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From School to the Working World: How to Navigate this Unique Life Transition

Table of Contents

For the first twentyish years of your life, your path is pretty much spelled out. Grade school leads to high school, and high school to university. What you choose to do after getting your degree is much less defined.

This life transition is an exhilarating time, for sure. But it can also be confusing and stressful. You may be wondering what you actually want to do with your degree, or if you have a job, how to navigate the working world.

We asked the Uproer team to share their perspectives and advice on what it’s really like leaving college – and how to make this huge step feel a little less daunting.

Q1: What are the biggest differences between working life and school life?

1. You have more freedom

“When you pick a major, you’re provided with all the information you need to get from the start line to the finish line – course requirements, class schedules, academic advisors, syllabi, etc.

In the workforce, however, it’s left more up to the individual to dictate how far (and quickly) you want to go. And, there’s rarely a clearly defined roadmap for moving to the next stages of your career.

People who accept the challenge of defining and following their own career path are the ones who succeed.”

Griffin Roer, Founder & CEO

“In school, you’re taught most of what you need to know. The expectation is merely that you show up and ask questions. In the working world, you’re not just going to be sat down and shown every single thing.

You have to mostly take charge of your own learning. And that’s a good thing, because you get to choose what to learn about. You don’t have to study any topics that don’t serve you, like you probably did in school (looking at you, Trigonometry).”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

2. The way you receive feedback changes

“Honestly for me it was not having grades and/or direct feedback. I am a very feedback-driven learner, so moving into the professional space without the concreteness and clarity of a rubric or professor to talk to was hard, especially when ‘good work’ felt pretty arbitrary at times.”

John Smith, Sr. Analyst, Paid Search

“You aren’t graded (at least not on a task-by-task basis). School trains us to expect a concrete grade on the tasks we complete. But, when you enter the workforce, you don’t get such specific, immediate feedback on your accomplishments.

This can create anxiety because it’s not what you’re used to. Many entry-level hires maintain an assignment-focused approach to work at the expense of missing the bigger picture or missing opportunities to be creative.

It takes time to adjust to a world where there are fewer right or wrong answers, no letter grades, and it’s harder to know where you stand against the performance of your peers.”

Griffin Roer, Founder & CEO

3. Your daily schedule looks different

“In school you have a schedule and in the working world you make a schedule.

In school, once you’re enrolled in your classes for the semester, your schedule is fixed. Work is generally much more flexible than that. Working in digital, especially, allows me to work hours and days that work for me, and creates a sense of autonomy.”

Jess Girardi, Manager, SEO

“In working life, there is no homework. Sure, you have due dates, but the expectation is that you get those projects done during normal work hours.

I find it comforting that I can give my 110% percent during the work week to get my projects done, but once I’m done for the day, my computer is closed. There are days I may need to work late or attend an event that’s after work hours, but it happens much less frequently than in college.”

Skye Sonnega, Analyst & Copywriter, SEO

4. Your work performance affects your whole team

“Doing poorly on an assignment or missing a deadline doesn’t really affect the student sitting next to you (except for the occasional group project where the slacker can bring everyone’s grade down). But, that’s not true of most workplaces. Your performance at work directly impacts your coworkers.

Subpar work and missed deadlines can slow entire teams or organizations down. Your work has a ripple effect – both good and bad – on others.”

Griffin Roer, Founder & CEO

Takeaways:

  • Embrace your newfound freedom as an opportunity, not a threat. Do more of what you enjoy!
  • Your work is no longer graded. Projects are part of a bigger picture rather than one-off assignments.
  • You get to plan your own schedule. Find what works best for you, and know it may take time to figure out.
  • You are part of a team now rather than an individual student. Appreciate the impact your work has on the group.

Q2: What are the main challenges you faced when you left school and entered the workforce?

1. Finding the right job

“My first job was super inflexible. I was forced to sit at a desk for 9 hours a day, then drive back home in an hour of traffic. I was worried that’s what working life would always be. (Spoiler alert: NOT the case).

Once I started my second job (which happens to be Uproer), my schedule was much more flexible. I didn’t have to sit at a desk for hours waiting for the clock to strike 5 – I could choose the work schedule that worked best for me.

Now, when I’m done with the projects I’ve set for myself that day, then I’m done. I feel like I regained control of my life, and I feel more free.”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

“I was so desperate to get a job, any job, that my first job ended up being a terrible fit. I felt obligated to gut it out for at least a year so that I’d at least have something on my resume of substance. Thankfully, I spent most of my downtime in that job learning about marketing which prepared me for future opportunities once I got past the 1-year mark.”

