How to Adjust to Life as a Professional

How to Adjust to Life as a Professional

You will learn about:
  • Shifting from a student to an employee mindset
  • Transitioning to the workplace through an internship or apprenticeship
  • Balancing your time as a professional

21 min – Estimated reading time

How to Adjust to Life as a Professional

From the Classroom to the Workplace: How to Adjust to Life as a Professional

There is a huge difference between school life and the real world. Learning is one thing, but applying the knowledge you’ve acquired from your schooling experience is a whole other ball game. You’ll find that although your days of submitting essay papers is over, a full-time day  (or night) job demands even more of your time, energy and willpower.

Bridging the gap between the two domains doesn’t have to feel like an impossible task. Transitioning from the classroom to the workplace requires you to change your entire mentality. With a little help and a bit of effort on your part, you can make sure that your transition is as smooth as possible. Continue reading the following sections of this guide for helpful advice on how to apply your educational experience to your new phase of life.

Shifting From the Student Mindset to the Employee Mindset

One of the major differences between students and working professionals is their mindset. Before you hit the classrooms or began your online classes, you underwent a strong transition from a measly middle-schooler to a strong and confident high school senior (or not…); some even went on to further that transition into a strong-headed college freshman (or definitely not…).

Years later, it’s time to undergo a new transition. The way that you approach your tasks will shift and your priorities will change. Your entire mentality toward your work will move from a due-date basis to a deadline basis. Instead of doing “just enough” to get by, you’re expected to bring it all to the table.

Your employers are NOT your professors; once you recognize the differences, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable in the workplace. Here are some ways you can shift your mindset from that of a student to a working professional. 

You’re No Longer Working Toward Graduation

Many students seek motivation from their graduation date. Most understand that in just four short years, all the studying, assignments and term papers will come to an end. This is far from the reality of a full-time job. Unlike college, there’s no end in sight in the workplace.

You can’t rely on a graduation date to get you through the difficult days. While your current job may not be your lifelong career, it’s important to view it as such. This mentality will help you stay motivated and steer you away from squeaking by with the bare minimum. 

Your Progress Is Monitored Differently

Your teachers and professors calculated your grades based on several factors, such as assignments, homework, participation, tests and even attendance. This was a helpful way to view your progress and quickly fix an area in which you may have been falling short. Additionally, many teachers would be nice enough to clue you in on a problem area, such as if you forgot to submit an assignment or skipped too many class periods.

However, employers are not monitoring your progress with these types of assignments. Instead, you’re treated as an adult. As such, you’re expected to stay on top of your own work duties without constant reminders from your superiors.

This means arriving to work on time every day, completing your tasks in a timely manner and not expecting any “extra credit.” Your boss won’t be as lenient as a professor if you start slacking. 

The Bare Minimum Is Not Enough

The workplace is competitive. Employers are constantly pushing their employees to reach new heights to see who is most capable of succeeding and excelling. Doing just the bare minimum is a great way to guarantee your early termination. The workplace demands more of you than the classroom does.

If you’re tasked with creating a slideshow presentation, go above and beyond to make it a memorable one. If your boss asks you for new pitch ideas, don’t just hand him or her a list of scribbled notes; pitch the ideas to him or her in a convincing manner. If you want to succeed in your career, be prepared to go beyond what is expected of you. 

Be aware of Your Behavior, Body Language and Conduct

Say goodbye to the days of rolling into your 8 a.m. class in pajama pants and a sweatshirt, plopping your head down on the desk and zoning out. Your appearance and body language are extremely important in the workplace setting. You cannot expect to maintain a professional image if you exude laziness and disinterest. Don’t think that your body language goes unnoticed; in fact, it’s one of the easiest things for employers and colleagues to pick up on during the workday.

You must be professional at all times, even when you think nobody is watching. It’s easy to allow yourself to not care as a college student. Most professors understand that you’re stressed, exhausted and mentally checked out after hour-long lectures and demanding exams. Employers, on the other hand, hired you to do a job. If you can’t complete the job with zeal and excitement, they will find someone else who can.

