Here's What Changes from College to Career

And Here's What Doesn't: The Basics

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Trading the classroom for the conference room.
Trading the classroom for the conference room.                              Credit: Karjean Levine

As a senior getting ready to graduate, I remember a lot of people telling me that everything would change as soon as I reached the elusive "real world."

And while they were right, I found the simplest changes affected me the most.

There are no more teachers, but you can find mentors anywhere.

Does your boss turn into your teacher when you graduate? Kinda. Your boss will be the person evaluating you, tracking your progress, and making sure you're successfully completing projects. That being said, educating and training you isn't your boss's primary job -- you're there to help him or her. So you need to help your boss help you. Express what you're interested in, tell them what your goals are, ask them to give you feedback. Almost all bosses want to "teach" their employees -- you just have to let them know what you want to learn.

Don't just stop at your boss, though -- there are also a lot of willing mentors elsewhere in the office. Inspired by the work on a designer's screen? Ask him to show you what programs he uses. Completely oblivious to how mobile apps are actually built? See if a developer will walk you through how she codes them. Offices are, at best, a collection of intelligent and curious people working toward a common goal -- so learning from each other is vital.

There is no more homework, but you are responsible for balancing your workload.

One of the things that shocked me the most about post-grad life was the absence of homework. Suddenly you have all of this unstructured time and Sundays are no longer a mad rush to finish the work you put off all weekend. While this is (really) great, the stakes for your professional projects are a lot higher than they were in school. Turning things in late will make your boss doubt your ability and slow down other teams. And no client is going to buy that your dog ate your presentation.

That means, more than ever, you need to be on top of your workload. Keep track of how long it takes you to accomplish tasks and plan your schedule accordingly. Block off time to handle specific projects so that they don't slip through the cracks. Stay late if you need to finish something -- and then actually leave on time when your work is done. Your schedule is now yours to manage, so it's up to you to strike the right balance.

There are no more grades, but you will still be evaluated.

For some students, grades are constructive signals that help them know how they're doing -- something to aim for and judge their work against. Other students hate grades. As someone in the former camp, the lack of regular "grades" at work was …scary. How can you try and be an A student if are no more A's?

But just because there are no more grades doesn't mean that you don't get evaluated. Now, rather than periodic tests and quizzes, almost everything you do both in and out of your office is fair game for a supervisor to evaluate. View these evaluations as an asset, a tool to demonstrate your development over time. If your boss hasn't outlined these guidelines clearly enough for you, ask him to -- it demonstrates that you're thinking ahead and want to grow.

So what doesn't change when you leave school? The basics. Listen carefully to directions, take notes, be polite and normal(ish), and -- above all -- find a style of work that suits you. That and presentations -- there are a lot of those in the "real world," too.

About the Author

Credit: Ethan Scott

Ethan Scott graduated from Kenyon College and works as a strategist at Firstborn, a digital agency headquartered in TriBeCa.

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