Griffin Roer, Founder & CEO

2. Knowing where to invest your time and energy

“One of the biggest challenges I faced was knowing where to invest my time and energy. What should I learn more about and practice? Which direction should I take my career? When you’re just out of school, these questions can cause a lot of anxiety.

Looking back, I think the solution is to soak up as much as you possibly can. Really dive headfirst into whatever it is you’re doing. With time, you figure out what’s important and what can be pruned, although that process never ends.”

Dave Sewich, Manager, SEO

3. The shift in identity

“You’ve been in school your entire conscious life, and now you’re not. That’s a big shift. You may have also been in sports, band or other activities. Leaving school and these roles behind can feel like a loss, and grieving that loss is natural.

What’s helped me the most is changing my mindset. You don’t need to be in a classroom to continue learning. Being a student can be a lifelong identity, if you let it be.”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

4. Setting your own goals & deadlines

“The main challenge for me was setting goals. I had always known in school that my goal was to get A’s and ace my final assessments. Setting goals at work has always been difficult for me, because achieving them falls directly on your shoulders, but over time this has become far easier.”

Jess Girardi, Manager, SEO

“Part of my job is copywriting, which means many of the “due dates” for projects I’m setting myself. My whole life my deadlines have been set for me by teachers, with the incentive being a good grade for turning something in.

Now that my deadlines are mostly personal, they’re also backed by a much stronger incentive to deliver high-quality projects and content to clients in a timely fashion.

While our team holds each other accountable for getting work done, it’s ultimately up to the individual to follow through on projects. This was challenging at first, especially with many different projects happening at once, but I think the independence has actually turned into one of my favorite parts of work life.”

Skye Sonnega, Analyst & Copywriter, SEO

Takeaways:

  • Finding the right job fit might take some time, and that’s OK. Every new role reveals what you need from your working life.
  • Try to soak up as much knowledge as you can in every role. This will help you identify where to invest your time and energy in your career.
  • Allow yourself to grieve the loss of school life. Fortunately, being a lifelong student is an identity you can choose to keep.
  • Goals and deadlines are mostly for you to decide now. This independence can feel scary at first, but over time becomes easier and more enjoyable.

Q3: What advice would you give someone to ease this transition?

1. Give yourself a buffer between school and a full-time job

“Consider taking some time off between school and work – this could be months or a few days. Write down what you want to achieve or what kind of person you want to be in the next 12 months.

And when you start a new job, take a day to work out what you want to achieve in that role. Go further than ‘get promoted’ or ‘make more money’. What do you think will make you happy?”

Jess Girardi, Manager, SEO

2. Stay curious

“Think about how you learn best, and shape your professional experience to support that. Ask questions, take notes, do research, and ask for hands-on examples. It’s better for you, and any company worth its salt will recognize the value of helping a curious, driven employee understand something.”

John Smith, Sr. Analyst, Paid Search

“Know that the transition will feel overwhelming at first. Show up and asks lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to say yes to lots of different things at first. Now is the time to dip your toes into many different sub-genres of whatever job you’re pursuing, and to soak up as much information as possible.

Skye Sonnega, Analyst & Copywriter, SEO

3. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling

“Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed in this transition. Your feelings are valid and normal, I promise. Being open and honest about what you’re feeling is an important step in getting the support you need.”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

4. Find a mentor

“Get guidance from someone who has been in your position before and is succeeding on their career path. This can be someone in your organization or outside of it.

Ask your mentor/manager regularly how you can be doing better. The best way to improve is by being proactive about receiving constructive feedback.”

Griffin Roer, Founder & CEO

5. Stay organized

“Start creating routines and habits right away. If you already have them, tailor them to your new lifestyle as a young professional. Routines coupled with discipline help tame what can feel like a very chaotic transition.

Also, develop organizational skills. A lot of the overwhelm that comes with starting out your working life can be greatly eased by having routines and being organized.”

Dave Sewich, Manager, SEO

6. Go after what you want

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be vocal about what excites you and where you think you can add value to your organization. You may be surprised how well this enthusiasm is received and the doors it will open for you.”

Griffin Roer, Founder & CEO

7. Set boundaries

“Set boundaries between work and your life. You were conditioned in school to never be ‘off’. You went to class all day, then had activities, jobs, homework and life responsibilities in the evenings. It was a LOT.

This may be the first time in your life that you have consistent free time. View this as opportunity to explore new interests, or spend more time on your favorite hobbies.

And finally, when you work from home, dedicate a specific space for work. Train your brain to view those one or two spots as ‘work time’. Try to avoid working in the spaces you feel most relaxed.”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

“Switch the computer off at the end of the day. Work will always be there in the morning.”

