Things Every College Student Should Know About the Working World

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By Marisol Flores

Work is rarely anything like college. Here are some things you need to know before heading out to the working world:

1) Make sure your chosen job/career matches your needs and values

Although a career path may seem perfect for you at first, you may realize that your values or needs are at odds with what is required of you. Working 80-hour weeks in the financial services sector may be too much. Will you be able to accept the modest lifestyle that comes with life in the not-for-profit world?

Think about who you are and what you need. Do you prefer intellectual, creative, or task-based work? Do you want to move up quickly or are you okay with a slower pace? Speak with people in your fields of interest and ask them these kinds of questions. Most people love talking to students, and will be happy to share their experiences with you.

2) Work in your target field before you graduate

This usually takes the form of an internship or part-time job. Build a network of potential employers through family/friends, your college career office, youth-mentoring programs, or your college’s alums. Use all your resources to your benefit.

3) Interview your boss

Learn as much as you can about your potential colleagues and organization. Ask your potential boss how she/he would prefer to work with you. How will your performance be evaluated? Does the team know and agree on what they require of you? How will your role contribute to the organization’s success?

Be mindful of non-verbal factors. Do these people seem to work well together? How do you feel around them? Would you want to see them every day? Trust your gut! If something seems wrong, it probably is. If you feel uncomfortable asking questions in an interview, schedule a practice session with a career counselor or someone with experience in the process.

4) Negotiate your salary

Organizations want to get more out of their employees with less. Don’t be dissuaded from researching an appropriate salary. Compare salaries for people in similar roles on sites like salary.com or glassdoor.com, professional organization websites/publications, or by asking around. In the case of public employees, salaries can be found online. Compare yourself to people with similar credentials and years of experience. When you receive an offer, refer back to the market rate. Expect the first offer to be low. Be prepared to reiterate your interest and ask for more. Ensuring an adequate salary establishes the foundation for a good relationship with your employer.

5) Learn from your colleagues

Everyone gravitates towards their type. Pay close attention to your work friends. If you surround yourself with successful and positive co-workers, you are likely doing well yourself. If not, you may be picking up harmful habits. See how the most successful people in the room handle themselves. If their behaviors are positive, emulate them. If they are negative and against your values, seek new employment.

6) The Right Relationships = Success

In school, good work generally results in good grades. Being great at your job may not be rewarded. You must be liked by the people who can help you advance. Take an interest in your colleagues. Get to know people. Relationships happen naturally. Involve yourself in projects with influential folks. It proves your worth to the decision makers. Sneak in a conversation about your goals. If you notice that you must become a completely different person to be liked or appreciated at work, you are working in the wrong place. Try to move on.

7) Ask for what you want

The most successful people don’t waste time grumbling; they ask for what they want. If you don’t ask for things, management assumes that you are fine. Before you ask for something, write out what you plan to say clearly and concisely. Managers respect those who communicate well, solve their own problems, and mind their time. Always ask before you reach your breaking point, so you can articulate your viewpoint calmly and objectively.

8) Curb inappropriate behavior

Sadly, not everyone in a professional environment behaves professionally. Sexual harassment is not limited to physical touching or rape. The law (http://www.expertlaw.com/library/employment/sexual_harassment.html) states that it is any behavior which makes you feel uncomfortable, or any offer for advancement or money tied to sexual/romantic favors. Touching or sexual coercion should always be reported. If a coworker flirts with you or asks you out on dates repeatedly, gazes/winks at you inappropriately, tell this person to stop, which works in most instances. If the behavior continues, you must discuss it with a supervisor.

9) Don’t take it personally

Sometimes, people will be mean to you, or dislike you for no apparent reason. I don’t care too much about co-workers’ opinions of me. Don’t take things people say or do personally unless they undermine your performance. That kind of behavior affects you and the organization negatively and must be reported.

10) You are more than your career

One of the first questions people pose when they meet us is, “What do you do?” Tying your worth to your career is like tying it to the stock market. If you want to feel good about yourself, be a complete person. Be a good parent, child, sibling, and friend. Make time for dancing, painting, writing, singing, and volunteer work. Take pride in all the parts of you that make you a caring, interesting person. If you value yourself on a variety of pursuits, the collapse of one will never pull you down.