Dr. Eugene Brink
A degree is still a sought-after commodity in today’s skills-starved world. It’s not only about the degree and its attendant “hard skills”, but also about the rubbing of shoulders with erudite superiors and peers.
And still, those three or four years will never be enough to teach you everything you need to know to thrive for the next few decades. Obtaining a tertiary qualification is, in fact, only the start of a long-term experience most people are ill-prepared for.
“Unfortunately, the typical university doesn’t offer courses in getting a promotion, working with a difficult boss, and navigating the office setting,” says public relations expert Ashley Cobert.
“Even if your college years did teach you how to juggle multiple projects, manage your time, and create a sweet Excel mode l— all workplace essentials — the real world is full of many more surprises that you won’t figure out until you get there.”
So what don’t they teach you at university that is so important? Let’s examine a few of these tricks.
- Working with the same boss and office politics
“Professors come and go. Even though people don’t stay at job positions as long as they used to, you’re going to typically have the same employer for more than a semester,” says Matt OKeefe, marketing specialist.
That means you can’t risk getting on the wrong side of your bosses. “Whereas spirited differences with professors are largely encouraged, conflict with your employer is almost always looked down upon. Make a good impression and stay in their good graces for as long as you stay at their place of work.”
This ties in with managing and benefiting from workplace politics. This is an inevitable part of working and rather than be daunted by it, you should learn to “play the game” as soon as possible. Unfortunately, most professors and courses deal with this in an extremely cursory and coincidental manner.
“You’ll need to learn how to deal with the subtle social aspects of your office culture and the people who make it that way: the receptionist who will appreciate a hello in the morning, the colleague who takes offense to too many questions, and the manager who shoots your ideas down every single time. You won’t just be working with your peers any more, you’ll need to understand how people from all generations and backgrounds operate,” says Cobert.
Moreover, she says, you should be more attentive in terms of feedback and become more adept at grasping and responding to it.
This is related to, and in addition to, the handling of your bosses and co-workers.
“What you didn’t learn in university is that once you’ve graduated, you and your friends are no longer congregated in the circumference of a campus. Most of your fellow employees at your job probably aren’t going to be in the same age group as you, either,” says OKeefe.
“Life, at least at first, is probably going to become a bit lonelier. Over time you’ll build back up a group of people you can depend on and socialize with, but you probably weren’t instructed about the feeling of isolation that would be awaiting you in life after varsity.”
- How to find fulfilling work
Most graduates are just too happy to have a job that they don’t really think about what they would really like to do. “You probably came out of school with at least a vague sense of what career you wanted to pursue, but for all but a small, lucky minority, those ideas quickly smack up against the realities of a tough job market and dull day-to-day reality,” writes Jessica Stillman, contributor at Inc.com.
What you should do, says Stillman, is to start asking smart questions and conduct small experiments.
- Responsibility and accountability
You can still skip classes and pass at university, but you’ll have to step up your game significantly in the workplace. “You’ll be accountable (solely, in some cases) for work, projects, meetings, and many, many emails. If you miss one of these or mess something up, you won’t just get a bad grade that can be made up for later with extra credit. Your work affects others, and it affects a business,” says Cobert.
- Lifelong learning
“Once you graduate, it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief — the hard part is over! Not so fast. If you really want to excel in your career — and in life — you have to keep learning. It allows you to stay current in your field, and to discover all the new things that keep life interesting,” writes Tara Struyk at personal finance website Wisebread.com.
If want to stay ahead of the curve and be competitive, you will have to be learning and reading all the time. The world of work won’t wait for you.
Ashley Cobert, n.d., “5 job skills you didn’t learn in college”, https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-job-skills-you-didnt-learn-in-college.
Jessica Stillman, 26 June 2017, “5 essential skills they don’t teach you in college (and how to learn them fast)”, https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/5-essential-skills-they-dont-teach-you-in-college-and-how-to-learn-them-fast.html.
Matt OKeefe, n.d., “6 lessons about life that I didn’t learn in college”, https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/6-lessons-about-life-that-didnt-learn-college.html.
Tara Struyk, 5 August 2013, “10 things you didn’t learn in college (but you should have)”, https://www.wisebread.com/10-things-you-didn-t-learn-in-college-but-you-should-have