Ensuring a Smooth Transition Through an Internship or Apprenticeship

Nearly all students and recent graduates can benefit from participating in an internship or an apprenticeship in their career field. It can be difficult to find an ideal career right after graduation. In fact, many high schools and most colleges and universities assist students in finding an internship or apprenticeship during their studies because they understand that these connections can lead to full-time employment.

The two terms of internship and apprenticeship are often used interchangeably, but there are a few key differences that can help you decide which one is right for you. Regardless of your occupational field, there is an internship or apprenticeship opportunity waiting for you. Some of these experiences may be paid, but most simply provide interns with real-world experience and a boost to their resumes. 

Internship vs. Apprenticeship

Internships and apprenticeships provide students, graduates and new employees with hands-on experience in the real world. Most employers expect recent graduates to have had some sort of internship experience during their studies, but it does not guarantee full-time employment.

Apprenticeships, on the other hand, almost always guarantee a full-time position at the end of the experience. Internships are available for nearly every occupational field, whereas apprenticeships are most concentrated in trade jobs and manual labor.

Additionally, internship programs are usually short-term, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Apprenticeships are long-term experiences that can last several years and often include classroom experience. Most interns will tell you that they were not seen as serious employees to the other employees in the workplace, but apprentices can usually perform work under the supervision of a licensed professional in their field and are treated as such.  

Ideally, you should begin searching for an internship opportunity during your sophomore or junior year of high school or during your final years of college (if you choose to attend). However, if you have already graduated without participating in an internship, fear not – there’s still time.

Many employers are open to hiring high school students, college students and recent graduates to perform intern work. As a recent graduate, you may even be given preference. Search for positions advertised at your high school, college or university. Most institutions reserve a certain number of employment spots for students looking to gain internship experience.

Do a quick online search to find internship opportunities in your local area. Career search websites usually have an option to search for internship positions, so be sure to take advantage of that too. If you’re having trouble finding an internship opportunity, speak with a career guidance counselor at a college or university.

They may be able to put you in contact with someone who can assist you and may even connect you with an internship right away. Have an open mind when you search, and remember that not all internships lead to full-time employment. If you aren’t performing the duties you expected, that’s okay; use the experience to your advantage when it comes time to search for a career. 

Treat It Like a Job

It can be difficult to see yourself as anything other than an intern or apprentice. In fact, most of the full-time employees you work alongside will never see you as an employee. You’re simply the “intern.” Don’t let their mindset interrupt your own. You should treat every internship or apprenticeship experience as a job.

Pay attention to the work the respected employees are doing and be mindful to copy it. If you treat it like a job, you’ll get more out of it and feel that your time is being used efficiently. This is especially important for those participating in an apprenticeship. If you succeed in your apprenticeship, you have a good chance of turning it into your full-time employment.  

Stay Connected

Internships and apprenticeships are so important because they provide you with networking contacts. Even if your internship experience wasn’t ideal, be sure to stay connected with the employers and employees. You never know when they may be able to connect you with a position. Chances are, they have other connections in the industry outside of their place of employment.

If you ever need a letter of recommendation, these contacts are invaluable. Make sure everyone in the workplace has your resume, email and telephone number. Be vocal about your career goals and discuss them with every employee you meet.

Practicing Professional Conduct

Most students become aware of the importance of professional conduct in the last few years of school. Interviewing for employment positions and participating in internships help prepare them for the workplace. Likewise, there are countless opportunities in high schools and on college campuses to learn and practice professional conduct, such as interview workshops and seminars.

Professional conduct is one of the principal influencers of your employment prospects. Even if you have the degree, work experience and grades, employers will hesitate to hire you if you come across as unprofessional. Don’t count yourself out simply because you’re unsure how to act, dress or speak. With some helpful advice and practice, you can become a natural at professionalism. 

Dress Appropriately for Your Profession

This isn’t just limited to the interview. Whether you have a career or you’re still on the hunt for one, be sure to dress appropriately for the job. Most office and day jobs have a business casual dress code. Don’t let the “casual” fool you – jeans are never appropriate unless specifically stated.

For women, business casual attire includes blouses, button-down shirts, blazers, slacks, long skirts, loafers and low heels. For men, button-down shirts, pressed pants, belts, ties, blazers and loafers are appropriate. Some work environments invite their employees to dress a bit more casually, which may include khaki pants, polo shirts and sport coats.

