What University Doesn’t Teach You About The Workplace

So, you’ve spent the majority of your life in education, working through countless assessments, projects and coursework, culminating with three years at university to cap off your learning. You’d think during that time you’ll have taken everything away that’s vital for life in the real-world, right?

Wrong. There are some fundamental life lessons that university degrees don’t cover – and no amount of portfolios will rectify that. Here are our top points to consider before entering the workplace as a graduate – and trust us, the next five minutes’ reading could be just as important as your entire degree.


1. The Office Isn’t A Classroom

You’d be right thinking this sounds obvious written down, but hear us out. During school, you’re nurtured through your development. Teachers are there to support you, and your growth of knowledge is tracked – if you have a problem with an assessment, someone is always on-hand to help you.

Compared to this, entering the workplace is a little like having the stabilisers taken off your bike. You will have superiors, but they are just that – they’re not there to be your tutor, and won’t lead your day-to-day activities – if you have a problem, you are expected to resolve it yourself.

You need to switch tracks and learn autonomously, and be confident in leading yourself. Top Universities comments that “while academics may help you nail that top grade, they’re negligible assets in the real world” which is a statement of innate truth – grades (unfortunately) don’t equal immediate success in the workplace – you’ll need to adapt to a new way of working, and be confident in it.


2. Stick To Your Job Description

You have your degree, and are ready to tackle whatever anyone throws at you – booking a last-minute flight for your Company Director, arranging a whole-company lunch spread for an important client meeting, changing the ink in the printer – whatever the task, you’re sure you can handle it.

You want to appear proactive – which is an amazing trait – but while doing so, you don’t want to jeopardise your primary responsibilities. If you’ve completed additional tasks, but the report that’s outlined in your job description isn’t complete by the end of the day, you’re in hot water.

Don’t be too eager to impress – as Lauren Berger, founder of InternQueen.com says – “Sometimes as a young employee, you have to hold back” – so nail your basic day-to-day activities first, and look to introduce additional tasks when you’re fully grounded.


3. Make Details Your A-Game

This goes hand-in-hand with our previous point. Even if you manage to complete additional tasks and your report in the same day, they mean nothing if the details aren’t there. If you’ve failed to notice that a client is a strict vegan, and this hasn’t been considered in the catering, this will not only reflect badly on you, but on the company as a whole.

This is not to say that failure is always a bad thing – as InternMe Australia says: “To fail in anything is a gift, because under that failure is a lesson that can only be taught in that way” – which holds a lot of truth. But what you should consider is the repercussions of getting something wrong. Small-scale incidents like accidentally ordering too much printer toner can be resolved – but when the issues leak out to affect potential client-deals for your business, you need to be more mindful.

Ensure you know everything before you confirm something – and if you don’t, ask.


4. Don’t Expect Constant Praise

This is probably one of the hardest things to get your head around as a graduate. You’re used to getting feedback on work, and (usually) some sort of praise once a project is complete. This isn’t to say in the workplace you’ll never hear the words ‘well done,’ but they will be lessened – remember you are there to do a job. Getting things right is part and parcel of your position – you won’t get a pat on the back every day for doing just that.

Forbes reports that while 70% of graduates think they have the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, less than a third of employers agree. It’s down to small changes in your mindset like this – be prepared to re-learn what you thought you knew, and be happy to be challenged by change.


5. Adapt Your Mindset

Entering the workplace as a recent graduate is an exciting opportunity – but be prepared to take time to re-adjust your current way of thinking. It can be hard to adapt when you’ve been used to something for so many years – and you won’t be alone in that feeling. Every single graduate will experience it, and even your office superiors will have felt it too at the beginning of their career.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or to get things wrong in the beginning. Your education doesn’t stop once your degree has ended – everyone is learning something new every single day, and that’s where true success lies in the workplace.


Lucy Farrington-Smith is a contributor for Inspiring Interns. 

Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.