll find yourself fired.

Another time-constraint reality is free time and vacation time.

In college, you get used to taking long weekends away from campus — on top of highly long winter and summer breaks.

Most colleges also have mid-semester breaks. Unfortunately, most employers are not that generous with time off.

You may be lucky to get two weeks of vacation in your first job – but even with those two weeks, because you are one of the newest employees, you may not have much choice regarding when you can take your vacation.

Another critical time factor is time management.

You may have thought managing various group projects, tests, and other activities while in college was challenging.

Still, it will be even more of a struggle to manage your time once you are working — and your future with your employer depends on how well you can manage your time.

“There is a huge difference in time management when you have to work 40+ hours and try to have a life on the side,” a general-business grad told us.

“I find myself scheduling dinner with people for weeks in advance. College didn’t teach me working 40 hours. College didn’t teach me a bedtime… but those are all things you learn with necessity. If I had worked during my college career, I would have learned that.”

On the other hand, some students worked so hard in college that they find the working world — where homework is not necessarily required — a welcome relief.

“I was very busy in college,” said Anne Johnson, senior corporate relations coordinator for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “so when I started working full-time, without homework and studying, I felt I had a lot of free time.”

“I tell people that I have had more fun since graduating college than I did in all four years. I have gotten involved in many activities, too,” said Johnson, an economics grad from the University of Dallas.

Your college experience may even have helped you learn to manage your time.

“While I was in school, I was used to managing a full-course load while participating in a variety of extracurricular activities,” a recent grad told us, adding…

“Someone once told me that being busy is not an excuse for neglecting your personal life because everyone is busy. I have tried to follow this thought, and it seems to work the majority of the time.”  

2. Workplace Professionalism

We all know college is a rite of passage, a time to try different things and be a little crazy or irresponsible.

In college, acting unprofessional might result in a bad grade or a lecture from an administrator or professor.

However, in the workplace, acting unprofessionally can relieve you of your job.

“Getting the wrong answer means more than just a poor grade,” a recent business school graduate affirmed.

Professionalism deals with dependability and being a self-starter.

“There are some things that you just have to figure out or experience on your own. That’s called personal accountability,” a business-school grad told us.

“A graduate will never have all the answers, and rightfully so. You should always have the zeal to seek out new knowledge and learn from your mistakes. That is what creates uniqueness and personal character.”

To succeed, you must be seen as a team member that can be relied on to do your job.

Deadlines are critical, much more so than in college.

While you might have been able to convince your professor to give you an extension, you’ll find in most fast-paced business environments; missing deadlines is entirely unacceptable.

You might like: How to Get an Internship in College When You Don’t Know Anybody

3. A Job or True Calling?

While it helps to have a solid vision of what you want your career path to be after graduation, don’t panic if your first job after graduation does not perfectly fit your plan.

Many college grads switch jobs after their first year out; sometimes, it takes a long time to fully understand who you are and what you want to do with your life.

For others, this understanding might not come until even later in life.

Another misconception among college seniors and recent grads is that your college degree dictates the types of jobs you can work.

While there are some specialized fields, such as engineering, where you need to have a degree, the vast majority of jobs in business require a college degree.

So, focus your job search not on the jobs you feel you must apply for but on the types of jobs you aspire to and desire.

Finally, all the statistics show that students graduating from college today will change careers, not just jobs- multiple times throughout their working life.

So, don’t fret if that first job is not the perfect fit for you, but do start planning so you can make the transition to something better down the road.

Keep track of your accomplishments and develop an awareness of the transferable skills you develop in your early jobs to enable you apply for better jobs.  

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4. College Does Not Give You Full Preparation

One of the most overwhelming challenges we hear from recent grads is that college did not prepare them for many of the challenges they faced as they transitioned from college to career.

Many recent grads say they were unprepared for:

  • The emphasis placed on teamwork skills
  • The importance of dealing with all types of people and personalities
  • Personal finance issues and budgeting
  • Living on your own – or having to move back with your family
  • Balancing work demands with family/friends/personal life
  • Job-hunting skills, especially networking, interviewing, and salary negotiation

You can better prepare for some of these issues by meeting with a career professional in your college’s career services office. 

