No matter how well you did in school, life post-graduation is going to be different. Very different.
If you're looking for a basic guide to help ease the transition from flip-flops to wingtips, a fine choice is "They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World" by Alexandra Levit (Career Press, 2004, $14.99).
Like most career advice books aimed at young workers, Levit's book covers the nuts and bolts of finding a job after graduation and getting ahead once you're there. Key skills addressed include how to write a great resume, cultivate strong references and pull off an impressive interview.
Levit, 29, uses lots of anecdotes to illustrate her points, many of them from her own workplace experiences. "After five years of going through this feeling clueless," she said in a recent interview, she had plenty.
One of the things Levit emphasizes is the importance of crafting a corporate persona. While that has connotations of fakeness, that's not what she means. You can still be yourself, just a more mature, professional, competent version of yourself, she says. "It doesn't matter what type of person you are in real life, just think of yourself as an actor playing a role while you are at work. So what if you play drinking games on Friday nights or prefer a book to human company," she writes.
Levit also does a great job of attacking assumptions that high-achieving college grads drag into the workforce with them, most revolving around how much they should get paid, how frequently they should get promoted, and how their colleagues should behave.
"Got a bad case of negativity?" she writes. "Instead of thinking that something should happen, reframe it as something you would like to happen. You're still acknowledging your opinions and preferences, but the element of expectation is gone, so you can't be disappointed."
Another useful section addresses the difficulty in saying no, which she calls "a tricky word in corporate business."
"Many older -- but not necessarily wiser -- managers have no qualms about piling it on and watching an eager-to-please twenty-something scramble like a rat in a maze," Levit writes. Entry-level staffers frequently find themselves on the receiving end of an impossible number of requests from all over the company.
The secret, according to Levit, is to preempt the scramble by formalizing your duties with your boss. Then, when you are approached about a new task from someone other than your direct supervisor, "it's perfectly appropriate to politely reply that you would be glad to help but that you would appreciate it if Joe would check with your manager first."
You're off the hook -- for now -- and you never had to utter the dread words "no" or "that's not my job."
My favorite part of the book is the Office Lingo Decoder. As Levit points out, "The business world's language is one of subtlety, filled with euphemisms and pet phrases that cleverly disguise what people actually mean."
She's not kidding.
Here's a few phrases to watch for and what they really mean, according to Levit:
* "Better keep this on your radar screen."
What it means: "This person is implying that she plans to forget what she is about to tell you as soon as the words come out of her mouth. You, on the other hand, are responsible for keeping it top of mind and following up appropriately."
* "Someone dropped the ball."
What it means: "This person is absolving responsibility for a failing project and is implicating someone else on the team. Hopefully that 'someone else' isn't you."
* "Let's leverage this best practice to add value and impact our bottom line."
What it means: "Whoa, a quadruple whammy! You'll usually find jargon-filled sentences like these in strategic documents such as business plans. For simplicity's sake, let's break this one down:
"Leverage = recycle previous work
"Best practice = how everyone else is doing it
"Add value = justify a program's existence
"Impact bottom line = make money"
Got all that?
Levit, 29, says she remembers all too well how confusing it could all be. "The tendency is to take things at face value," she said, and that's just not how the corporate world works.
Join Mary Ellen Slayter at 2 p.m. Aug. 19 for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/jobs/careertrack.