From college to corporate America

Brandon Erhart, ’13, Member of the GVSU Young Alumni Council

Few people are as sensitive to seasonal change as we are here in Michigan. It sometimes feels as though we could endure both the polar vortex and those scorching hot summer days all in the same week. Nevertheless, we’re accustomed to change regardless of whether we’re prepared for it or not.

Similarly, as an early to middle stage twenty-something, our seasons of life can – and often do – change just as abruptly as the change in our Michigan weather.

As graduation from high school opens the door to the new and exciting world of “The College Experience”, graduation from college brings forth new challenges, a new working environment, and new responsibilities – the only difference is that graduation into the working world does not come with a Freshman Transitions leader.

College graduation is a beautiful thing. Finally, after being locked down for the past 4-5 years, it is time to take the skills and relationships you’ve built and put them to work crafting a future that is both successful and community oriented. Everyone that graduates from Grand Valley State University has the capacity to strive for personal success while also making an impact on their community. No matter what your industry is, your geographical location may be, or your social status, it is always important to remember the value of we versus me.

But enough listening to me preach about things you already know. What I really want to do is dive into the five lessons I’ve learned to help college graduates transition into “Corporate America”.

The Top 5

Treat Every Day Like Your First

It’s easy to get complacent in any environment, especially if you’ve been in that same environment for several years. Why do you think senioritis exists? In the working world there is no such thing as senioritis. In order to be the best at what you do and to continue to perform at the highest level for your company, treat every day as if it’s your first. Never stop learning, always ask questions, and remember that there is always someone waiting in line for your position.

Learn the Dress Code

More likely than not, any professional career choice is going to have a dress code other than sweatpants and leggings. Sweats are cozy and they’re how students have been working and doing school for years, but making the adjustment to wardrobe that is workplace appropriate can be a challenge. Take time to learn how to dress appropriately and still feel as cozy as the living room sofa.

Conquer “The Age Gap”

For several years, before graduation, students are surrounded by hundreds, even thousands, of young twenty-something’s who are at similar stages in life. Some are in committed relationships, others are far from it, but for the most part all are experiencing life at the same pace. In the workplace, this may or may not be the case. Depending on the industry and type of job, it’s possible to be the youngest employee by close to a decade.

But it’s okay! With a dedicated, professional attitude it is possible to conquer the “Age Gap” and earn the respect of fellow professionals.

Never, Ever, Ever Burn Bridges

We’ve all heard the saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

While this is still a pretty important approach to networking, I would argue the most important approach is considering who knows you? The reality to this question is that the answer is everyone!

In the workplace, building a reputation as reliable, knowledgeable, and hardworking, you can pave your way to a successful career.

Now, it is unrealistic to expect that anyone and everyone you meet will be your best friend, but it is important to distinguish between a friendship and a working relationship. You never know which connections made, both inside and outside of your organization, could turn out to be the gatekeeper for the next step in your career.

This is why I always say, never burn a bridge you cannot repair!

It’s Okay to Move On

A career is often a product of several different job titles coupled with life experiences that enable us to combine 1) our skills with 2) our interests and 3) our passions.

This is different from a job.

Graduation from college opens a door to a whole new beginning. The days of working for the same company for 40+ years have come and gone, so it is important to keep long term goals in mind at all times.  It is okay to move on from one job opportunity to the next in order to meet your personal career goals.


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