When I graduated from college, I was convinced I knew everything. I mean, it was right there on paper: good grades, multiple awards; let’s face it, I was a great student. And I was pretty sure I was going to ace the Real World too (cue the “wah wah” as we picture my metaphorical ego being deflated). It turns out, there were several ways in which I was very much under prepared.
Don’t get me wrong, Northeastern prepared me very well. I learned a ton about my chosen field thanks to fabulous professors, I learned time management, I learned how to craft a great resume and cover letter, I learned how to write about a variety of subjects, and most importantly I learned how to learn. I certainly would not be where I am today without a Northeastern degree under my belt.
Even so there were some subtle tips I just didn’t pick up in college. But never fear, it’s not too late to start integrating them into your life right now!
1. You can’t just look good on paper and expect others to notice you.
It took me a long time to find a job, despite having a solid resume. Grades matter, yes, but so do a host of other factors and often it boils down to who you know. You hear it all the time: network. So start early, Huskies. Establish solid, lasting relationships with mentors at your co-op. Perfect and re-perfect your cover letter. You can never spend too much time job searching.
2. There are no grades at work
Well, duh. But this one took me by surprise. In college, there is a fairly standard metric to measure yourself on, at work there isn’t. It’s hard to know how you are well you are doing, unless of course you really mess up. At my job my supervisor gives me a task, I complete it and move to the next one. I spent the first three months convinced I was doing everything wrong because I wasn’t constantly being graded. It turns out, all I had to do was ask. This will likely vary by industry and by supervisor, but once I sought feedback from colleagues I became much more confident. Practice this at school by asking your professors and classmates to look over assignments before handing them in. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment with your professor to talk about ways you can improve, this is totally normal in the Real World.
3. You’re no longer just working for yourself
At NEU, I would pick and choose assignments to devote a lot of time to depending on how they affected my grade. I also developed the poor habit of doing all of a group project because I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it right. I did everything for myself because my grades didn’t affect anyone else but me. Not so much in the Real World. Every task you’re given has a purpose. Your company is depending on you to complete it well. Additionally, most of what you do is part of a larger project. You must learn to be courteous of others’ time, and learn that you cannot possibly take care of everything. Begin now by completing all of your assignments to the best of your abilities and by taking advantage of the shared responsibility that comes with group projects.
4. You can’t always research your way to the right answer
This was the most difficult for me to get used to. Before starting my job, I spent three straight years as graduate student researching my thesis. I was very good at reading scientific articles and even spent whole days and weeks looking for small pieces of information that would push my research to the next level. Ain’t nobody got time for that in the Real World, my friends. If you don’t immediately know the answer to a problem, start asking around. You will save a ton of time using the combined knowledge of your colleagues instead of trying to Google something that’s super industry-specific. This one is a little harder to work on while in college. Obviously, you can’t just ask your professor for the answer, and too much collaboration with your classmates can be considered cheating. So I recommend you continue to research and study the way that works best for you, but try not to forget all that information you learned. It might come in handy some day, and you may be the one your colleagues come to for answers.
In all, it’s not too bad out here in the Real World, but I do know I would have been much better off had I known these things before graduating!
Kelly (Sullivan) Good graduated from Northeastern’s College of Arts and Sciences in May 2010 with a degree in Environmental Science. She received her Master’s in Geology from the University of Utah in 2013 and currently works as geologist at Environmental Resources Management in Chicago. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: sourced from EWWMagazine