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Transition into the Professional World

When you wake up on the morning of your first day of employment after graduating from college, you will undoubtedly have mixed feelings about what lies ahead. Uncertainty? Yes. Fear? Probably. Excitement? For sure. Part of this ambivalence is wondering how you are going to transition to a 40+ hour work week from your school schedule that required you to attend class for a few hours a day.

The prospect of settling in at my first full-time job, acclimating to the new culture, and making a good impression on my co-workers was daunting. However, now two weeks into my new position, I realize that I need not have worried. Here are a few tips I’ve learned that will help make your transition from college into the professional world a smooth one.

Steps to a smooth transition:

  1. Do your research
  2. Get sleep the night before
  3. Dress for success
  4. Prepare for travel
  5. Keep an open mind
  6. Have confidence in yourself

1. Do your research

Every profession has its own language. If you are unfamiliar with the specific industry of your future position, take a look at trade magazines, blogs, e-newsletters and publications from industry associations. This will give you a window into the industry and its trends and current issues. Look up unfamiliar terminology. Also, complete the necessary work-related forms prior to arriving at the office. These could include health insurance enrollment forms, W-4s, or other documents. Understand your benefits and the type of health insurance you are going to choose. Be sure to come prepared with any questions you may have on the material. This will reduce your stress and put you one step ahead when you are required to hand in the forms on your first day.

2. Get enough sleep

Six o’clock in the morning is going to come very early if you are used to sleeping in, or if you’ve stayed up late talking to roommates. Sleeping a decent number of hours will leave you feeling refreshed, alert, and ready to take on the challenges of the approaching day. You definitely do not want to be caught falling asleep when your boss is teaching you about your new position and the company policies on your first day of work!

3. Dress for success

Treat your first day as an interview. A dark suit paired with a colorful top for women – or a traditional suit and tie for men – is always a good choice as it shows your professionalism and sincerity. I was taught at my first internship to always dress for the job you eventually want, regardless of your current title. Later, when co-workers know you better and know you take your job seriously, you can dress down to the culture’s way of dressing. On the other hand, if the organization offers “casual Fridays” go ahead and bring it down a notch to fit in with the culture.

4. Prepare for logistics

Nothing is more anxiety-producing than logistical surprises such as traffic jams, late trains, or inclement weather. You do not want to be late for work. Know how to get to the office, whether you are taking public transportation or your own car. Leave your house early to account for traffic, delays in the transit schedule, or getting lost. If you are driving, make sure you know where to park and whether you need quarters to feed a meter. It is okay to call your employer – perhaps the receptionist – to ask about parking. Overall, it is always better to arrive early and wait outside until the appropriate time than to rush in late. In fact, bring along a newspaper or something to read in case you arrive early.

5. Keep an open mind

Regardless of how much research you have done on the company, or how many people in the field and at the company you have talked to, you will never know exactly what to expect when you actually start working. A lot of new information will be thrown at you, but just keep taking notes. It’s okay to ask questions, too, but try to find answers in the information given to you first. Remember that there is a learning curve for any new job, and you just have to focus on the slope of that exponential curve to know that you will soon be in step with your co-workers and contributing to the success of your company.

6. Have confidence in yourself

You may not have the vast experience that your co-workers have yet, but you bring your own unique background to the company. Your experiences, whether acquired through internships, coursework, study abroad, or merely living day-to-day, are equally as valuable. Your work ethic is also important. Everyone at the company is trying to get work done. If they find they are working with someone who comes through for them – it is, as they say, “priceless.” Most importantly, remember that the company hired you for a reason, so step into the office on your first day with a bold stride, and demonstrate to your supervisors that they were correct in hiring you.

One recent college graduate I know just started her first job after college. She reported that she quickly became overwhelmed with all the new material and felt inadequate for the position. Thinking back, we realized that she did not prepare well for that first day. If she had followed the six steps I have described, she would have been able to better adjust. There is nothing like being unprepared to set you off balance from the start.

These six steps may seem easy, but in reality, they are often challenging to follow. Sir Martin Conway, an English politician and mountaineer, once said: “A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him, and leaving something of himself upon it.” Think of your first job out of college as that mountain. Yes, it will be a challenging climb transitioning into your new position and company, but your efforts will all be worthwhile when you reach the summit and can look back at your achievements and see that steep and windy path that you conquered.

Always remember that you will contribute unique knowledge and experience to your company just as much as your co-workers will provide you with new insights and understanding into your field of interest. Don’t give up and leave the path no matter the difficulty of the climb. Success lies just around the next bend.

By Ilyana Rosenberg '12

About the Author

Ilyana graduated from Brandeis in May 2012 with a Bachelor's degree in Health: Science, Society, and Policy and a minor in Business. She is currently working as a Consulting Associate at Hayes Management Consulting in Newton, MA.