From Collegiate To Corporate: Surviving The School-To-Work Transition


Summer is nearly upon us. While some students are off to work at short-term summer jobs, graduates are facing the end of their academic careers and transitioning into being full-time working professionals.

I know from experience that this transition isn’t easy. While I was a type-A, dedicated student in some respects, other behaviours made me less than mentally prepared for a 9-to-5 job.

I kept odd hours, furiously writing essays until sunrise, and enjoyed drinking one-too-many pints on Tuesday nights.

In the interest of saving you some office-related troubles (not to mention a terrible Wednesday morning hangover), here is some advice on how to make the leap from co-ed to corporate life:

Invest in a reliable alarm clock

One of the first things you may notice is the never ending exhaustion that comes along with having to wake up at the exact same time, every single day. Not only must you be awake, you must also be dressed professionally and are expected to be a productive member of society.

While I can’t help you enjoy the early morning wake-up call, the trick to arriving to work on time is a good alarm clock, positioned further than your arm’s length away from your bed. It is of critical importance that you find the sweet spot where you can hear the alarm, but it is still far enough away from you that you can’t hit snooze 15 times.

In all seriousness, it can be tough to reconcile your old student ways with a rigid schedule. If it all becomes too much, schedule time for yourself to enjoy the odd night of regression into student-like fun. “Grownups” can enjoy beer pong and pizza every once in a while too.

Remember, you’re not being graded on this

In school, there is an intense fear of failure that drives you to achieve perfection (or at least a reasonable grade). Failing a class or test may have meant that you’d have to repeat the course.

But in the working world, you have to accept that “perfection” is the enemy of “good,” and generally answers to complex business problems are not as cut and dry as a multiple choice exam.

In fact, failure is one of the best ways to learn. This is not a class where you’ll be docked points for the wrong answer, so don’t be afraid to pipe up with your ideas, even if you’re not sure they’ll be a hit. You’ll have to strike out a few times before you hit a home run.

Embrace uncertainty

Sometimes, when you’re caught up in meetings, deadlines or emails, you may have a moment when you realize this is not the swishy, Don Draper-esque job that you envisioned for yourself. It’s going to take time to develop your identity in the working world and in your new life as an adult.

Enjoy where you’re at, even if your job isn’t the life-changing work you imagined doing while reading Sartre in the gentle bosom of academia. Embrace this somewhat confusing period in life as a time for self-discovery. I assure you: this will not be your last quarter-life, existential crisis, but you’ll figure it all out!

Recall the motivational milestones of collegiate life

When the first September rolled around post-university, I have to tell you that it was quite the shock. I realized that the exciting feeling of the first day back to school, when you’re tanned and wearing your new school clothes, wasn’t coming around again. As a young professional, I’ve found that I can harness the power of those by-gone academic milestones to grow in my personal and professional life.

In spring, when you’d usually be buckling down for exams, get serious about work or personal projects that may have fallen off your radar. In the fall, use that autumn motivation to learn new things by signing up for continuing education courses, or picking up good habits that might have fallen by the wayside in the lazy days of summer.

For some, making the leap to the professional world can be rough. But when we’re challenged to pick up new habits, we can grow by leaps and bounds.

What are your tips for surviving the school-to-work transition?

Photo credit: Bryan Rosengrant

About the author

Ashleigh Trahan is a Toronto-based recruiter and freelance writer. She is one of those pesky Gen-Y's that believes making a living and doing what you love don't have to be mutually exclusive. She's a fast talker, avid runner, and her fine arts degree makes her a formidable opponent in the game of Pictionary. You can connect with her @ashleightrahan.