We had the opportunity to interview Darcy Eikenberg, founder of career and success site RedCapeRevolution.com, about how college students can best make the transition from student to professional.
SC: Making the transition from college student to professional can be a daunting one. What should young professionals keep in mind as they make this transition?
DE: The most important thing to know is that even though you’re no longer in school, you’re still learning. Don’t believe the graduation hype that says you’re fully prepared for the world of work—you’re not. Yet. (Sorry.)
What you are fully prepared for, though, is to continue to learn and grow, and to discover and test new ways to apply your gifts and talents. In fact, many of the same rules that made you a successful learner in college still apply. Study hard. Ask questions. Play nice with others. Get involved. Get some rest.
You’ve been doing this for the past four (or more) years in college, so you’re already a veteran learner. Congratulations! Those who are constantly learning and growing are the ones who are succeeding in our new world of work.
SC: How can a young professional demonstrate that they are eager and self-motivated to a new employer without being perceived as arrogant?
DE: There’s a difference between arrogance and confidence. Confidence is knowing who you are and what you can do without any judgment of others; arrogance is considering yourself superior. You can be confident in yourself based on what you know for sure, but when you start judging, comparing, or criticizing others, you walk the line into arrogance.
No matter what you think you understand at your new organization, always allow room that you may not know the entire situation. In fact, expect that you don’t. Many new employees falter when they criticize current processes, rules, or plans, without doing their homework on the reasons why those things are in place to begin with.
Always give yourself the room to be proven wrong, and you’ll get more opportunities to be right. For example, you can say, “Based on what I understand so far, I know I can take the lead on project X. May I review my understanding of it with you to make sure I’m not missing anything?”
SC: How can young professionals make the most of their first professional position, even if it’s not the “job of their dreams”?
DE: Resist the temptation to diminish, devalue, or get depressed about a first job that’s not all you’d hoped. Don’t whine, criticize, or speak negatively about it—all reflect badly on you and make you feel bad, too. While it’s perfectly fine to share observations with others, keep them honest but neutral (for example, “The requirements of the role don’t seem to be clearly defined at this organization, and it’s likely not a long-term fit for me”). Also, remember that job has a purpose in your career path—a lesson to teach you, a person to experience, or even simply a paycheck to tide you over while you’re connecting with others in your new profession to find the next learning opportunity.
Your first professional post is a learning opportunity. What most don’t realize, however, is so is the third, eighth, and even the final job you hold in your life. Again, stop thinking you’re done learning—in this economy, you can never stop. Adapt an attitude of open curiosity and exploration now, and it will serve you well through your entire career.
SC: Moving on up: can you offer any additional tips for those wanting to advance in their fields but are just starting out as professionals?
DE: First, recognize that the word “advance” suggests coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else. So, the old adage of “you have to start somewhere” is true. Any starting role that creates the opportunity to be inside an organization and be around people you can learn from will help you learn more about what you do—and don’t—want in your work in the future.
Second, know that true advancement happens when you increase your value to the company. It is not something arbitrarily given to you by an employer because you “deserve” it or have “earned” it. Now more than ever, advancement doesn’t happen by title or promotion, but by smart professionals finding fresh ways to use their efforts to solve more of the company’s business problems. If you want ore responsibility, learn where the problems are and find ways you can solve them. That’s the secret to helping you advance.
Darcy Eikenberg, ACC, is the author of Bring Your Superpowers to Work: Your Guide to More Clarity, Confidence & Control, and a popular leadership and workplace coach and speaker. Download a free chapter of the book, get her twice-monthly Community News, and get more free tips and tools on career and success site RedCapeRevolution.com.