CEOMichaelHR career advice blog also offers articles and other resources on various topics. 

5. Finding Employment Probably Won’t Be Easy

The harsh reality is that finding employment probably won’t be easy, perhaps due to today’s college students growing to adulthood in a period of unsurpassed prosperity and growth during the Trump Administration.

Obtaining a job offer is very time-consuming and a lot of work, and it’s even harder to get the ideal scenario of having multiple job offers.

“One job [opening] can get hundreds of resumes,” a business-school grad observed.

“I have seen in past jobs when resumes came in, basically it was luck of the draw as to who got called in. So many people had similar skills, my employer literally went by things such as resume appearance or randomly choosing 10 out of 30 similar but great resumes. Its tough!”

As most experienced job-seekers know, you must spend days looking for employment using all available resources, tracking down all job leads, and following up on all interviews.

Generally speaking, the more quality work you put into your job search, the better your results.

Another common misconception of college students is the over-reliance on the Internet and passive job-hunting to find employment.

The Internet should receive only a tiny portion of your job-search time.

Ensure to drive most of your efforts using the traditional methods of networking – with family and friends, other students, alumni (especially recent alumni), professors, former co-workers, bosses, etc.  

6. Resist Pride

Simply possessing a college degree does not entitle you to a job, and it’s best to prepare yourself now that most employers will not be impressed with your grades or your education as you are with them.

“As a cum laude graduate, I thought I was entitled to a great job right out of college,” a marketing grad told us. “Well, after two years, with five jobs in three cities, I guess I’ve found the job I was expecting to land after graduation!”

Attending a “name” school or having an extremely high grade-point average are selling points in your favor, but not something you solely rely on to get a job.

Focus less on why employers should be so impressed with your credentials and more on how you can use your talent and initiative to contribute to the employer’s bottom line.

Ensure to tell the employer how you will make a vital contribution.

One of the reasons many career experts try to keep college graduates to a one-page resume is because there is often no need to go beyond one page, except for the student to oversell their qualifications and for the employer to be unimpressed.

7. College Grads Get Entry-Level Jobs

One of the unfortunate realities that many new grads face, especially in the imperfect job markets, is that a large number of the jobs available for college grads are, in fact, entry-level.

These jobs often require long hours, low pay, and hard work.

Some recent grads have turned up their noses at job offers because of the sense that the jobs were below them; perhaps the jobs required helping stock shelves or traveling too much.

This advice is not meant to imply that you should take the first job offer or any job offer you get — be realistic in your expectations.

Most employers want to see all employees start at a certain level to understand the business better, with the college grads on a career track toward faster advancement.

So, research employers before jumping to conclusions about the value of specific jobs.

Be ambitious about moving beyond the entry-level, but not at the expense of your current job.

8. Get Ready for Salary Negotiations and Job Offers

If you’re one of the lucky college grads, you’ll get more than one job offer.

Having more than one offer gives you the luxury of deciding if one – or any – of them is suitable for you.

It would help if you were prepared to negotiate the salary and the entire compensation package and have a clear sense of what you want before the issue arises.

How would you decide if you got two or more job offers?

What criteria would you use?

What’s important to you? Salary? Prestige? Company Car? Travel? Vacation? Benefits? Relocation? Company culture?

One recent marketing grad we know was trying to decide between two very different job offers. One was a sales position for a well-known company.

The offer included a very high salary, a bonus system, and a company car.

The downsides were a lot of time spent on the road, no clear career path, and a feeling of unease with the corporate culture.

Her other offer was with a marketing communications agency as an account representative.

The offer included a salary of almost half the sales one, with no bonuses and no company car. However, it did have a dynamic work environment, a clear career path, and a sense of strong fit with the agency’s corporate culture.

She faced the dilemma of going for quick money or a longer-term career move. She chose the agency.

Which would you choose?  

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You must always strive to get the best job offers from the best employers.

However, don’t forget to incorporate a realistic vision of what to expect – in the job hunt and getting job offers.

Take to heart the advice from all the recent college grads that have come before you and been in your shoes – and you’ll be better prepared and more satisfied with your job search.

Finally, a business-school grad stated, and I quote: “The real world is a big change, more than you can ever imagine when you are sitting in the classroom thinking about the outside world!”


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