Today is the first day of school in my town, or as parents like to call it, "The most wonderful day of the year!" As I sent my cute little first-grader into the big school for the first time, I hope that his teachers work to prepare him not just to do schoolwork but for a career (in the very distant future!).
Then again, in many ways even the best schools can never fully prepare you for life on the job. Here are some key differences in how employers think compared with school.
1. If you can't do the work, you're out. In school, they bring in specialists to help, and parents hover and work with you to bring grades up. Some bad parents (yes, I said it) simply demand that the school change a grade so that their little darling doesn't suffer any adverse consequences. In the workplace, we simply fire you. Sometimes we'll give you a 90-day performance improvement plan, but that's about it.
2. We grade on a curve. That is, we limit the number of people who can get the workplace equivalent of an A. Sometimes you will be an awesome worker, but your evaluation is still low because you're not as awesome as your co-workers. For promotions, only one person can get it, so again, you'll be compared to your co-workers. It's not just about being good at what you do -- it's about being better than everyone else.
3. We have far more variety than school. Common core? Ha! Different businesses offer so very differently there is something for everyone. All companies have to follow federal, state, and local laws, but that is where it ends. If you're a night owl, there's a job for you. If you're an early bird there's a job for you. If you're creative, we have possibilities. If you're not creative, we have possibilities for you too. There's something for everyone except...
4. We hate slackers. If you are a slacker and don't want to straighten up, you better darn well be a genius. Otherwise, we don't have a place for you. In school, you can find teachers who will call your parents and hold meetings and make plans to help you not be a slacker. Figure that out before you leave school, because we're not so nice.
5. You have to fight for recognition. In a perfect world, we'd make careful evaluations of everyone and offer you promotions and new opportunities when you deserve them. In reality, everyone is really busy, and lots of people want to do lots of different things. If there is a path you want to go down, professionally, speak up.
6. We really, really, really want you to be able to write properly. Please, teachers, make writing a priority. I know you do -- and get out the red pencil and correct. (And now I've just exposed myself to angry comments pointing out my errors. I deserve it.)
7. We really, really, really want you to be able to do math. And by doing math, we don't mean trigonometry for all. We need you to understand how numbers work and the logic behind math. Yes, it's possible that you may go through your entire career without ever doing Euclidean Geometry, but it's highly unlikely that you can get into a good career without being able to think logically. Many jobs that don't require "math" do require you to think logically. Math will help you with that.
8. We really, really, really want you to be able to do math, part 2. We need people who can do advanced math. We need engineers and computer programmers and statisticians. As an even bigger plus, if you can do math and write well, you can practically write your own ticket.
9. We don't care about your self esteem. Sorry. We care about making the business succeed. Whether that's wrong or right, you can't expect managers to be concerned with how you feel about anything. We care about your end results.
10. If you can't make money for us, we won't hire you. We don't hire to give people chances. We don't hire to train, although we will sometimes hire interns for that purpose. We hire people because we want to make more money. If you can explain how you can make a business more money, we're interested in hiring you. (Saving money also falls into this category, as some tasks just don't bring in money, but are required for legal or business reasons.)