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Successfully Entering the Workforce & How to Prepare for Change

The transition from graduation to entering the workforce is tough. The average person is in school for about 20 years, and it is common to become accustomed to that mindset and schedule. I am a UC Irvine graduate. During my time in school, I volunteered at a local program providing free tax preparation during tax season in 2017 and 2018. I was also involved in a student organization for social media, and quickly became well versed in all things digital marketing. From this experience I found a full-time job as a content marketing specialist after my graduation. I thought that volunteer experience, a college degree, and a supportive organization would make me feel prepared for my first job.

However, during the time just after graduation, I found that it was more difficult to change my mindset to acclimate to a new and unfamiliar environment. When I was in school, things seemed more simple since the administration would provide in depth instruction. However, when I entered the workforce, I was required to set up my own deadlines, and was expected to meet those deadlines without excuses. I found it very difficult to set deadlines for each task, especially when no timeline or check-in date provided from a person of authority.

A shift in behavior occurs between peers when we enter the workforce. When I was in school, it was common to show emotion and engage in friendships, but when I was in a work environment I noticed that it was more common to mask emotions. I feel that this was due to the competitive nature between my coworkers. This sudden change in expected behavior revealed a huge psychological gap. There was a change in the way my peers and professors were acting towards one another, and it was not something I was prepared for. After graduation, my peers from class became my competition for jobs. The role of a professor was faded out and replaced with a boss, who were much more inclined to be judgemental rather than helpful. From my experiences, I have found three steps that helped with my transition into the workforce.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

For students to find what they enjoy and want to do in life, it is crucial to get out of their comfort zone. I hope to encourage all the students to participate in a club, society, or event and to try new things as often as you can. Get involved in more activities and it could help you get to know more people, make new friends, and try new things. During this process, you might find something interesting that you want to pursue, or you could find something that you hate that you would not try again. Whether the experience is good or bad, it will help you learn more about your interests. Learn about your likes and dislikes, as they will heavily influence what you look for in a job and will help you decipher which jobs will be the best fit for you.

In my opinion, the most beautiful aspect of attending school is that they offer a multitude of clubs and organizations to try out, and they can be as time consuming as you want. There is not as much pressure to dedicate your time to a club, as there would be in a full-time job setting. I find that club leaders are more cognizant of your time and the effort you are willing to put forth. It is common that they understand why you are there, whether for volunteer credits or improving upon a skill. In class, there are many skills that teachers and professors are not able to show in class. It is often in part because the professor is required to stay to an approved lesson plan or they simply lack enough time.

With the help of extracurricular activities you will be able to learn skills not taught by a person, but rather by experience. Do not limit yourself to participating in extracurricular activities. I would also suggest looking for volunteer programs. I attended the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program every year so I could help low-income Irvine residents fill out their tax returns, help them with their own tax returns based on their documents, and helped them to check and complete each form accurately.. I was able to contribute to my society, while taking on a role that made me happy. Although this volunteer opportunity was not within my field of study, it was beneficial to my understanding of accounting skills everyone should have.l. I now understand my taxes, and if a job in the future required those skills I would qualify for the opportunity.

Change Your Mentality

When you transition from school to the workforce, a change of mindset is imperative. When I was in school, I was only required to get along with students and professors. In college, there are typically two types of required relationships including student-student relationships and student-professor relationships. Within these relationships, students are often only expected to have a finite amount of communication with each of them. I worked with my classmates daily, but only to a certain capacity. I had to be aware of learning styles in order to stay on track in class and process the information being taught.

Many times I also needed to work with classmates outside of the classroom to study or conduct a group presentation. It was important for me to be able to ‘read the room’ in order to successfully complete tasks without dismantling other members’ contributions. It was also important for me to show respect to each professor. A typical relationship with a professor involves respecting their time, engaging in discourse during class, and occasionally attending office hours.

Once I graduated, it was clear to me that the communication required at a full-time job would exceed that of school. When we step into the workplace, there are unforeseen changes which we have never faced before. For example, in the workforce there is often a competitive atmosphere, forcing colleagues to feel more competitive towards one another. This is largely affected by whether or not colleagues are pining for the same promotion or salary increase. I experienced this shift after graduating from college and starting my first job. When I was in school, I occasionally competed with classmates to get higher grades or better performance in class. When I entered the workforce at first, I tried to do my job well and only focus on my work.

However, I faced the situation that one of my colleagues competed with me secretly for a higher position. After that, I felt targeted and more pressure to perform. My coworker would fail to tell me about the meeting schedule and created alienation among team members. Although I still tried to focus only on my work, I felt tired under the competitive atmosphere. After talking with other colleagues for suggestions, I tried to communicate with that colleague about this particular promotion. I clearly indicated my attitude and did not want to be involved in the competitive atmosphere. What I learned most from this situation is that I had to communicate well with all my colleagues, indicating my thoughts with others clearly.

Determine Your Direction

Students about to graduate also need to determine their direction. Determining your direction means a couple things. It includes what industry you want to work in, what type of hours you want to work, and what skills you want to apply to a job. While this can be a daunting task, it will help you in the long run and save you time. The degree you choose as a freshman may very well change by the time graduation comes up, and that is ok.

To begin to find where you want your career to take you, think about what it is that you really want out of a job. I find there are a lot of students who choose their majors because of external factors. For example, many students have no idea which major to choose, then make their decisions based on the most popular majors, the major that leads to an industry with many open jobs, or the major which generally receives the highest salary. However, when students who do this complete school for a major-related job, they often realize that they are bored and that the position is not best suited for them. More times than not, this results in a lack of enthusiasm about a job, making your performance decline.

Another factor to consider is the type of hours you want to work. If you enjoy structure, start with looking at jobs scheduled from 9 am- 6pm. However, if you like having more flexibility, part-time jobs may be the way for you! There are tons of part-time jobs in all industries, not just retail and food. Lastly, think about what skills you have that you enjoy. Do you like drawing and want to become an artist? Are you good at coding and want to become a full stack developer? Or are you good at reading data and want to become an Analyst? It is the skills you possess and enjoy that will help lead you to a career path that you will enjoy.

For many people, it is extremely difficult to leave school and step into the workplace. Because of this, it is very important for me to suggest you to prepare ahead of time. Although there might be a gap between how you act in school versus how you act at a job, you can learn and prepare yourself from your own and others’ experiences.

We all have dreams when we are young, but many of us will have new dreams as we strive for growth. I think it is both important and brave to follow your heart and chase your dream. Never let it go. From being in school to starting in the workplace, there will be challenges and gaps and you may meet some competitive colleagues, but I think as long as you are confident in your work and in yourself it is possible to accomplish anything.

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