Jess Girardi, Manager, SEO

Takeaways:

  • Consider taking a bit of time off between school and work so you can be intentional about what you really want.
  • Stay curious, and dive into a lot of different things at work. This will help you discover what you like.
  • Be open about what you’re feeling so you can get the support you need.
  • Find a mentor and be proactive about asking for feedback.
  • Getting organized is key to feeling productive and less “all over the place.” This quiz is helpful to find the right method for you!
  • Ask for what you want, and you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that come your way.
  • Set boundaries between work and life. Turn off that laptop, and use your free time to relax and pursue your hobbies.

Q4: What do you do in your free time to relax and turn your brain off from work?

1. Create a daily work “shut down” ritual

“If I quit for the day without reviewing what I’ve done and what’s up next on my plate, my mind keeps trying to close the open loops long after I’ve left work. That’s not ideal for rest and recovery. It helps to review my calendar, schedule any necessary reminders, and then tell myself I’m done for the day.”

Dave Sewich, Manager, SEO

“At the end of the workday, my head is usually full of a million different things I still have to do for work, so I make a quick to-do list for the next day before signing off. Maybe it’s just the copywriter in me speaking, but writing to-do lists or keeping a simple journal really helps me move forward and take my brain off work once I’ve written things down.”

Skye Sonnega, Analyst & Copywriter, SEO

2. Exercise

“I need to set time in my day to move. I go bat sh*t otherwise. Run, walk, work out. Anything physical keeps me focused.”

John Smith, Sr. Analyst, Paid Search

“Since the majority of my job takes place on the computer, I almost always try to go move my body as soon as I’m done for the day. Whether it’s doing a workout, going for a run, or walking the dog, I honestly believe exercise can be the cure to most problems.”

Skye Sonnega, Analyst & Copywriter, SEO

3. Read

“I’m a big reader, so you can find me most weekends with a fun book.”

Jess Girardi, Manager, SEO

“Reading can be an incredible source of relaxation and escape. Reading before bed also helps me sleep better, which makes me feel more refreshed the next morning.”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

4. Get outside

“I’m an avid outdoor enthusiast, so if I’m not reading, I’m hiking or biking or playing broomball with my friends.” (What’s broomball, you ask? Check it out.)

Jess Girardi, Manager, SEO

5. Schedule social time

“It can be trickier working around everyone’s schedules when you’re not in all the same classes or living in the same neighborhood. Try scheduling a weekly friends’ night or joining a league to have something you always look forward to in your week.”

Abby Reimer, Manager, SEO

Takeaways:

  • End your work day with a quick review of completed & upcoming tasks so you can turn your brain off from work.
  • Move your body, whether you’re inside or in the great outdoors!
  • Reading is relaxing and can help you unplug from all the tech.
  • Schedule regular social time so you have something to look forward to every week.

We hope our team’s advice has provided some insight into the working world, and how to make this time in your life a little bit easier.

And we’re always down for more tips. Whether you’ve been out of college for years or just graduated, what has helped you succeed in the working world?

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MGWM

Sr. Manager, SEO & Operations

Dave Sewich

Dave made an accidental foray into digital marketing after graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth and hasn’t looked back. Having spent the first part of his marketing journey brand-side, he now works with the Uproer team to help clients realize their goals through the lens of search.

When not at work, you’ll find Dave staying active and living a healthy lifestyle, listening to podcasts, and enjoying live music. A Minnesotan born and raised, his favorite sport is hockey and he still finds time to skate once in a while.

Dave’s DiSC style is C. He enjoys getting things done deliberately and systematically without sacrificing speed and efficiency. When it comes to evaluating new ideas and plans, he prefers to take a logical approach, always sprinkling on a bit of healthy skepticism for good measure. At work, Dave’s happiest when he has a chance to dive deep into a single project for hours at a time. He loves contributing to Uproer and being a part of a supportive team but is most productive when working solo.

Founder & CEO

Griffin Roer

Griffin discovered SEO in 2012 during a self-taught web development course and hasn’t looked back. After years of working as an SEO consultant to some of the country’s largest retail and tech brands, Griffin pursued his entrepreneurial calling of starting an agency in May of 2017.

Outside of work, Griffin enjoys going to concerts and spending time with his wife, two kids, and four pets.

Griffin’s DiSC style is D. He’s driven to set and achieve goals quickly, which helps explain why he’s built his career in the fast-paced agency business. Griffin’s most valuable contributions to the workplace include his motivation to make progress, his tendency towards bold action, and his willingness to challenge assumptions.