The transition from college to the workforce is a major change, and we often forget what that was like. In the past I have talked to recent college grads about what that transition was like. Here’s what I learned:

A different routine needs to be developed and often the struggle is both psychological and physical. Psychological in that the level of freedom afforded in a college setting is vastly different to the level of freedom granted in the workplace. The workplace, especially for entry-level positions, is often structured — hours are 9-5, specific time is granted for lunch, and what you need to do during those hours is filled with tasks and activities that are not determined by the individual but the supervisor. It is also physical for many as the change from being “active” whenever they wanted, whether that be participating in sports, going outdoors, or having an exercise routine, now needs to shift to fitting it in after work hours. Likewise, sitting in an office for a long period of time takes a toll on these new grads in a way they never anticipated and, at first, aren’t sure they like. The perceived “loss of freedom” and need to adapt to their new reality creates an internal struggle that most recent grads are not sure how to navigate.

In my conversations with these individuals just the mere acknowledgment of the struggle was a welcome relief. It allowed them to verbalize what was going on for them yet until I mentioned it, they didn’t really know it was going on inside of them. Helping them discuss what is important to them and how to create a new routine was helpful to each person I met with.

Being monitored more frequently and trying to figure out what’s acceptable and what’s not in the workplace can increase anxiety and inhibit learning. One of the biggest shifts is the daily, often moment by moment, management that a new grad encounters in the workplace. In college, tests and papers, and maybe class participation, were the measurement of success yet in the workplace, completing tasks and activities on time, doing things the right way, demonstrating the ability to work with others, and personal work habits are often the initial measurements of success. The feeling of being “watched” and evaluated on everything you do is often a new experience for these grads. A general sense of confidence gets shaken when they have to ask questions, don’t know what’s being asked of them yet are reluctant to ask for help, or get feedback that what they did was not right or accurate or not what the supervisor wanted. Having a manager who says to them “I expect you to make mistakes,” “Don’t be afraid to ask me questions – I expect that you don’t know how to do things right now,” and “I’m giving you feedback because my job is to help you be successful as quickly as possible” can make this time of transition a little easier.

Coming into a new company is often challenging enough for any new hire, but add on top of that a change in routine, level of freedom, and increased monitoring and feedback, and you have a potential recipe for a difficult transition for both the individual and the Company. Whether a college graduate or a new hire from a different work environment, paying attention to these factors and addressing them early in the on-boarding process is beneficial to all involved. Not only will you decrease the new hire’s ramp up time but you’ll be positioning the individual and the company for success sooner, rather than later!


Theresa Gale