Like many recent college graduates, as I finished my last semester this past May I felt like I was on top of the world and qualified for anything. After all, I had a great GPA, led a massive student club - the real world felt as though it would be in the palm of my hand.
Here’s a realization I’ve come to over the last 3 months: college DOES NOT translate too well to the real world. In fact, college graduates, you’ll be shocked at how unqualified you are for the real world. Unlike school, there are no grades which means it isn’t immediately clear how you are performing. If you mess up on a report, you don’t just get a scowl from your professor but instead could face getting fired. The expectations are enormously higher because generally you are dealing with someone else’s money while in college, you are dealing with your own since you pay to attend.
Especially if you are in the entrepreneurial world, the fact is that taking on jobs at businesses with REAL responsibility is, well, really hard. I was quickly humbled my COO role at influencers@ because I came in thinking it would be a lot easier than it actually is. Don’t mistake the sexiness of a title or company for relaxing… any real business that makes money every month will be challenging and also rewarding.
Schools like Northeastern take a good first step in preparing their students for the real world with co-op. For kids that are currently still in school, consider these pointers to prevent the real world from smacking you in the face when you graduate:
1. Get an internship. Right now.
Students have to do internships. I don’t care if it means taking hours out of your social life or having to work an on-campus job as well. You need to be in real companies that give you real responsibilities. I’m biased, but I recommend interning at a start-up where your desk is close by to the company leaders.
2. Student clubs are good, but not the real world.
Taking on leadership roles in clubs is a great first step for students – highly encouraged. Work your way up to a top position: it will give you confidence and great experience. However, it is not the same as the real world because there isn’t as much pressure. You need to compliment student group leadership experience with real world, revenue-generating, internships with a boss.
3. Talk to everyone.
The more people you meet, the more insight you will get on what the real world is like. Cold email senior executives at start-ups if that is your thing, or your favorite musician if that is your thing.
4. Start something.
Work on a software project or start a non-profit. Entrepreneurial ventures like this give you real world experience with minimal risk and not much to lose.
Finally, this stuff has to start FRESHMEN year. Not junior or senior year. Get started now, you’ll be glad you did.