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How to Manage the College-to-Corporate Transition

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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice do you have for college graduates entering the workforce?” is written by Shadan Deleveaux, co-founder of Technology For Families in Need.

The transition from college to the workforce can be jarring. When I first finished, I struggled for a while trying to figure out where to focus my effort and energy. While life will pull you in a million directions after graduation, here are some pillars to stay focused on during your journey:

Invest in professional relationships

College tends to be an environment where cliques form incredibly quickly. A person arrives on campus and before they know it, they find themselves in a like-minded group of people: the athletes, the fraternities and sororities, the techies. Once inducted into a specific tribe, there’s little incentive to step outside of that micro-environment to meaningfully interact with others.

This approach works on campus, but is completely antithetical to how corporate America works. Lawyers work with marketers, who collaborate with engineers, who engage with salespeople. The better able you are to navigate each of the stakeholder groups and their nuances, the more likely you are to be respected for your organizational savvy and prowess.

Develop your resilience

There’s a good chance that your first job post-college will be uncomfortable. The learning curve will likely be steep, you may feel unsettled, and people will have real expectations that you’ll be able to contribute to the business’s goals. Almost overnight, you will have gone from an environment where you have been paying to learn to one where you’re being paid to perform.

It’s tempting to run from the discomfort in this situation, to assume the job is a bad fit, quit, and find something less challenging. Fight through that feeling. The truth is that no matter how great your job is, there will be days you don’t like it. But the experience can help you develop muscles that you may be using for the first time. Intelligence isn’t that hard to find; it’s the additional quality of perseverance that sets the merely gifted apart from the professionally successful. Companies appreciate tenacity. Embrace the discomfort of learning new things and develop the resilience necessary to weather the difficult seasons at work.

Treat everyone you meet with respect

Upon first arrival, corporate America seems unimaginably large. But in reality, it is a fairly small place. Between conferences, job changes, and LinkedIn, there is very little professional anonymity. Your reputation is no longer something that you leave behind when you change companies. In fact, if you’re correctly maximizing opportunities, it precedes you and is something to be leveraged as a point of advantage.

The most basic of lessons in this regard is to treat everyone—everyone—with respect. You never know when a former colleague, team member, or boss will be asked their opinion of you. Your abilities may be undeniable, but people will often make subjective judgments about your character. Those opinions can affect future opportunities, so do your part to earn favorable reviews.

Save your dough

Just after graduating, the last thing many people are thinking about is retiring; however, the sooner you start saving for retirement, the sooner you can enjoy it. Unfortunately, far too many people don’t have enough money saved. According to a 2016 survey by Bankrate, one out of 10 college graduates has no emergency savings, while another 17% have fewer than three months worth. Needless to say, having no money for emergencies can lead to stressful situations. At some point life will throw a financial surprise your way, and having the money to handle it will go a long way toward avoiding unnecessary stress. Whenever possible, live below, not at, your means. Then save and invest the excess.