One of the hardest transitions I have had is going from student mode to professional mode, especially given that I had been a student for 20 years. As a student you become accustomed to working hard for about 16 weeks and then having a break. And even within that 16 weeks, you get a fall/spring break of sorts where you can kind of just breathe for a second. You get in the habit of being able to just roll out of bed and go to class. Your life is structured on the academic year as opposed to the actual year or a fiscal year. Transitioning from a life as a student (even if you were employed while a student) to a professional can sometimes be a rocky transfer. Here are a few tips that I have learned a long the way (mostly the hard way too).
1.) Start compiling a professional wardrobe now. Even if you don’t know what industry you are going to be working in or what the professional work attire will be, there are a few key pieces that I think are essential. A good pair of work pants in a neutral color. A nice button down shirt. A perfect pair of pumps. A suit is usually necessary for at least most job interviews and then you can use the pieces of your suit as separates.
2.) Even though you don’t get breaks in between semesters, you do get a fancy thing called vacation and paid time off. Make sure you use it wisely but also use it. Having that time off to take a break and relax is great.
3.) If you are entering the business/corporate/professional 8-5 world, you might actually start structuring your days or at least a few days to mimic the 8-5 world. In grad school I usually had 7a-9p days or something like that, so the 8-5 was drastically different for me. But I do remember in undergrad when I would have an 8-5 day and couldn’t nap…it was rough.
4.) Don’t forget to keep feeding your brain and intellect. One of the weirdest things for me was coming home and not having any homework to do or research to read…I didn’t get it. And for probably the past year, I just embraced not having to do homework and pretty much vegged out in front of the TV and threw myself into fitness. Do that. Definitely enjoy the joys of not having to do homework. But set a time limit on it or once a week spend some time reading or doing something that is more intellectual.
Some of the biggest changes for me, seem rather silly, but are just the fact that you work M-F 8-5. When in grad school I worked all week and put in 12+ hour days all the time. Being able to utilize free time well and getting to enjoy that free time is important. Transitioning off the academic schedule was a little rough, but you figure it out and use vacation time well. Building a professional wardrobe? Well, let’s just say that I wish I had done a better job of that. My tshirt wardrobe is outstanding, my professional wardrobe, is lacking a bit. It is a different world from being a student to a professional. And each path is going to be different and each industry will dictate differences as well. But I feel like the 4 general tips I gave are good across the board.
What are some of your best tips for students transitioning into professionals?