How to Confidently Make the Transition From College Life to Work Life

The transition from college life to work life is never easy, but I’m hearing from so many young graduates that this year is especially challenging. The class of 2022 has been through so much disruption, disappointment and uncertainty — and was robbed of nearly two years of face time with professors, internships and networking opportunities.

Missing out on those types of experiences can have a profound impact on your confidence, connections and wellbeing.

I have a message for you, class of 2022: First, I want you to know that I have so much empathy for what you’re going through. That transition from college life to work life was hard for me, and I wasn’t coming off a global pandemic!

The good news is there are so many steps you can take to enhance your self-confidence and continue your learning journey as you enter the workforce. Here’s some advice for making the transition from college life to work life in today’s difficult times.

Visit Your College Career Center

The folks at your college’s career center are there to help you find your path, even if you’ve already graduated. 

They can suggest career tracks based on your education, help you draft resumes and cover letters, provide practice interviews and offer decision-making support. Career centers can also provide assessments to determine your strengths, help you with networking and make introductions to employers that are hiring grads like you.

I didn’t take advantage of any of these resources, and I’ve spent the rest of my life making up for it. I am a huge advocate for career centers and believe every college student should take advantage of these amazing resources.

Prioritize Action Over Inaction

I’ve learned — following months of inaction after my graduation — that it’s always better to take a job you aren’t 100% sure about than to wait for the “perfect” job to come along. If an opportunity checks most of the boxes and you don’t have a ton of additional offers, then I say go for it.

Many of us hesitate to accept jobs that aren’t directly related to our course of study or career track. Or we hold out endlessly for perfection. 

Trying something new is better than doing nothing at all. You’ll gain experience and add new people to your network. Every job is an opportunity to learn more about what you’re capable of doing — and what you want to do. Even taking an imperfect job and leaving after a year is better than spending a year waiting for perfection. 

Redefine “Experience”

No one will expect you to have a decade of experience as a recent graduate. But you can think of other ways to gain experience that go beyond actually working full-time for pay in a particular industry or role.

“Experience” includes taking a course on a subject, earning a microcredential (like my LinkedIn Learning course), volunteering or interning, or even listening to a podcast series or reading books on a key topic. 

Experience can be anything that you do to demonstrate that, even if you haven’t worked in a particular field, you have an interest in it and have invested time and resources into learning more about it.

Do What You Have to Do

Not everyone has the luxury of waiting for the perfect job to come along. And I’m here to tell you it’s OK to take jobs that aren’t on your career track. People typically respect the fact that you have to support yourself and are willing to do whatever job needs to be done. This might include a job in retail, factory work, foodservice or hospitality.

This type of experience can actually be great for your resume, too. I know a lot of corporate employers who are very happy to see on the resume that a candidate waited tables or worked retail jobs. That type of experience says a lot about your ability to work, your willingness to deal with the public and to communicate with a wide variety of people.

Talk It Through

The transition from college life to work life is a time to explore your options and ask questions. Have you ever wondered what your friend’s job as a nursing home activities coordinator is like? Just ask them!

I challenge you to have conversations with 20 people to learn about their choices. Ask questions like: “How did you decide on the career that you want?” or “What can you tell me about what you do?” This exercise helps get all of these questions out of your head and into a place where you can gain valuable information for making decisions.

Finally, be kind to yourself. You’ve accomplished so much under very straining circumstances, and that’s worth celebrating.

The transition from college life to work life is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart (it was even the subject of my first book!). The pandemic may have planted a lot of doubts into your head, but I’m confident that you’ll find your path forward. Go forth and change the world, Class of 2022!

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hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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