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Reid Burkett By Reid Burkett • April 19, 2018

College to Career: Adulting 101

“Enjoy college because the real world sucks!”

These *cough* encouraging seven words are constantly bombarding the graduating class of 2018, adding to the existing pressure of transitioning to full-fledged adulthood. Making the change from student to professional is one of the most challenging and transformative experiences a young adult will go through. Even scientists are trying to get to the bottom of why this experience is so impactful. Psychologists have attempted to study why young adults have a hard time. It turns out radical change and an explosion of responsibility can add a considerable amount of stress to life, making the transition all the more daunting. I know, crazy, right?!

Have no fear young graduates (congratulations, by the way), there are things you can do now to make sure you are prepared and as a result, kick a** at this whole professionalism thing.

Get some advice!

Nearly everyone in the past 12 months has asked me (spoiler alert: I’m a senior in college) “What are you doing after graduation? Are you ready to graduate and start working?” If you have yet to find a job, these questions can be extremely intimidating. If you have found a job, you have probably had this exact conversation ten times over. Questions and conversations like these present you with a golden opportunity to ask for advice. Adults obviously have more experience than we, the graduates, do, More experience means more wisdom, and when asked for... more advice!

After answering their super original questions about my job, I shift the focus to them by asking some of the following questions:

  • What do you wish you had known when you were my age?
  • If you could give one piece of advice to yourself at my age, what would it be?
  • What do you look for in a new hire?
  • What was the biggest lesson you had to learn at your first job?

You will be surprised at how eager adults are to share their knowledge and experience with you. They will also be pleasantly surprised that a millennial had any interest in what they had to share. Trust me, you will earn serious brownie points.

Professional > Student:

Many college students make the mistake of assuming professionalism starts when you get your first job. Their spoken and written communication takes a casual tone, regardless of who their audience is. Don’t be that person! You’re better than that.

Think of college as the “beta-version” of the corporate world. Any written communication between you and a fellow classmate or professor should be written with crisp professionalism. Not only will it provide you with valuable practice, it will make you stand out to your professors and peers. Additionally, when you do start your job - professional communication will be your “default” and it will be one less thing to learn.

Use these at-a-glance tips for sounding professional online:

  • Limit your exclamation points!!!! One thing I’ve noticed about emails from students is they tend to overuse exclamation points. This only serves to make you sound younger - so stick to a good, classic period and limit yourself to one exclamation point per email.
  • Spell check, spell check, spell check. An email full of spelling and grammatical errors is distracting and hard to read. Give your emails a once-over (or a twice-over) before sending to be sure they are free of errors. Piggybacking on that, don’t add the recipient’s email address until the email is finished - nothing is worse than accidentally sending a half-written email.
  • Keep them as short n’ sweet as possible. No one wants to read a page-long email only to realize the message could have been conveyed in 3 sentences. When you draft an email, look it over and make sure it is as succinct as possible. Professors, future co-workers and bosses will love you for this.

Networking 101:

Building a strong professional network is the gift to yourself that keeps on giving. College professors are likely some of the most connected people in your life. Most universities require professors to conduct research or publish papers, books, etc. in order to teach. If there is a professor at your university working in a field you have an interest in, meet with them and ask them about it! Professors are dying for students to show interest in their work. Additionally, professors will have connections within their field of expertise, your field of interest, and those connections could be extremely beneficial to you.

Professors are not your only source for networking; lots of universities host guest speakers and networking events. Instead of archiving that email announcement, go to these events and mingle with like-minded individuals. You will meet professionals, teachers and even peers who have similar interests.

Clean It Up:

Open your phone and scroll through your Instagram or Facebook profile. If you were a hiring manager, would you hire you? According to a survey by CareerBuilder, 70 percent of employers in 2017 screened candidates’ social media profiles before hiring them.

Until now, your social media was a form of self-expression, but as you enter the professional world, your social media presence becomes a platform for your personal brand. If red solo cups and scantily-clad festival pictures are flooding your feed, it’s time to clean it up and slap some air-tight privacy settings on your accounts. Your employer and your mom will thank you.

Manage the Chaos:

The rigid schedule that comes with a 9 to 5 job can be an overwhelming change from the flexibility of college. The good news is, you have stuck to a busy schedule before (remember high school?!), so you know it is possible!

The first step to success is establishing a reasonable daily routine...and sticking to it. There are countless benefits to having a solid daily routine such as increased productivity, better sleep and greater life satisfaction, just to name a few. If a total rehaul of your daily schedule sounds intimidating, start by establishing a strict bedtime and wake up time. Maintaining a steady sleep schedule will make the biggest difference in your transition and slowly adding in exercise, healthy eating habits, and social time will help you feel more in control.

Rise to the Occasion:

Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.” Starting your first real job is a big “something new,” so prepare to make mistakes and get ready to learn a lot.

The one thing everyone fails to mention in college is that the considerable amount of hours you put into your area of study is merely a foundation of “base knowledge.” You will learn almost all there is to know about your job, on the job. Show up on your first day ready to take on challenges, learn new things and yes, make a few mistakes. If you’re assigned a project and you don’t know where to begin (warning: this will happen), ask questions. When your employer hired you, they knew this was your first job! A good employer will appreciate a new hire that asks for clarification instead of turning in a project done wrong.


While you may view this upcoming change as a sort of “doomsday,” take comfort that thousands of people have blazed the trail before you. You’ve been the new kid in high school, the new kid in college and now you’re the new kid at work. The best part of starting a new chapter in life is starting with a clean slate and endless possibilities.

Hopefully, you found a job that you are stoked about and you can view the upcoming transition as an opportunity to launch a career full of passion. Even if that is not the case, your first job will teach you a lot and will serve as the foundation of your career. Is it intimidating? Yes. Is it slightly out of your league? Totally. But is it the start of the rest of your life? Absolutely! So, clean up your communication, your Instagram and get ready for the ride of your life.

Shameless plug: If you think you would enjoy the fast-paced competitive world that is tech sales, shoot me a note at reid@willreedjobs.com!

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