From College to Corporation: How Recent Graduates Cope with Change

November 20, 2011

Guest Post by Cyndi Laurenti


College graduates’ new jobs may be in the same state or city, but many feel a culture shock nearly as profound as if they’d landed in a foreign country. New employees find they must quickly adjust if they hope to keep their jobs, particularly in the fast-paced IT industry, where years of online experience or a PhD aren’t enough to make it without serious work ethic to boot. In this sink-or-swim environment, recent graduates have to find ways of coping despite the challenges.
The first culture shock is the usually florescent-lit, indoor office environment itself. College campuses typically are comprised of several buildings, and students enjoy fresh air while walking between classes. Some employees, however, work eight or more hours in windowless interiors of large buildings. In the winter, these employees may see daylight only on weekends, and entry-level IT workers likely work in the depths of company computer centers or have their heads buried in bundles of wires day in and day out. New graduates often welcome business travel for the change of scenery. Others cope by going to the beach or hiking on weekends to make the most of the time they do have outside.

Another shock is the lack of breaks. Students have periodic school breaks, but employees get one or two weeks off all year. Once leisurely holidays become whirlwind family visits. The freedom from the daily homework grind may go a long way to compensate, but the prospect of working with no end in sight indefinitely will be a major hurdle for many.

One of the biggest challenges for new graduates is time management. Some collegians become adept at arranging their class schedules around personal preferences. Night owls shun morning classes, weekend daytrippers avoid Friday classes. Corporate America, however, is designed for early risers working full weeks, and IT workers may even have to be on call at all hours. New graduates will have to learn about bedtime all over again. Since professors in auditorium-sized classes don’t call roll, many graduates of large universities must adjust to simply being present. Bosses not only take attendance every day, but demand punctual attendance.

College students have deadlines, of course, but the consequences are seldom dire. A grade may go down a letter, or, at the worst, a failed class many need repeating. Employers’ deadlines are usually absolute, and consequences can include being fired. Many graduates use their tech tools to help them with time management. Once they program their smartphone calendars, they may even prove more punctual than older workers relying on paper calendars.

Along similar lines, new hires may get their egos bruised by the corporate performance yardstick. In college, if students meet expectations, they get A’s. In the working world, the middle of the scale on a performance review is labeled “meets expectations.” To excel and rise to the next level, employees have to “far exceed expectations.” Tech-savvy graduates used to being the computer wizzes among their peers could find things upside down in new IT roles where they’re at the bottom of the pecking order.

In today’s tough job climate, many graduates’ foremost coping strategy is being thankful to have a job. Almost 70% of new grads are unemployed or working at a job outside their college major. For the lucky ones who are managing to find work in IT or any other field, that thankfulness propels them out of bed each morning and ready to deal with corporate culture.


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