You have probably heard — or experienced — that looking for a job is a job itself. It is not uncommon to apply for many jobs before getting an interview or two, despite impressive credentials and a thoughtful application.
What to expect
Once you overcome this initial hurdle and secure a job, you might be surprised by the transition from the classroom to the cubicle. The work you do might not seem at all related to what you studied. Tasks might feel increasingly demanding, as your manager sets shorter deadlines than were typical for college assignments. At this point, you might think no one appreciates the fact that you are fresh out of college. And on top of that, you do not receive feedback on your work — certainly no letter grades. Despite being a brilliant scholar, you begin to worry your colleagues are all smarter than you, sinking your confidence and self-esteem.
This perhaps familiar scenario may leave you wanting to quit. So, what should you do — and not do — next?
Advice for those transitioning from college to corporations could fill many pages! But the following are just a few of the lessons I learned during my transition that can help you to adjust to corporate life.
Be willing to learn
The transition from college to a career takes time. While college taught you the fundamentals of engineering, the most important thing you received in your education is not the actual engineering know-how. Assignments in school are often unrealistic and do not relate to real life. In college, you usually have all the data you need, and the steps to solve a problem are clear and linear. The most important lesson to remember from college is how to learn and where to find good information.
Own your mistakes
While you continue to learn on the job, you are going to make some mistakes. Luckily, mistakes are valuable learning opportunities. The most important thing to do is to take responsibility for the error and learn from it.
Experienced professionals often forget what it was like to be new and may respond harshly to mistakes. Do not be discouraged by criticism and instead use it as feedback. It might feel unbalanced to only hear about your mistakes and not about your successes, but this is the reality of work. Focus on improving, and visualize your future.
Acknowledge that your feelings are valid
You are not the first person to feel dissatisfied and discouraged. Adjusting to a new environment, behavior, or routine is almost always difficult. Reduce the stress of transition by acknowledging that this is normal and universal. Think about the future outcome of your transition and not the immediate hurdles.
If you never jump in the pool and try to swim, you will never learn to swim. College courses can only do so much to prepare you for real engineering problems. It is critical to face your fears, make some mistakes, and practice solving real-world problems. The hope is that you will have colleagues who can help to ensure your success.
Do not reject difficult tasks from your manager, but do be transparent about any concerns you have. Ask questions and seek help, and soon you will be able to work independently. Knowing when and how to ask for help is a skill that will enable you to cope with changing markets in the future, even as you gain experience.
Work harder and smarter
Unless you work alone, you may feel like an imposter when you start a new job. Banish this feeling by working hard.
The most successful athletes, for example, do not achieve success in one day. A friend of mine became a renowned soccer player by training tirelessly every day. He was the first person to get to the pitch and the last to leave. Before he became famous, he was not even the best player on our team. He was able to beat his deficiencies simply through hard work.
No matter how gifted you are intellectually, hard work is going to put you in a position to succeed. If you do not know how to use a particular software application, for example, study it for twice as long as you might expect to need. You will outcompete yourself and those that knew the software before you.
This article originally appeared in the "Emerging Voices" column in the September 2020 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at www.aiche.org/cep.