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From Student to Professional: Lessons from Graduates

October 2, 2020

Transitioning from the classroom to the workforce may come to be a bit of a shock as you go from student to professional. The workplace is where we finally get to apply everything we’ve been learning but it can often be a steep learning curve, a different culture than you’re used to and even a lifestyle change. Today, we are going to share some lessons and tips from alumni about how they made the transition and what they learned along the way.

Troy Bell is an alumnus of Idaho State University College of Business who is now President and CEO of Tanabell Health Services, based in Pocatello. Bell graduated from Idaho State with a bachelor’s in healthcare administration in 2002 and went on to the University of Phoenix to earn his MBA in 2005. During college, Bell had two internships with Bannock Memorial Hospital and Portneuf Hospital and Rehab. “These internships were by far the best preparation for working in the field,” he says about his experiences as an intern. “I learned that my knowledge base was much smaller than I thought it would be. I felt like I knew so much after I graduated, but quickly found out that I knew very little and that most careers you learn on the fly.  Every profession has unique aspects and there is no way you will be completely prepared going into the workforce. You will learn on the job and grow on the job.”

Bell’s lesson? You’ll learn on the job. Something that a lot of students may not realize is while a degree gives you the knowledge you need, jobs give you the opportunity to put that knowledge to the test and use it in a way that helps you understand it better and expand your skills. It’s why such a big emphasis is placed on having internships and jobs that utilize what you’re learning at school. The classroom can only give you so much experience and internships work in tandem with what’s being taught.

Suzette Gaska is another College of Business graduate. She graduated in 2018 with her bachelor’s in finance and management then again in 2019 but with her MBA with an emphasis in economics. “Following my MBA graduation, I moved out of state and the biggest lesson I learned was how important professional relationships were. If you have opportunities to network you ought to take them because you never know where you will end up searching for a job and who can help refer you to one,” says Gaska. 

During her time at Idaho State, Gaska was able to secure a few internships which gave her the skills to be in her current position. “During my junior year at Idaho State, I was able to secure my first internship through the Career Path Internship Program at the Idaho State University  Foundation office. This role taught me new technical skills which assisted me in obtaining my next internship. The following internship I had was at Citizens Community Bank. This position prepared me the most as I learned more about banking and finance but it also taught me about the workplace structure and how to work collaboratively with different departments,” said Gaska. After she graduated, she was hired on by Citizens Community Bank who she’d been interning for. Gaska noticed right away the interest her boss had in helping them become the best they could professionally. After successfully adapting to some new changes and processes within the bank, her boss took her and her coworker out for lunch, both to thank them and discuss their professional growth. “It was a gesture that made us feel appreciated but his interest in our future at the company really made an impact on me. As a young professional, I realized you need to seek positions where the opportunity for professional growth is available and that your boss should have an interest in helping you develop,” Gaska said about the experience.

Gaska’s lesson: facilitate and maintain professional relationships. Networking is arguably one of the most important things you can do as an aspiring professional. Networking with your peers and other professionals can give you the best opportunities you may ever have access to. On that same token, make sure your relationships are authentic and if you find yourself wanting to know someone on a deeper level, feel free to do so. The best kind of business relationships are ones that are genuine on both sides where both people respect and hopefully, enjoy one another’s company.

Gaska also included a second lesson which many college students are well acquainted with: time management. “After receiving my Bachelor's I began my new job and shortly after, started the MBA Program. I had time to adjust to my new role before the new school year but once it started it was a rude awakening that I had poor time management. Prior to this I had only interned or worked at jobs with more flexibility (if I had to cram for a test I could get someone to cover my shift for instance) but all of a sudden I had work in the morning and school in the evening and I had to learn to become very organized in both of these areas,” she says. Time management is a crucial skill that everyone learns at some point in their lives and is a necessary skill in the professional world. Without it, you could be left with a hectic schedule and feeling like there’s no time to do anything, especially if you’re in school.

Kelsey West, the marketing director at the Idaho State College of Business, is our third and final alumni. West graduated in 2014 with a  degree in Mass Communication- Visual Communication. Upon graduating, she went to work for the Idaho State Journal as Digital Marketing Specialist and two years later, was offered a position at ISU where she has been ever since. Her first piece of advice: get used to not having any homework and put that time to good use. “It was gloriously strange getting used to getting off from work in the evening and not having any homework. This was a wonderful opportunity to pursue new hobbies and get the most out of my free time that I hadn't had in years!” she says about no longer being in school. Take that new found time to explore a new hobby or interest and don’t let it waste away by binge watching Netflix. Live life to the fullest and discover what makes you love life. 

Her second piece of advice is to be smart with your money. Because you are no longer a student and have a real professional job that pays a lot more than you were making before, you’re probably going to have a lot more discretionary income. “It is so important to maintain a budget especially now that you have money to spend. Don't go crazy!” You might feel like you can spend it however you want and while that is true, it’s also the time to be making smart money decisions, like saving for a home and for retirement. Use it even for something fun! If there’s somewhere you want to travel to, look into how much it costs, put together a budget and save up! If you need some advice or tips and tricks about budgeting and money, check out our blogs How to Budget as a College Student  and The Dave Ramsey Method: Tips to Managing Your Money as a College Student. While these blogs are aimed at college students, they still provide helpful advice no matter where you’re at in life. 

Her final piece of advice relates to: using work for personal things, professionalism and dependability. As a student, you may have a job that allows you to do homework or other personal business while working if you have completed all your projects and assignments. In most professional capacities, you will always have something to do so it’s important to remember to figure out times mostly outside of work or during your lunch break to set up necessary appointments like the doctor or dentist or to call the pharmacy. For professionalism and dependability, these kind of go hand in hand. In school, you can choose to skip class or show up in sweatpants. In the workforce, that is generally not the case. You must be prompt, on-time, well-groomed, and ready to work. You can’t just call in when you want to. Start on those habits now so you’re ready when you have a full-time professional job.

While the transition into the professional space can be a little stressful and nerve wracking, mastering some skills, realizing that you are not the first, and that it’s okay to learn on the job, can make it that much easier.