Other professions may have uniforms, which should be worn at all times during the work day. If you are ever wondering which attire is appropriate for your place of work, look around at the other employees. You’ll be able to get a feel for the atmosphere. Some items that should never be worn to an interview or workplace include sandals, cargo pants or shorts, t-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts or sweatpants and pajamas. 

Be Punctual

Nobody likes an employee with a record of being late. Some places of business rely on the punctuality of their employees to operate. For example, if you’re expected to arrive at 9 a.m. to relieve your colleague, he or she cannot stop working until you come into work. This can be grueling for someone who has already worked a double shift and is looking forward to heading home.

In the emergency medical services industry, employees may be ordered to stay until their relief arrives, which could tack on an extra hour or two to their shift. Don’t let yourself get a reputation as the one who’s always late. Make it a priority to arrive on time. Better yet, try to arrive a few minutes early. This looks appealing to employers and can definitely be used in the future to negotiate for a raise or promotion. 

Eliminate Slang and Curse Words

This is something that should be a no-brainer for working adults, but the issue is rampant in our society. When you’re at work, you are a reflection of your employer. You’re expected to maintain a positive public image. Using slang or curse words is always inappropriate, especially when speaking to customers or clients. Proper English is to be used at all times, even if you feel you’re comfortable with a client.

Many professions are scrutinized by the media already, and if you’re caught using curse words or speaking inappropriately, your employer will certainly not be happy reading the morning paper the next day. Be mindful of what you’re saying and do your best to kick the slang and expletives from your vocabulary. 

Avoid Gossip

It may be tempting to chime in when you overhear colleagues gossiping, but you should avoid it at all costs. Gossiping, whether about another employee, your boss or the company, always leads to trouble. The workplace should be separate from the drama of your daily life. When you clock in for your shift or begin your workday, focus on your tasks and save the gossip for later.

If you work in a small building or are part of a small workforce, gossip spreads like wildfire. Don’t risk losing colleagues and friends over silly gossip. It’s unprofessional and will stick with your reputation for the duration of your career.

Maintain a Positive Outlook

Everyone has their bad days, but consistently having a negative attitude about your work gets old quite fast. You should come to work with a sense of enthusiasm about your duties. When in doubt, fake it! Your employers can easily replace you with a candidate who brings a smile to the workplace every day.

Negative attitudes are contagious, and your boss might not be willing to keep you around for the sake of the morale of the entire company. Do your best to come to work with a positive outlook, regardless of the situation you may be going through.

How Social Media Can Affect Your Career

Social media was only introduced a few years ago, but it’s been around long enough for us to see its adverse effect on working professionals. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great for staying connected with family and friends.

However, they are also increasingly being used in the workplace so employers can easily stay connected with their employees and customers. This crossover is making it increasingly difficult for employees to separate their work lives from their personal lives.

As such, more employees are facing disciplinary action for what they say or post on social media. These websites are great for communication purposes, but there must be a balance between your personal and professional life.

Don’t let your career end abruptly because of something thoughtless you post on Facebook. Here are a few suggestions on how you can clean up your social media presence to preserve your professional career.  

Change Your Privacy Settings

Most social media platforms allow you to control who can see your pictures, posts and profile. These settings are important to understand and can help you maintain a professional image. As a social media user, you have the option to change your profile to “private,” which means that only approved users can follow or befriend you online.

Before approving a user, you can click on his or her profile to view a picture and verify his or her identity. This is the best option for those who use social media to vent; negative posts can be cathartic, but too many can be toxic and result in disciplinary action.

On sites like Facebook, you can change the type of content that appears to the general public. For example, if you are on the hunt for a new job, expect your prospective employer to check your online presence. You may choose to permit the employer to view your name, your profile picture and select information, such as your location or credentials. Be aware of these settings before getting yourself mixed up in a tough situation.

Delete Old Pictures

I’m sure you received a million “likes” on that picture from your best friend’s bachelorette party, but your employers definitely don’t want to see it. Social media is great for sharing pictures with friends and family. However, some older pictures from your high school or college days may still be visible to employers. As the old saying goes, nothing you post online ever truly disappears.

