Did college really prepare us for the corporate world?
Happy 2012 Everyone!
After anywhere from 2 to 14 days off during the holidays (depending on how many vacation days you had leftover), it is time to get back work.
I will spare you all the flowery talk about new year’s resolutions and hope and possibilities. Instead I wanted to “get down to business” by offering my two-cents on a core question that has crossed the mind of many, especially a few months into our first jobs after graduation: “Did college really prepare us for the corporate world?”
My short answer is No & Yes. But let me explain…
For most of us, this is what entering the “real world” is like.
This cartoon really encapsulates the the “no” answer to the question on the table. In college, study is generally focused on theory. Topics are addressed in a vacuum of assumptions, looking to pull out main points. Most of us at some point have said to ourselves, “when is this going to be relevant in my future job?” (I remember saying this in response to the Scandinavian Mythology course I took in college. A story for another time).
Most of our professors are researches and by nature talk in theory. The corporate world is the exact opposite; it is about practicality. Decisions are routinely made based on facts over theory. No one ever pulls out a textbook to refer to a scientific law related to a dollars and cents decision. Even business theories (while useful) do not always prove to be right in market situations. Moreover, it is interesting to look back on the courses we took, realizing that the ones we found to be most useful and applicable were the most practical (like a course I look on negotiations). Not to downplay the intellectual enrichment extracted from the many theoretical things we studied, but most did not prove to be incredibly useful in corporate situations (except maybe at cocktail parties where inserting an interesting thing we studied here and there can liven conversation or add to the punchline of a joke).
At the same time, though (and here is where the “yes” to the question comes in), there are certain skills that have been taught to us through school.
- The corporate world is a giant (and sometimes messed up) group project. We have all had MANY group projects through years of schooling. We learned that most of the time there is someone on the team who doesn’t pull their weight and generally there is scrambling at the last minute to meet a deadline. The corporate world is no different. There are people who put in more work and those that put in less. Often you are not rewarded with anything more when you put in extra effort for the team (i.e. in group projects you all got the same grade) and projects are rushed to meet financial goals so that something good can be said on an earnings call with analysts. Ultimately, in the corporate world you need to learn how to work with others and school gave us a lot of experience doing that.
- Preparation meets execution. In college, all the reading, lectures attended and studying comes down to your ability to illustrate your knowledge of a topic on a test or in a final paper. The same is true in the real world. It is about results. While preparation is very important (just like in college), if you are unable to perform when the pressure is on, you are not going to succeed.
- Politics (and I am not referring to student council). Through years of school we are used to cliches and people talking about us behind our backs. Unfortunately, this does not change when people get older. Remember the lessons of when gossip got you in trouble when you were younger. Don’t fall into the same trap at work. Stay out of all the office politics and focus on your job and getting results.
Whether you feel that college prepared you for the corporate world or not, the bottom line (and yes, feel free to cross off that square in your “Corporate BINGO!” game… for those who don’t know what I am referring to, go back and read this previous blog post) is that we need to be flexible and adapt and learn how to be successful in the work world. We can’t rely on a textbook to teach us what to do. The best thing is to find good mentors to help us along the way and to take action (aka “just do it”).
Apocalyptic predictions aside, I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be an exciting and memorable year. I hope that it will be a successful one for you.
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