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Entering the Workplace for the First Time

June 7, 2019

Many college grads feel anxious about moving into the work world, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

Over half of those interviewed expressed concern over their transition to the “real world.” Moving from a college environment to a workplace can be a daunting experience. In a school atmosphere, most students have a clear outline in the syllabus about the expectations put on them. They also regularly get graded on their performance. However, in a work environment, the expectations are not so clear and there is no professor there to guide and grade them.

“As a result of these cultural differences, young professionals can experience a feedback vacuum in the professional world — wondering how to improve, if they need to improve, and how they can develop the skills necessary to improve at their firm and in their career,” the authors wrote.

Another concern that students expressed to researchers was a change in relationship-building. Most students are accustomed to making friends in a classroom setting with individuals they have something in common with. These friendships are mostly fun based. However, in a workplace setting, the dynamics change, and graduates need to learn how to work with others that they may have nothing in common with. There is a need to learn how to manage difficult relationships because, unlike in a school setting, these people cannot be avoided.  It is also about building strategic connections that can help you further your career.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reported that over 72 percent of those who earned their bachelor degree in 2018 were employed. The pressure on these new employees can be overwhelming.

However, by having a workplace mentoring program, employers can help ease the transition turmoil that college graduates feel. In addition, these new workers can learn more about the company, its policies and inner workings, which will make them more loyal and valuable employees.

In fact, the Harvard Business Review recommends such mentoring experiences for recent graduates.

“What’s essential is finding mentors who have experience of both sides of the transition — who remember what the challenges were like and who have addressed and overcome them. It’s also helpful for mentors to have friends and colleagues who may have had similar experiences as well. That way, they can offer new professionals a range of options and paths for success,” the article authors stated.

Another study by McGraw-Hill found that less than half of all graduates feel prepared for their careers. Many respondents indicated they were not confident they have the skills they need to transition well to a workplace. About 51 percent told researchers they would like internships to help them through the transition.

"To successfully transition from college to employment, students need help applying knowledge in a real-world context and developing the critical thinking and communication skills that they'll need on the job,” Bill Okun, president oh higher education at the organization said.

Benefits of mentoring interns

Interns who are mentored fare much better than interns who are not. In fact, students who have been mentored during their internship with an employee are 13 percent more likely to find full-time employment. While most of the time that job turns out to be for the employer that the student interned with, 40 percent of the time it is with another company.

Companies who employ and invest in their interns are not only building their own reputation as a top company to work for, they are helping the student develop business savvy.

Many of these students have indicated they are anxious and uncomfortable with the transition to the workforce. An internship can help them gain exposure to the work community, but a mentorship will go deeper and help them develop goals and a focus for their career.

Although an internship can help students discover what work is like in a specific field or company, mentorship can help them discover more about themselves. Through mentorship, students get a more personal introduction to the world of work. They can learn to be strategic and gain valuable experience in building a network.

Tips for mentoring a college grad

By the time a person graduates from college they have a basic understanding of their field of study. This means they should be knowledgeable about the history, technology and techniques of the industry. Yet, what makes a great employee is one who can combine their knowledge with practical skills such as communication or interpersonal connections.

Here are some ways to help your new college graduate get the most from a mentorship.

  1. Be clear. The expectations of a boss can differ greatly from that of a professor. Therefore, it is important to be very direct and clear what you expect of your young mentor.
  2. Set goals. Teach your mentor the right way to set goals. That is, the SMART method: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
  3. Find the right match. Because mentorship is based on a good relationship between the mentor and mentee, finding the best match for your graduate student is important. Mentoring software has been designed to streamline the matching process. Together is able to find the best match in minutes based on the information from both participants.  
  4. Encourage. Invite your mentor to ask questions and get involved. Work life can be an intimidating change for many students and they may need an extra nudge to overcome their fears.


With a higher number of college graduates indicating concern over their ability to transition successfully into working life, workplace internship programs are a valuable investment. Many students who reported feeling anxious have expressed a desire for a workplace mentorship program. These programs have proven to be successful with the transition period for new graduates. They can also reduce employee turnover, improve engagement and loyalty to the company. In addition, mentorship programs in the workplace can help a new employee understand the company better, including policies and expectations.

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We interviewed and surveyed employees from 50+ leading North American Companies including McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Capital One, Norton Rose Fulbright, Mackenzie Investments. Get the results below.

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