Dec 18, 2017
5 Strategies for Preparing Students for the Workplace
Erica Young Reitz shares five strategies for helping your students successfully glorify God through their workplaces after college.
It’s that time of year when seniors are applying for jobs and accepting offers. But readiness for that first job requires more than a polished resume or offer in hand. The transition from student to worker may be one of the best and hardest changes up to this point in a student’s life. Recently, I reached out to a number of alumni who shared the most rewarding and difficult parts of their transition into the workplace. Here are the top themes as well as some strategies for success.
The Best Part
Most recent graduates shared that the best part of transitioning to the workplace is finally being able to do what they’ve trained for. Shannon, a new teacher said, “It’s that ‘wow-this-is-actually-happening’ kind of feeling. I’m doing it.” Leah, a financial analyst, loves the hands-on learning and “being able to dive into the work outside of the classroom.” Other aspects that made the top of the list included making money, meeting new people, and working a 9am-5pm schedule.
The Hardest Part
While some recent alumni found their work schedule created less stress and positive structure, others said that the schedule was the hardest part. Grueling days, long commutes or endless preparation hours outside of work made some alumni question, “Where does work end and life begin?” One recent alum shared, “For a while it felt like I would come home, make dinner, clean up, pack lunch and then get ready to do it all over.” In addition to adjusting to a new schedule and figuring out life-work balance, other challenges included finding community/fighting loneliness and learning how to best love co-workers with very different values than their own. Many alumni also struggled when their vision for their next chapter didn’t match their current reality. These setbacks were even harder for graduates who were forging their career in a new location and lacked the support network they relied upon so heavily during college.
Strategies for Success
As students prepare to navigate the obstacles and opportunities of their first job, we can help by equipping them with these strategies for success:
- Consider location over occupation. Too many students accept job offers without considering what life will be like for a twenty-something seeking life-giving community in that location. We do our best to encourage students to move for a community, church, or church-plant instead of for a job. While that may not be possible, every student should still consider how the job’s location will affect their life inside and outside of work.
- Operate with ethics and integrity. Millennials have a positive reputation for teamwork, digital savviness and flexibility, but flexibility can get them into trouble when it’s applied to morals and ethics. Whether it’s the temptation to steal office supplies or company time (by checking social media or personal email) or to do something unethical when asked, recent graduates can set themselves apart by resisting these. By arriving on-time, dressing professionally, and operating with integrity at every turn, new hires will garner the respect that leads to future opportunities.
- Know your company, but don’t become bogged down in office politics. Joyce Jarek, author of First Job, shares that it’s wise for recent graduates to know how their organization works (its structure, departments, etc.) and to learn about what’s expected of them as employees. Reading the employee handbook, asking for the company’s annual report, and staying up to date on company news are ways to stay informed and engaged. Other employees will also be constant source of company information; however, this information may not be helpful or accurate. It can be easy to become bogged down in office politics or workplace gossip. We encourage students to resist this from day one.
- Respect and try to understand others. Recent alum, Devon, shared that one of his biggest regrets is that he did not spend more time with non-Christians during college. He was active with his fellowship group and participated in outreach events, but he wishes he would have invested in deep, genuine relationships with people whose views are vastly different from his own. Because the workplace is full of them. As our worldview bumps up against others, it can be easy to judge or think we are better or smarter. In my first job, I had a lot of pride and little experience. I wanted to change the disfunction I observed without understanding the people, history, or decision-makers. I needed a tall glass of humility and to pay my dues – two things every new hire needs. If we want to be successful in the workplace, we must learn how to respect others, especially senior leadership, other generations, and those with different values than our own.
- Get grounded in a robust theology of work. Students will graduate and work 40+ hours a week for the next 40+ years of their lives. We must prepare them. Author and entrepreneur, Mark L. Russell, is passionate about helping Christians know that all work (except for profane or illegal industries) is inherently good and spiritual. Too often Christians reduce the worth of their work to the faith conversations they have at work or to what can do with the money they make from work (i.e. support missions). While I would never diminish either of these, this is the not the measure of the value of our work. Whether students become engineers, artists, or analysts, all of them need to know they have a high calling.
Sam, a speech pathology student who loved her major, confessed that she started to doubt her career during college, thinking she “could never truly follow God with all [her] heart if [she] wasn’t on a mission field. Or, the only thing that matters about a ‘secular’ career is the gospel conversations [she] has at work…” She began to believe the lie that she didn’t love God above all if she wasn’t a ‘full-time’ missionary. After hearing a rich, biblical view of work, her perspective shifted and God reaffirmed her desire to follow speech therapy passionately. Sam shared, “God delights in our work, and we need Christians in all fields and walks of life – not only to share the gospel, but also to glorify God simply by working.” As a speech therapist, Sam helps children speak and swallow. I cannot think of a more beautiful way to help the Kingdom come.
Let’s offer students a robust theology of work as well as practical ways to succeed in all of the hard and good parts of their first jobs. Equipping them is one of the most important things we can do if we want our students to live out their faith beyond their college years and in their everyday going-to-work lives.