The world of work is an environment like no other and oddly, it barely ever gets mentioned. If you’ve just finished school and are about to enter the world of work, this article is for you.
I remember the day I‘d secured my first ‘real’ job. I’d gone for the interview on the Friday and back to Uni on the Monday. I got a phone call midway through a seminar. I quickly grabbed my phone to stop it going off in my pocket, glancing at the screen it was from a number I hadn’t recognised.
So, naturally I let it ring out.
After the seminar I took the walk about to my room on campus and when I looked at my phone again I could see I had a voicemail… you know it’s important if someone’s gone to the trouble of leaving you a voicemail.
I’d listened over the course of the following 20 seconds and realised it was from the job interview Friday. Of course what follows is a series of steps pacing up and down thinking:
‘If they’ve rang and I’ve not got it, this is going to be an awkward conversation’ ‘do I ring back now or later’ and ‘how do I even start a conversation with someone that rang me…’
Anyway, I rang back. Long story short, somehow I got it. I was elated. I remember being overwhelmed with joy — this was me making it.
Oh to be young and naive.
Say goodbye to the late nights, skipping lecturers and blagging coursework and hello to early mornings, meetings and a lot of ‘networking’.
The biggest change in my life, undoubtably is was the one from University to work. It was the most daunting, the most dramatic and the most exhausting. The change was so dramatic I probably didn’t really come up for air for the first six months.
The difference is so stark in many ways and it can be quite a challenge to get through the change successfully. As we move from University to work we change along with it. We find ourselves having to rise to the challenge of work which University hasn’t prepared us for. It’s hard to adjust. We go from students that wake up late, eat noodles and cram the studying in last minute to responsibilities, networking and work pressures.
The environment is totally different and so are the expectations.
It’s a transition I found quite hard. I hope that if you are just at the start of your journey this will shed some light on the differences to expect and the realities of the world of work.
1. The Person Marking Your Paper Isn’t the Same as Everyone Else
In University and school for that matter, one person teaches your class. That same person answers your questions and at the end of the module or project of work, they will mark your test and give it back to you.
That same person will mark all your classmates test papers and will give the class a debrief on what went well and what didn’t go so well. That helps the teacher understand the areas for improvement.
This process is rinsed and repeated our whole schooling life. Your Maths teacher wouldn’t mark your Science test and they certainly would not mark your English paper.
One teacher, one subject.
More importantly one teacher, one subject and one class. The whole class gets marked by the same person, against the same marking criteria. That same subject they’ve just taught. The subject they are qualified in. Obviously.
In complete contrast is what happens in work. You have one manager for the whole shebang. And no, they don’t mark other graduates the same as you, they don’t manage the other graduates. All your colleagues aren’t in the same year group as you, they’ll be many people in your team that have got twenty years on you. How could they possibly be marked the same?
The working world is like being in one class. All year groups and subjects combined, the teacher picks the topic and marks you based on everything. Science, Math, English and other ambiguous things we never got taught in school like confidence, passion, perception.
That is a major culture shock. You need to get clued up on those other things we never get taught. Then include (but are not limited to) empathy, influence, articulation, understanding, problem solving, delegation and dare I say, ‘playing the game’.
2. In Fact, There is No Mark Sheet
In school there is a legacy of progress and a system of delivery. Generally what happens is the great scientists, mathematicians and thinkers of the world do their thing. They break the ground on new theories, studies and thought; they then turn that into fact. They test their hypotheses, prove the truth, win some prizes along the way and that filters down to the schooling system.
The syllabus is created from the work these wonderful folk do and that’s how we teach our next generation. Millions of hours, science and proven facts have gone into the things we teach the kids of the world. It’s pretty marvellous actually. This bible of work is carefully handed to the teachers of the world, whom have studied the subject themselves, to then deliver to the next generation.
Like the passing of a proverbial touch.
It makes complete sense. The subject is taught, teachers make it memorable and fun a long the way and then we test. We ask questions, in test conditions to get the truth about what the new generation understand. There is no room for question because they are all being tested in test conditions, there should be no cheating, no talking, no sharing.
The last piece to this wonderful jigsaw is the marking. There is a mark sheet that is totally clear. If it says ‘this’ it’s a tick, if it doesn’t say ‘this’, it’s a cross.
You add up the marks at the end and the pupils that have understood well will typically have high scores, and the ones that haven’t, will have low scores.
