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How to Make the Transition from School to the Professional World as Painless as Possible

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KU chapter.

Many of us will graduate from college and have a job at a desk, in a cubicle, in an office. Whether or not that fact scares or excites you, it can come as a huge change. Though this change often means having a stable job and income, it can be accompanied with some existential dread and the nagging thought that, “I’ve worked so hard to get…here???”

Though the transition from school to work can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be painful. There are many opportunities to make your workplace an enjoyable environment, and a portion of this has to do with actions you can take. Here are a few ways to make the transition from school to work as painless as possible.

Preface: Know that your life does not have to be your work.

If you feel constantly bogged down in the existential dread associated with working a 9-5 office job, you’re not alone. First, remember that work is just one part of your life. Second, there are always other jobs. Ideally, you will be able to find meaning and fulfillment in your work, but sometimes work is just a means to an end and that’s okay. If the dread is temporary and you typically find meaning in your work but are deflated by the unfun nature of an office setting, there are many ways to make office life more livable. 

Make an effort to connect with your co-workers. 

Most of what makes going to college (and life in general) fun is seeing your friends every day! Since you’ll likely be seeing your co-workers every day, try to develop relationships in your workplace.You don’t need to be best friends with your coworkers, but feeling connected with them is essential to making the transition from school to work. Though your co-workers may be in different phases of life than you, there is still much you all will have in common and many things to bond over.Regardless of how much you love or hate your work, feeling connected to your co-workers will make the biggest difference in your day to day work life. Make an effort to ask them questions about their career journey, their family, and their interests outside of work.  

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with your co-workers, consider inviting your coworkers to lunch, planning a work-related happy hour, or organizing a holiday party. These types of events help coworkers create memories together. They make work more interesting and less monotonous! It may be nerve-wracking to take the initiative to plan something, but your effort to contribute to a positive workplace culture will be recognized. Every workplace needs someone to plan social events and if you see that there’s a void in this area, step in!

Your workplace should offer community among co-workers, not require you to be a family.

Take the opportunity to learn.

When you accept your first internship or job in the professional world, take the opportunity to learn as much as you can. Even if you know you don’t want to be in your office forever, collect as much knowledge as possible. Have your co-workers teach you new skills, go to every meeting you can, and meet as many professionals as you can. You never know when that skill will come in handy or when exchanging contact information with that person will lead to new opportunities in the future.

Take notes about what you like and don’t like in the organizational culture. Learn what is non-negotiable for you in your work life. Are you most concerned with the pay and benefits, flexibility, coworkers, or upward mobility? Do you want to work with others on team projects or focus on individual work? Do you prefer a fast-paced environment or somewhere more stable and relaxed? Don’t get too stressed if your first few professional work experiences are not where you could see yourself long-term, but try to figure out what you want to prioritize in your career.

Learn skills and non-negotiables. 

Make yourself at home in the office.

Most Americans spend an enormous part of their lives at work. Considering this fact, try to make your desk, cubicle, or office as cozy and comfortable as possible. Bring in photos of your friends and family, add fun elements of decor, light cozy ambient lamps, and really make yourself at home. Working in a cubicle may not be ideal, but try to make it a space with at least a few fun elements. 

The virtue of comfort has become even more important in a post-COVID world. Many of my coworkers have brought blankets and slippers to keep at their desks for optimal coziness. It can be difficult to be productive if you don’t feel physically comfortable, so I now have a pair of slippers that live under my desk for when I want to really get relaxed while I work.

If your office has a break room and a refrigerator, I recommend keeping a few snacks, drinks, and grocery items stored there. That way, you always have something to munch or sip on at work that can help break up monotonous days. 

Make your work space livable.

Dress up for work.

My office is gray and dull but I sure as hell am not. I’ve taken it upon myself to bring life into the office however I can and one way I do this is by wearing colorful outfits! Just because your office has an expectation of professional attire, does not mean you are required to sacrifice your personal style. Thrift stores often have funky vintage blazers or patterned trousers that are perfectly appropriate for work and stores like H&M always have high quality, stylish professional clothing. As you make your debut into the professional world, begin collecting wardrobe pieces that you can see yourself rocking at work. 

Be yourself. 

Ask not what your workplace can do for you, but what you can do for your workplace. Of course your workplace should treat you fairly and pay you fairly. Your employer should provide you with adequate benefits and a safe work environment. But sometimes, it’s up to you as an individual to bring new energy into the space. Take the initiative to connect with your co-workers, learn all that you can, make yourself at home, and be yourself.

Zoe Brown is a member of the writing team at Her Campus at KU chapter. She is also the Co-Manager of the Her Campus KU Book Club. Zoe enjoys writing about dating and relationships, friendship, professional development, and books. Beyond Her Campus, Zoe is a second-year master's student getting her degree in urban planning. She is currently the planning intern for the City of Topeka. Zoe formerly worked as an intern in the Johnson County, KS planning department as well as the Missouri Housing Development Commission. She is the president of the Kansas Association of Planning Students. Zoe plans to graduate in May and intends to find a job as a city planner in the Midwest. In her free time, Zoe goes to yoga and plays in her recreational volleyball league. She enjoys cooking while listening to jazz and can often be found cuddled up, reading a murder mystery. She loves showing her friends around Lawrence, particularly to all her favorite local book stores.