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Success in School Versus Success in the Workplace

Success in School Versus Success in the Workplace

During our years of experience with employers and job seekers, we've identified a very popular national pastime: discussing, revising, and refining the definition of "success". What does it mean to be "successful"? If the party conversation around you every gets dull, bring up this subject and watch the room spring to life. Everyone has an opinion, and every worker, boss, student, and teacher spends at least a little bit of time thinking about this almost every day.

Specifically, our employer contacts have something important to tell us, and their comments sound like this:

"I hire promising college graduates every year who are used to getting straight A's. But as soon as they enter the workforce, they stumble. And they stumble much harder—often hitting a genuine wall—when they make the transition from entry level to management roles. The definition of "success" changes throughout life, and these kids sometimes can't keep up."

In other words, the traits that make a great student don't always make a great employee (and that traits that make a great employee don't always make a great boss). Here are some key differences.

1.  Great Students Listen and Learn: Great Employees Sometimes Act without Knowing all the Facts

As a student, how much you know will define how well you do. As an employee, how much you know doesn't always matter. It's what you do with that knowledge that matters. Teachers will give you an A if you're smart. Bosses don't care how smart you are. They only care what you do with that big brain and how you use it to help them make money.

2.  Teachers Give Orders Because They Care About Your Future

Your professor may be an authority figure, and if she tells you do something, you'll go further in life if you do it. But at the same time, the orders she gives are in your best interests, not her own. She's here to help you, inform you, and push you to grow. Your boss doesn't care about your future (to be frank). She cares about her own future and the future of her company. She'll reward you for behaviors, decisions, and effort as long as that effort helps the organization thrive. If it doesn't, don't expect her to be impressed.

3.  Teachers Provide a Step-by-Step Path to Victory

It's a teacher's job to take complex information and simplify it for you. It's a boss's job to take your work and turn it into money. If you're used to receiving clear instructions and clear, fair, honest feedback on your performance, you may be due for a shock. Sometimes your boss will offer clear instructions and straightforward criteria for success. Sometimes she won't. And sometimes she can't. In school, outcomes and answers and knowable and concrete. When school ends, so do absolutes, predictability, and right-or-wrong answers. Let those formulas go; they won't help you anymore.


The Number One Rule of Success: There Is No Number One Rule.
As you leave school and enter the working world, your venue will change and so will the expectations that are placed upon you. The faster you keep pace with shifting rules, the more likely you are to win the game. Visit MyPerfectResume for help as you navigate this crucial transition.

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