I recently got employed in my first time job. As in, within the last week. I’ve had jobs before, but they were all part time. I’ve even had multiple part time jobs before, but they all worked around my school schedule. Basically, for the past seven years, the main focus of my life has been college. Part time jobs helped pay bills and stuff, but they weren’t my everything. That was school.
Technically, my focus is still school, and will remain that was until I get that degree. However, as I look at the future world of getting my dream job, I need experience, and you get experience by working. Additionally, I’m reaching the magic age of 26 where you lose your health insurance, and I have prescription requirements which require me to have insurance. Yes, my school offers it, for $400/month. Yeah… I’ll just get a full time job and get paid AND get a cheaper health insurance plan.
You’d think that after 7 years of college, a Bachelor’s Degree, and all the course work of a Master’s Degree, I would be overqualified for an entry level retail job, no matter how many hour a week you’re employed. Now, in some cases, you’d be right. However, in most places, you’d be wrong. From the four days of full time work that I’ve experienced, one particular thought has remained in my mind, and occasionally popped out of my mouth. College does NOT prepare you for full time work!
In college, you’re taught to sit and listen. Now the listening element, that is a great thing for you to learn. You need to listen to your boss and your customers. However, you don’t have a notepad or laptop in front of you. You need to listen and look them in the eye and react and smile and nod and remember on your own. This is not what happens in college when you’re sitting in the desk with your head down and your eyes flitting between the powerpoint and your notes as you rush to make sure that you get every little detail to make sure you pass that test.
And the sitting, the sitting DEFINITELY doesn’t prepare you for a full time job. The more I think about it, the more I realize that being a college student is far more sedentary than most jobs. Now yes, there are some jobs that have you sitting at a desk all day, but many jobs, even if it’s a desk job, have you running to your boss’s office or going to talk to one of your members or running to the stock room or even standing at an event for a few hours to schmooze whoever you’re trying to get money out of. In a retail job, you do a LOT more standing. Only a few hours into my first shift my feet were hurting. Now, I realize that I was wearing the wrong shoes for the job, and fixed it on my last day of the 4 day stint, but shoes aren’t something you think of so much in college, at least not their efficiency over their appearance. I hurt everywhere. I bruised my knees from kneeling while facing product on the lowest shelves, so I started sitting and squatting. My butt, hips, thighs, back, they all hurt. I know I’ll get used to it, but I can’t help thinking “why am I not ready for it now? I have a college degree dammit!”
You definitely aren’t taught to react to customers in college. You chat with your friends and make cliques. In a job, you have to interact with everyone. In college, it’s easy to become a shut in. You bury your nose in a book and research and sit quietly in class and MAYBE you get some social time, but often that is encouraged by alcohol. In work, you soberly approach everyone you meet, smile, ask how you can help them, and have to answer questions when called on. “I didn’t do the reading” is no longer an option. Your dog cannot eat your homework. And often, there is a limited amount of research you can do. Work is trial and error. You want to know where something in the store is? You ask and you remember, or you walk the aisles until you’ve found it.
Attention span over time? In college, your classes are on average 50-70 minutes long and you get a good 10-15 minute break in between, minimum. A long class would be your 3-4 hour night class. 8 hours with minimal breaks? Yeah, we don’t do that. Even when we’re studying we give ourselves facebook breaks or mental breaks. Yeah, you get your designated breaks in any full-time job, but they aren’t as frequent as you experience in college. And in a world where technology is causing us to have lower and lower attention spans, it can make 8 hours feel like weeks.
However, there is one thing that college truly prepares you for in the job world: acting on my toes. Sometimes a customer will come to you and ask you a question, and you may not know, and you can take the time to track down the answer and ask, or you can take the product and look on the back and deduce the information for yourself. Like when you are in the middle of a multiple choice exam and you don’t know the answer to a question but another question on that page gives you the answer. In college, you always try to act like an expert to impress your friends and peers and teachers, and in a job setting, you have to in order to gain your customer’s trust. Oh, and you’re probably pretty good at bagging items after stuffing all those books in your backpack.