10 Things College Didn’t Prepare You for When It Comes to Your First Job

There’s no question about it: college doesn’t teach us everything – despite taking nearly all of our money. We learn about theories that we will never apply or use, get tested over said theories, and value receiving good grades over actually learning relevant information.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s no value in college education; there’s certainly valuable aspects to the experience that allow us to grow and develop. The issue, however, arises when we enter the workforce and start “adulting,” many of us on our own.

I am by no means an expert on any of the following topics, but I do possess the skills and capabilities to seek answers to the questions I have – thank you, Keyot! This list isn’t exhaustive either, but rather what I found to be the most significant while recalling what gaps my college experience neglected to fill.

1. Compensation and Benefits

Leveraging and negotiating compensation and benefit packages is not something for which we are adequately prepared. Things like salary, health/medical plan, dental plan, 401(k) and other investment opportunities like Roth IRAs and stock investments can make or break your ability to successfully invest in yourself and prepare for the future.

2. Personal Finances

While some courses and majors revolve around finance, the typical college experience neglects to provide information about:

  • types of insurance and how to purchase them (i.e. health, life, renters, etc.)
  • applying for, refinancing, consolidating, and paying off loans (i.e. federal and private student loans, mortgage, car, etc.)
  • filing and submitting the proper forms and paperwork for taxes (i.e. joint filing, adding dependents, etc.)
  • how to handle smaller personal projects (i.e. cost efficiency of DIY vs. paying a professional).

While these can be mitigated by finding a financial planner, some might even argue that finding a good financial planner is something to be added to the above list.

3. Housing

Where you live can range in time from six months to six years depending on your life goals and plans. This makes finding a good location very important, which depends on your definition of “good.” Regardless, type of housing (i.e. apartment, condo, townhome), distance to work, and neighborhood atmosphere/culture all affect your lifestyle for a significant amount of time. College never taught me when, where, or how to find a real estate agent and it certainly did not teach me what important questions to ask while searching for my new home.

4. Corporate Communication

Once again, while there are courses and majors devoted to writing, college does not teach you most importantly how, but also when and why to create effective memos, emails, agendas, or meeting minutes. Since communication is often the single most important quality to employers, being great at it is a great advantage and in some instances necessary.

5. Long-term Projects

Believe it or not, projects in the real world (usually) take longer than a few weeks to complete – some can last several years from origination to completion. Understanding the scope of the project is crucial to completing it efficiently. So when you tie in ambiguity and remote or global teams, simple things like finding a time to meet (typically for a conference call and not in person) can be difficult with conflicting schedules and time zones.

6. Applying School Knowledge

Nearly anytime we are tested over content knowledge, we are given a situation or problem statement and asked to apply the relevant knowledge to that single problem. Then, we put that knowledge aside and move on to the next topic to be tested. Unfortunately, things won’t always be that simple in the workforce. Problems, opportunities, and projects will arise and you are expected to mix and match your knowledge of the appropriate subject matter to fit the need. Gone are the days of finding the derivative of ln (sec(3π)).

7. Networking

You may argue that this is more of a personal skill that we ought to develop on our own, but not everybody is comfortable networking with those within their own department, let alone those in power within their organization. The dynamic among employees and the hierarchy differs, but having the ability to practice elevator pitches and receiving feedback on how to improve is left out of your college curriculum.

8. Mediating Conflict

Life at work won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. Being able to properly handle conflict in the workplace, especially when working with those from different generations, is crucial to maintaining a healthy work environment. You may be accustomed to the occasional non-traditional student, but there is not a lot of, if any, exposure beyond that.

9. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Understanding your strengths and weakness regarding self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, in addition to how they influence your work, is a very important part of your life. It can also affect your personal relationships. Unlike your IQ and personality which are set for life, your EQ can continue to improve throughout your life. Take the time to understand yourself and create a plan for improving yourself and your score.

10. Opportunities (Taking Initiative or Advocating for Yourself)

In college, there are opportunities to get extra credit, TA for a class, and even serve in leadership roles within student government or Greek life. Often times they are offered to you and it is your decision whether or not to accept or pursue the opportunity. In the workplace, however, you have to promote yourself and actively seek opportunities if you want to get a raise or move up within the company. It isn’t that nobody will advocate for you, but the weight of the responsibility falls on your own shoulders.

While your college experience may have prepared you for some or even all of the topics listed, it is possible that you are missing something. There is hope and there are ways to help yourself become prepared. It’s better to be aware of these than to learn about them the hard way.

If there’s a knock at the door and it’s the real world inviting you to go on an adventure, how prepared will you be to answer that call?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *