Top 10 Tips for Adjusting to Post-College Life and Work

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana as commencement ceremonies abound this weekend for both undergraduate and graduate students. I’m thrilled to deliver a commencement address to the Kelley School of Business MBA Class of 2016 this morning. I was also asked to compile my top 10 tips for adjusting to post-college life and work for students in the undergraduate Kelley School of Business program. I thought I would share them here. First things first though:

Congratulations, class of 2016!

Adjusting to Post-College
The Indiana University campus gears up for graduation weekend!

Although you may be sad to leave IU, rest assured that post-college life is awesome. You will love the freedom that comes from making your own money and having more control over your own fate. True, this independence can sometimes be overwhelming (there are so many choices to make in life!). But it’s incredibly exhilarating to have the freedom to decide what you want to do and then map out a game plan to make that happen. You’ll have to do the work, but once you’re out in the world anything is possible. So go out there and kick some ass!

One big step that many of you will take is to start working full time after graduation. This can be a big adjustment to make, so I’ve compiled my top ten tips for easing the transition from full-time student to full-time employee:

1. Seek out work: This may feel a little foreign after years of having your college professors assign homework and tell you what to do. Corporate America, however, is a different game. Yes, your boss will give you some assignments, but if you don’t actively seek more responsibilities, he or she will assume you’ve got a full plate—and you could miss out on some great opportunities. Compared to college life, work life is way more about taking control of your day-to-day responsibilities and options. Being in charge of yourself may feel strange in the beginning, but trust me, it’s much more exciting than having someone spoon feed daily tasks to you.

2. Figure out the accepted working hours: You may be able to get away with showing up late to class, but habitual tardiness may affect how your boss views your value. Now, if you’re working in a more flexible environment, that’s cool. But pay attention to your coworkers and your boss. If everyone around you comes in early and stays late, that might be a clue about what’s required to move up in your company.

3. Get stuff done: You will ultimately be judged by what you get done, not by how well you are liked, so make it your top priority to complete tasks on time. If you find it hard to get stuff done because of interruptions during the regular workday, figure out the best way to work around them. This might mean you’ll have to work through lunch, cut out chatting with friends during the day or work late in order to be able to work uninterrupted. Do what you have to do to cut out distractions and focus.

4. Remember that not every assignment is glamorous: When I was with Oxygen Media and hired a new assistant, Leigh, she had a welcome interview with the CEO, Geraldine Laybourne. Telling me about the interview afterward, Leigh said that she was shocked to learn that Gerry had many tasks that she didn’t necessarily like to do. Leigh was surprised that even a CEO has unglamorous tasks! Unfortunately, this sort of work plagues every job in the world, and the best way to handle it is to take it by the horns: plow through the BS items just like you would the exciting tasks.

5. Be careful when partying with the boss and your coworkers: I believe in “work hard, play hard,” but be cautious about letting your boss and coworkers see your wild side—even if they are partiers themselves. If your boss sees you in full-on party mode, for example, he or she might hesitate to send you to a conference or on other business trips because of uncertainty about how you’ll represent the company. I’m not saying you should never let your hair down, but just try to stay more sober (and in control) than your boss and coworkers when you’re partying together.

6. Get to know your coworkers: It’s natural to reach out to people your own age, but don’t make the common mistake of ignoring older coworkers. You’ll be shocked by how much you can learn about company politics and the inner workings of senior management from those who have been there the longest. What they teach you can help you navigate the workplace landscape better—and maybe even get promoted sooner.

7. Continue to learn:
This may sound silly to someone who’s just spent sixteen or so years as a full-time student! But learning doesn’t end when you get out of college and finish your formal education. It’s something you’ll need to keep doing if you want to be a good leader. Anyone can be a lousy leader (trust me, there are plenty of them out there—and you’ll probably work for a few in your life!). To be good leader, you’ll need to put in the time and effort to learn about and understand your company’s operations so you can lead the organization to greater heights. I know it’s tempting to try to get promoted fast, but if you don’t know the business, you’ll have a hard time making decisions that actually propel the company forward.

8. Save some money: After earning my undergraduate degree in engineering, I worked for Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis for 6 years, then switched careers and went into media and entertainment. In 2008, I changed careers again and started my own consulting company. Having some money in the bank during each transition helped appease my anxiety about paying bills and gave me a safety net for trying something new. So save a bit of money to give you the freedom to pursue different options, particularly if you get to a point where you want to make a major career change.

9. Be passionate, even when you don’t like what you’re doing: When you like what you do, it’s easy to jump out of bed and be ready to attack the day. But it’s way more challenging to motivate yourself when you’re not that fired up about your job. Work hard to discipline yourself to give it your all in everything you do, regardless of your enthusiasm for a particular task. You want to do your work so well so that when you leave for something better, your current employer clamors for you to stay. You always want to leave with a great reputation—after all, you never know if you’ll want to work for that organization (or for that boss) again one day.

COVER - FINAL (w SamBrown endorsement)
My first book, published in October 2015, offers advice on how to travel with an aging parent. It has been ranked in Amazon’s Top 100 books in travel since it debuted last year!

10. Be persistent and don’t give up: Writing a book has long been on my list of things I felt I had to do. In 2013 I finally put together a book proposal and pitched it to a ton of publishers and agents—and every single one of them rejected it. I pushed past the disappointment, though, and kept at it, and now my debut book, Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel, was published in October 2015 by Greenleaf Book Group and I’m currently working on my second entitled Clash of the Generations: Managing in the New Workplace Reality (Wiley, November 2016). It’s easy to give up (particularly when no one is setting deadlines for you). Don’t take the easy way out—don’t give up! If you focus on the long term and keep pushing yourself, you can achieve your goals.

This is a bit of what I’ve learned during my own post-college life. Let me know how these suggestions work out for you! Best of luck!

2 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for Adjusting to Post-College Life and Work”

  1. Wow… How can you top that list? Well, I’d perhaps like to add a couple just for an even dozen. My two additions would be: 1) Don’t be afraid to fail. If you don’t ever fail, you’re not pushing out of your comfort zone, and you’re probably not trying a lot of new fun, cool things… for fear of failing. Be brave! 2) Related to Val’s # 7, but more specifically, read motivational and personal growth books like “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David Schwartz and “Getting Things Done” by another David, David Allen. Or look at “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund and Ben Zander. And if you don’t have time to read, listen to audio books! Walking, driving, or bicycling, you can still be reading and learning.
    Oh, and here’s the baker’s dozen entry: Don’t forget to smile.

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