The atmosphere at the workplace is not as easy and relaxed as in college. Be prepared for the real world.
We’re close to the end of the semester at our university and there’s a certain sentimentality in the air. Graduating students are suddenly realising that this is it; that this might be the last class they ever take; the last lecture they will have to listen to; the last assignment they have to turn in; and — best of all— the last examination they might ever have to take. Often, the sentiments are laced with anxiety.
Questions that loom large are: ‘What next?’, ‘Where do I go from here?’, ‘Do I have what it takes to enter the workplace?’ There is also some relief, because for many students, college is not a particularly enjoyable or a stress-free experience. And perhaps, for some, there is regret — for not making the most of things, of not having done as much as one would have liked.
It’s not unusual to feel a bit of regret at the end of a phase. But when that becomes the dominant emotion — it is probably an indication of a lost opportunity. For those who leave the safe confines of a classroom (and believe me, it is safer in many ways than most environments) for a job, some of these lost opportunities become visible in hindsight. Some jobs require you to hit the ground running, with little or no time given to training.
A few will provide substantial training and mentoring, but you can’t always count on it. So, one of the things that you are likely to regret is that you didn’t spend enough time acquiring all the extra skills and knowledge it takes to enter the professional world.
A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues walked into my room, exasperated with a group of students who had not only failed to complete an assignment, but had ‘forgotten’ to tell her they would not be able to attend a meeting. “How do we get these ‘twenty-somethings’ to behave like grown-ups?” she asked.
The scariest part about entering the professional space is that you are expected to be an adult. This means that you need to make decisions and take responsibility. You will need to estimate the time and effort required for a task and create a schedule within which it can be completed. You will need to ask and answer questions directly. You need to know the expectations before taking up a task, and indicate whether or not you can meet them, and request help if you need it.
Now, all of this probably sounds familiar. Isn’t this more or less what you did in college, too? True, but with one big difference. More often than not, teachers treated you with a bit of indulgence and accepted excuses for late submissions. You could get away with statements such as, ‘I misunderstood the assignment’ or ‘The instructions weren’t clear’. Basically, you could still get away with it. So despite her irritation, my colleague still went ahead and worked with the students, giving them allowances that would never be made in a professional space.
Of course, college is a place for us to learn the ropes. This includes not only the technical skills and the knowledge of our subject, but etiquette. There are plenty of opportunities within the college system to learn these additional aspects of work.
Every time we turn in an assignment, for instance, it is a lesson in understanding, estimating and executing a task. Every time we make a presentation, it is about holding an audience and making a relevant and interesting argument. Every time we engage in a group discussion, it is an exercise in civil dialogue. And, every time we write a note requesting permission or excusing ourselves for an absence, we are practising the art of corporate correspondence.
So, along with all the equations and theories and laws we assimilate and the skills we gather in our courses, we should also be gaining these other ungraded lessons. This is what separates the adult from the kid; the student from the professional. This is what shows the world that you haven’t just graduated, but have also grown up.
The writer teaches in the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, and is editor of Teacher Plus, www.teacherplus.org.