College Lies and Other Truths

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before in other blog posts…I’m new to this whole “being an adult” thing. And as I come across my four month anniversary in the working world…I’ve started to think about what I wish I would’ve know before entering the workforce. Now, there are many things. But, the number one thing that I wish I would’ve know is that there’s a very big difference between a “job” and a “career.” See below…

College lies to you, and internships lie to you. The real world isn’t anything like either one of them. When I was in college, I was told that maybe classes wouldn’t teach me about the real world, but that’s what internships were for. WRONG AGAIN! I had four internships while I was in college, and not one of them adequately prepared me for the shit storm called, “real life.” And let’s face it. When you’re an intern, companies don’t trust you. And that’s fair! You’re not an actual employee; you’re a temp; you’ll be gone within months. So, what do they do? They give all the “shit work” that they don’t have time to do on a regular basis.

When I had my internships, I thought I received extreme value from them. The companies that I worked for really let me “take the wheel” and provided great mentorship. But the fact of the matter is, when you’re an intern, you don’t have that “weight of the world on your shoulders” feeling like you do when you’re out in the workforce. As an intern, you step in for a bit, arrive early, do whatever they ask you to, and after a few months, you leave. So, if a problem comes up that you feel can’t be solved, you take it to your internship supervisor, and they deal with it.

And, of course, that’s not how the real world works. In the real world, the main reason your boss hired you is because they have a problem that they can’t fix, and they want YOU to solve it. So, if you’re constantly going to your boss saying “I don’t know…” they may let you go.

And that’s the unfortunate thing about internships, college students are never truly on the other side of the table. When I was at my internships, I remember thinking, Yeesh! I wouldn’t want my boss’s job. All I would ever do is worry.” I never actually experienced the kind of stress that any of them had to deal with on a regular basis.

I think that another part of the reason I never fully understood what it was like to have a “real job” before I actually got one, was because of the word, “job.”

In a lot of the career courses that you take in college, and even in regular courses, when you talk about the “job” that you’ll have after you graduate, that’s what it’s always referenced as, “a job.”  When I went to school, it was rarely referred to as a “career.” And when you hear the word “job,” what do you think of? For me, I thought: you work from 9-5, go home, eat dinner, exercise, watch some TV, go to sleep, wake up, do it again. And then the weekend would come, and you get to spend it however you wanted. You’re freer than a bird.

WRONG AGAIN! What they don’t tell you in college is that the definition that I just described is the definition of a “job.” And a job is probably a place that you won’t stay at for awhile. An example of a job is working as a cashier at a department store. When you graduate from college and start working at a “bachelor’s degree level”…you don’t have a job, you have a career. In a career, you wake up early, you arrive an hour before you’re supposed to, you work through lunch, you leave an hour after you should have, you take your work home with you, and on weekends, you’re checking your work email and working on work related projects..BIG DIFFERENCE.

When you have a career, you need to be devoted to the company that you’re working for. Kind of like when you’re in a relationship. You can’t just be in a relationship from 9-5, Monday-Friday. You’re in that relationship 24/7, 365. And this is for every higher level position that you have after college, even if you start out as an entry-level individual. You’re going to need to be there for your company like you would for your significant other.

So, after all this negative talk, what’s my advice for someone approaching their college graduation and looking for their first position?

DO NOT settle! Just don’t! Before I graduated, I was applying for anything and everything under the sun. I wanted to start working right after I finished school because I wanted money and at least some form of experience. WRONG! Don’t just take any job off of the street. So you’re unemployed for awhile, or you have to resort to picking up some hours at a department store. Take some time to really look through positions and make sure that you are going after what YOU WANT.

Take me for example. Now, I like my position, and I’m getting used to it more and more every day, but do I wish that I had calmed down after graduation and taken more time to look at other opportunities? I’ll admit it, yes. When I was interviewing for my current position, I had my final interview with my current supervisor and the head of HR. My supervisor made me feel like an idiot during the interview. Now, she was being harsh because she was testing me to make sure that I would be able to stand working in their type of environment, and under pressure; which is understandable. But after the interview was over, I ran to my car and balled like a baby. I felt like I just been slapped across the face and screamed at. And when they called me a week later and offered me the position, I was in shock. But, I accepted it anyway because all I saw were the dollar signs attached to the job description. I didn’t know what the company culture was like, and I didn’t know my benefits. All I knew was who my supervisor was going to be, a rough idea of what my duties were, and how much I was going to be making.

Looking back, I feel like a complete idiot, and since then there have been other opportunities that have popped up that I almost wish I could take advantage of. Although, on the brighter side, I am learning a whole lot, and the people that I work with are too good to be true! 