That’s that. The system and the legacy.
In total contrast to that is work. Work there is no marking sheet. There is of course a legacy, depending on the age of the business but everyone and everything has a story. Which means the system and legacy can vary. Depending on how well the business documents and hands down their proverbial bible will depend on how much of that story you will get. But the testing and the marking, well that’s pretty different across the board. There is no mark sheet that completely defines what A* presentation is vs a B. Someone’s A* might be someone else’s B. Someone’s A* on Tuesday might be someone else’s B on Friday. In fact, in many cases there is no marking sheet whatsoever. How would you define a good presentation? Well for me… I’d say it’s:
Peppered with humour
Tells a story
But what is the measure for engagement? Is it how many times people ask questions? What is the measure for humour? Is it how many times people laugh? Well if they laugh twice is it deemed funny enough or is it three times that solidifies it as funny? Factual… well according to who? Do we get the figures verified by the third party to make sure they are correct? A story, well what makes a good story? Has the person that is marking this ever studied English? Do they know what makes a good story?
All of these questions leave room for opinion. And opinion is the difference in work. The absence of a marking sheet means that opinion wins.
And that can be confusing if you didn’t realise opinion mattered.
3. Work Are Paying You, Not the Other Way Round
In school and most obviously in University, the student isn’t getting paid. Yes they are getting an education but the teachers are getting the dough, and the students are, in a sense, the customer. They are receiving the service. Being a student means there is a different expectation of us. We are of course expected to do the work and to put the time in but our reward is totally non-monetary, at least in the short-term. We get rewards with good grades and praise.
We don’t get paid for getting good grades.
In work it’s the opposite. In work we get paid. In work we are expected to have an output that warrants the fee. We provide the service or the product in many respects to our managers. They deem the benefit and thus grade our performance.
In the transition you go from receiving the service to providing it.
4. See You Later Structure – World of Work
The schooling system is built on structure. It would fall apart if not. Each step you take is a step towards something else, preparing you for your life outside the walls of school.
In school the bell goes and you know you have to be in lesson. You know how long the lesson is and how many mind numbing minutes till break. You know at lunch where to go and where you’ll meet your pals. You know that you’ll have five lessons a week in Maths and that in June the Maths exam comes around. You know to get an A in Maths you need 85 marks out of a 100. You know if you nail the next six modules you’ll be on track for A in GSCE and that means you’ll qualify to get into your A-Levels.
Simple. Structured. Fair.
Work is the milestone we’re aiming to hit here. All the work at school is aiming for you to obtain a good job. The aim is to get the next generation clued up enough to enter the world of work and live their lives.
So… you’ve now reached that destination.
Well, that’s entirely up to you, which was never the case before. Now, we create our own structure.
And that, well, that is pretty scary.
The obvious next step is a promotion. If you want a promotion, you’ll need to figure out what it takes to get there but it wont be an exact science. But what if it’s not a promotion? What if you don’t want the next (progressive) step. Progressive being high pay, more status, more people to manage. Well then you need to figure out what progress is to you and that might mean your next step on your ladder isn’t the traditional one. The structure of your working like is carved out by you.
So, get your chisel and figure out what you want to make.
And side note here. You can do whatever you like. Whatever. You. Like. Don’t live someone else’s dream.
5. There is No End in Sight
The end is retirement. Which is depressing. The end to school is obvious and a milestone. Because there is no immediate and obvious end to work so you have adjust your way of thinking and that takes time. It’s quite daunting to realise that work, is the next forty years of our lives. We’re hitting our twenties, we can’t even comprehend what forty years even looks like, never mind what work will look like.
With that in mind. Take your time. The end of this journey is retirement and we can all probably agree we’re in no rush to retire — although I do often think what a lovely life retirement must be. We somehow need to figure out how to shake off the mentality of ‘what’s next?’ And get into the mentality of ‘What’s for me?’
It’s pretty rough. I won’t lie.
But some patience, a little thought and a pinch of light-heartedness and you’ll find your thing.
“I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” ― Carl Sandburg
University to work is one hell of a transition. It can take anywhere between 2 months to 2 years to feel like you finally get what’s going on — and that’s fine. You’ve just been in University and school for the last 13+ years, it’s going to take some adjustment.
The key things to remember are to not be too hard on yourself, manage your own expectations and put people first — the rest will fall into place.