Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Life After College for Student Leaders By Alex Herzog Ed.D.

Change is a hard concept to endure.  Moving from full time college student to full time workforce is a tough transition.  It can be twice as hard if you were a student leader!

Were you the big cheese on campus?  You might have been the President of your campuses student government or maybe your were the Vice President.  You knew all of the college’s trustees by first name and they knew your name too! You might have had the President of the college’s ear whenever you saw them on campus or when you just walked into their office.  I bet you had their cell phone number too!  It’s also likely you had your own office and attended all the college’s foundation events.  Oh and you were always offered seats in the Presidents box but you always declined them to sit in the student section… but not for the whole game.  Students on campus knew who you were and respected you.  Professors were delighted to have you in class and often would recruit you to take their class.  

It’s been a few months since graduation and after several interviews you got yourself a job, but its likely not the one you were expecting to have.  You do have your own cubicle but trying to talk with your manager is almost impossible without an appointment unless you have some sort of food bribe.  But, you aren’t discouraged yet.  As you were preparing to graduate, you were persistent and armed yourself with many reference letters from administrators and professors that all but state you cured cancer in your spare time between classes.    

Reality is slowly sinking in.  You are realizing that you aren’t in college anymore.  You are part of the 8-5 work world that you so often laughed at, silently swearing to yourself that it would never be you.   I bet you are starting to miss all that those connections and experiences you had during your college days.

Don’t fret.  This scenario (or perhaps something similar) happens a lot in the lives of former student leaders.  You had commanded the respect of many or those you revered but now the reality is sinking in that you are starting over.  But starting anew can be a good thing.  

Think back to your first days when you were in your leadership role on campus.  What were those great skills and qualities that you exhibited that earned you respect and credibility?  Those might include motivating others, staying in the office long after others have left, relationship building with other student leaders, team building, communication, engaging new students and creating a buzz about your vision just to mention few.  

If this sounds like your situation then here is what you need to do.  Use what you know has helped you be successful before and apply it to your new work environment.  You have a proven track record for success and that is probably why you were hired in the first place.

First step, take some time get to know your supervisor.  What are their expectations, likes and dislikes, favorite sports teams, favorite place to eat..  get to know them!  Next, know the company you work for.  Read the employee manual; memorize the vision, mission and company values.  Next, put in the time in the office.  I suggest coming in before your supervisor and not leaving until they leave.  Stay busy throughout the day and take initiative.  Show them you are an invaluable asset.  When you see an opportunity to improve a process, take the initiative and offer your expertise.

Its sounds easy but it’s not.  It takes dedication and you will be forever always thinking about the next better job.  However, you shouldn’t forget your passion.  Keep it in mind and take time to work towards the skills you might not have, that you might still need to develop. Keep a journal and document your thoughts and what work you are doing to move towards your passion.  Keep dreaming big but stay grounded in the reality of your dream. 

Based on my years of working with student leaders and keeping good connections with them after college, has shown me that former student leaders find their groove quickly and are often very successful in their chosen endeavors.  Starting over sucks, but trust me when I tell you to trust in your skills, capabilities and instinct.  Go the extra mile whenever you can, good things will happen.  I have seen it happen many times you just need to be patient and keep learning!

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