And, there are going to be ups and downs in every position. But before you accept an offer, ask about the company culture, even ask them to take you on a tour of the facilities and meet people that you’re directly going to be working with. Ask what a typical day looks like for someone in the position that you’re applying for, and ask the company what a successful candidate would look like and bring to the table. ASK TONS OF QUESTIONS and don’t be afraid of asking those questions. Because if it’s a good fit, you’ll wake up every morning satisfied and your “work” won’t feel so labor intensive.

So, to my college grads, happy job hunting!

Granny Smith- over and out

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25 thoughts on “College Lies and Other Truths

  1. Yup, you’ve got it exactly right – and I’ve been working for 35-years. The point isn’t to find a job that will pay money so you can live your life elsewhere. The point is to find a career that you have a passion for because THAT is where you live your life. You “make it” because you put in 60-70 hours a week, but you can only do that if you love it and WANT to. Money is nice, but definitely secondary if you want to be happy. You equated a career with a personal relationship, and that is probably a good comparison too. You should never marry someone in the hope that they will change – and the same goes for a company too. Remember; an “interview” is every bit as much about you deciding if you like the company as the other way around (and that hint of skepticism will impress them too).

  2. I agree with John who agrees with you. I’ve been in the workforce for 35 years too. For the past 7 years I’ve been the administrator for our business, which my husband built from the ground up. It requires more dedication than our marriage. We treat the people who work with us as the priceless contributors that they are. We increase wages generously and we offer praise for jobs well done. We never ask anyone to do anything we haven’t done and more often than not we work together on projects completing our fair share of the less than fun work.
    Prior to this I worked in HR at a small hospital. I’ve worked for publicly traded and privately owned businesses; I recommended privately owned entities where employees are held in high regard and treated as human beings.
    You can take chances and change positions/companies while you are young and without people who rely on you. It’s good to look at other prospects to find a place you really love. The average employment relationship lasts 3-5 years.
    Great post.

  3. Excellent post! I spent 30 + years in healthcare. I don’t know how I made it that long, but at 50 I became semi-retired. I do wellness screenings per diem now. No more RN stress for me. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

  4. Your honesty and insight is refreshing. I remember how hard the 20s were for me–you’re trying to figure out who you are and what the hell you’re supposed to do for the rest of your life. I like your attitude, though, and your spirit. My wife works in corporate America and it can be soul crushing. Good luck. Looking forward to more posts.

  5. I have been in the workforce for 30 years and the one thing I can tell you is be open to whatever. It took me many jobs in my 20’s before I settled on my career in law. And now that I have done that for 20 years I have changed my focus once again. I am writing and have started my own organizing business. Don’t get me wrong, my career in law was great but as I am getting older I realize there is only so much time left and I want to make sure I do what makes me happy and fulfilled all the time – and that is constantly changing. You may too. Be open to your own creativity and follow your heart whatever direction that may lead you. Even if it’s somewhere you never thought you might want to go.

  6. Superb post! Wish I’d read this all those years ago when I first left college!
    As you say, it’s so important not to settle not just for the now but also for the long term : once you’re in a career, it’s incredibly tough to change direction. You can do it but its so much better to get it right first time.
    My only other words of advice – take time out. Leaving college with a pile if debts, yes it’s hard not to feel pressured into getting a job, but trust me. This is your one big chance in life to travel, volunteer, write a novel, whatever you really really want to do that’s not a job. Again, it gets much harder here on in – and it’ll prob help you realise what you actually want in life longer term.
    Looking forward to reading more (and thanks also for checking out my blog)
    Cheers
    Lindsey

  7. Superb! Wish I’d read this all those years ago when I left college.
    As you say, don’t settle. Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life. This doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers now, but if after 6 months a job still don’t feel right, hopefully you can find the courage to move on. Yes, it’s hard especially in the face of post-college debts but it gets an awful lot harder later on to realise you’ve made a huge mistake and change career.
    One of my biggest regrets is not taking time out between college and career in my case to travel, but it could equally well have been to paint, to volunteer, to learn a language. Finding time later is so hard when you have so many responsibilities – and it might well have helped me figure out sooner what I really wanted out of life.
    Looking forward to reading more (and thanks also for checking out my blog)
    Cheers.
    Lindsey

  8. A good post. I’m looking back on 48 years of working in a field that paid well, but not great, jobs that seldom drew me from my bed even a minute earlier than necessary. The days I woke up eager to get to work numbered maybe a few dozen. You know, looking back, the best part of my “career” was that I worked with wonderful people who always got my jokes.

