Students Learning While Working: Adapting to the Business Environment


Times, when work opportunities for an absolute majority of college students were limited to temporary side jobs, are gone; today a student sufficiently savvy in his (or even unrelated) field can hope to land a full-fledged job with a company. Also if one doesn’t stay with the same business, later on, it is an excellent opportunity to acquire invaluable experience of working for a real business. However, the contrast between college and corporate culture is often too drastic, and requirements of a new environment may turn out to be too different from what one is used to. So how does one make this transition easier? Let’s find out.

1.    Adjust to the company’s culture

Every business that has been around for more than a week inevitably acquires its own set of traditions, inter- and intra-department politics, values, relationships, customs and so on. And while getting involved in policy isn’t a good idea at this stage (or any stage, for that matter), the rest calls for more attention. Just pay attention: how do people behave and talk? When and for how long do they take breaks? How do they react to particular managers? Failing to adjust will both create an unpleasant emotional background for your work and make it harder to do your job.

2.    Use your company’s education tools

Many businesses – especially many forward-looking IT-related companies aiming to expand their workforce quickly – have their dedicated tools and programs used to impart experience and knowledge to new employees and those of old ones that seek to improve their skills. PayPal, for example, recently invested in education portal development to make introducing new employees to the company work routine and culture easier. Find out if your company has something similar and don’t shy away from using it – it will both help you improve and demonstrate your willingness to do so to use your company’s education tools.

3.    Ask what you can and should do

In a modern business environment, people often have somewhat eclectic sets of responsibilities: if you ask someone working for a typical company whether he does only what is mentioned in his job description, he will usually answer that, in reality, his work is broader in some respects and narrower in others. So, to better fit in don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and recommendations from your manager – he may have a lot on his plate. It is part of his job to make sure you do yours, and to do it properly you should know what is expected of you, what you can do better and what you shouldn’t bother with at all.

4.    Make yourself indispensable

One of the most efficient and simplest (but not easiest!) ways to fit in a work environment and acquire experience along the way is to make every effort in your power to do an excellent job and make yourself valuable for the company. Keep track of what has to be done and do it before you are asked. Look for ways to do your job better and faster. Going an extra mile may be an incredibly trite and tired expression, but it doesn’t make doing it less efficient.

Juggling college and a severe job can be incredibly draining and hectic, but it is achievable – if you know where your time is going and know how you spend every minute of it. It requires considerable self-control and discipline that few people have naturally, so a good idea would be to embrace an efficient and established system like GTD – people who adopted it go as far as claiming it changes the way they think, not just the way they manage time.

Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Follow her @melissaaburns or contact at


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