Be sure to browse through your online albums and delete any unflattering photos. Pictures of you making obscene gestures or in suggestive situations can get you into hot water with your boss. Your employer wants to maintain a professional image, which extends to all employees.

Sort Through Your Friend List

Does anyone really need a thousand online friends? In reality, you probably only know and interact with a handful of those “friends” on a monthly basis. There was a time when social media encouraged everyone to befriend old high school flames and college acquaintances. However, if you haven’t spoken with these people in years, you might be better off leaving them in the past. Many of your so-called “friends” post controversial or inappropriate messages and pictures online. Maintaining a professional image is a lot easier when you aren’t exposed to these individuals.

Having connections can be advantageous in the workplace, but these connections are only beneficial when they are professional. Certain social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, are ideal for having many connections because many employers see it as an advantage. 

Google Yourself

If you’re unsure of the social media trace you’re leaving across the internet, why not search yourself online? Type your name into the Google search bar and see what pops up. The results should be clean and professional. If you happen to come across an unsavory picture or blog post, perhaps it’s time to clean up your social media presence. Chances are your employer (or future employers) will search your name online to see the results. See what they see; use the internet as a tool to organize your social media presence.

Balancing Your Time as a Professional

Transitioning from a classroom setting to the workplace brings on many changes, including those to your free time. Depending on the industry in which you work, your schedule can vary; some employees work a common 9 to 5 job while others work overnight shifts or for several weeks at a time. Regardless of your work schedule, it’s probably a major shift from your days in the classroom. Learning how to balance your time is crucial to your productivity as well as your sanity.

Everyone has a life outside of work, but it can be lost on those who fail to achieve a kind of equilibrium between the two. Family, friends, social activities – these are all integral parts of your life. Be sure that you’re giving them enough attention while continuing to excel in your career. Here are a few tips on how to reach that balance. 

Don’t Bring Your Work Home

For some, this may be unavoidable. There is a growing number of U.S. employees choosing to work from a home office. However, those who travel into work every day should make an effort to leave their workplace responsibilities at the door. Separating work from your personal life is the key to achieving a balance. If you have a separate work phone, turn it off when you head home for the day.

Try not to answer work-related emails when you’re at home. Do your best to finish your assignments before the weekend arrives so that you are free to enjoy your well-deserved time off. This is essential to your own sanity and will allow your family and friends to feel just as appreciated as your career.  

Use Your Vacation Days and PTO

Most full-time positions offer employers a designated amount of vacation days and paid time off, or PTO. Use these to their fullest advantage! They’re yours for a reason: you earned them. Unfortunately, many employers do not allow these days to roll into the next year, which means if you opt not to use your days off, they expire. Time off from work can actually improve your productivity and help you regain focus. Most employers understand this and see the correlation between sufficient time off and enhanced output.

Whether you plan a week-long vacation in the sunshine or hit the slopes for a weekend ski trip, make sure to take this time to unwind from work. Spend it with family, friends or head out on a solo trip. Whatever you do, don’t let these days go to waste. 

Be Open With Your Employer

If you’re having difficulty balancing your personal and work lives, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Many workers struggle with achieving a healthy balance of work, play and socializing. Your employer is not the enemy. In fact, your bosses or supervisors would rather you be open with them about your problems.

Discuss where you might be having the most trouble, such as whether you have too heavy a workload or not enough time off. Be honest with how you’re feeling when you are at work. If you’re constantly stressed out and feel overwhelmed, your manager or supervisor may be able to help. It’s best to be honest and open with your superiors instead of trying to work it out on your own. 

Seek Help When You Need It

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most adults feel uncomfortable asking for help from a professional, but this stigma must come to an end. Being a professional in the 21st century is hard work. Most of us run on opposite schedules, so socializing is nearly impossible. We are expected to produce an enormous amount of work in a short amount of time while having our vacation days restricted.

If you feel the anxiety slowly start to creep in, take a breath and ask for help. Talking with a psychologist or a therapist can unload a tremendous amount of pressure from your shoulders. It’s a healthy way to decompress from work while getting back on track. Don’t bottle up your feelings inside – talk with a professional about how you can find joy in your career again. You’ll be in a better position to achieve a balance between work and play.

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