    The truth, as I see it, is this: (a) Not everybody can have a career. There aren’t enough openings of that sort, and many/most are filled by nepotism. (b) Supervisors are very seldom rated for turnover. A bad supervisor can lose employees faster than they are hired, and will often fire the ones who don’t quit in disgust. Nobody cares at the upper levels, because they don’t see a cost attributed to this. (c) Company politics can too often work to the disadvantage of talented employees. (d) Jobs/careers all look different once you’re in them. (e) Read Parkinson’s Law.

    (f) See also The Peter Principle. (g) If I had it to do over, I’d carry around a little book as an undergrad and get everybody’s contact info for use in networking after college. Too bad if you didn’t do that either. (h) There is no such thing as a real job that doesn’t create wealth. Beware of high-paying jobs that are based on subsidies or spending other people’s money. (i) Beware of companies that hire based on membership in outside organizations. If you are knowingly part of the in-group, you’re cooperating in discrimination. If you’re not, you’ll be the first to get laid off in a down-turn, no matter how good you are. (j) Always have a “Plan B.”

    (k) I’ve heard it said that young careerists should have four jobs in the first five years, just to try out different fields, then settle into a career at a stable company in the field liked best. (l) In a country that is experimenting with collectivism, there are no stable companies (except the government, and that is “stable” in the wrong sense of the word.) (m) Richard Barker says, “The secret of success is to find out what you like to do, and do it, and then talk someone into paying you to do it.” Good luck.

  9. Excellent post.

    “In a career, you wake up early, you arrive an hour before you’re supposed to, you work through lunch, you leave an hour after you should have, you take your work home with you, and on weekends, you’re checking your work email and working on work related projects..BIG DIFFERENCE.”

    The quote above really resonated with me. As a recent graduate myself(2009) this was the hardest thing for me to get used to.

    Keep sharing your insight!

    -Gilbert

  10. We all lie to our kids and grandkids. We want you to go to school, get that piece of paper because without it, you’re even worse off than you are with it. The only thing that teaches you about real life is real life. It’s a rough world and it never gets easy. But if you pay your dues, work the crappy jobs, you might just get a crack at the real deal. I did. My husband did. It CAN happen. When you do, grab it, hang on, work your ass off and enjoy the ride because it doesn’t last forever.

    Keep looking and don’t give up. Learn every single thing you can because you never know what skill is going to be the one you need. You’d be surprised at the weird stuff that turns out to be make/break in a competitive market. NETWORK. Meet people. Talk to them.

    I met that breakthrough contact at the kind of party the police usually break up, but it was the person I needed. My husband got his by meeting an exec at ABC network and pestering him for months till he got a job — the first person of color in that newsroom.

    You’ll know it’s the right job because you’ll love it.

  11. Agree – No one is really prepared for the “real world” – it takes time and patience which is all part of the life learning curve. Do what you are passionate about and makes you soul happiest. Merci, too, for visiting/following my blog.

  12. Hi GS, thanks for introducing yourself by following our site. Yours looks like it’s full of solid advice and we look forward to exploring it further. If you’re on facebook we also invite you to visit the RAXA Collective page. See you there!

  13. Excellent post. My hubby took a job once because of the salary. He regretted it almost immediately. Take your time and keep your options open. And thank you for following my blog. Happy Thanksgiving.

  14. There’s a lot of truth here. But you do seem to have realised before you started doing them that responsible jobs involved making difficult decisions and being under pressure. Some people don’t.

    I think the value of internships varies. As you say, you’re never going to have to live with your mistakes long-term, but being an intern with a small organisation – or, say, with an Member of Parliament in the UK – while risky, may mean if you seem good you may get real responsibility because there may be no-one else to do something quite important.You can also use it to observe how other people behave. For example, from what I read of the US private sector, people often get on by hanging around the big boss. In most UK public sector organisations, the big boss would regard you as a nuisance and your colleagues would give you a brown nose award.

    There are organisations which offer careers and don’t expect you to limit your lunch-break to five minutes and to stay in the evening till exhausted. In fact there’s evidence that such practices are often counter-productive and lead to bad decisions and a loss of perspective. A good organisation will assess your worth by the results.

    I think you express the difference between a job and a career pretty well, but the world is changing: it’s getting more and more common for people to be self-employed, or loosely employed by a consultant, and have portfolios of work rather than be a soldier of a single organisation. This means you have the flexibility you had as a student (except that you depend on bringing money in) along with the risks of you slacking. Companies and other organisations that rely on creating a strong corporate culture and emotional commitment to the company should recognise that a combination of outsourcing and encouraging working from home (to reduce demand for office space, and by the way, make you pay the power bills) will undermine corporate culture and employee commitment.

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