There are plenty of articles on treating college like a job, but I want to flip the script here and discuss the opposite: how to treat your job like college.
Why? First, unemployment in the US has pretty much rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, in that we’re at an all time low on unemployment right now in the US. And, as I write this article this morning, there are over 1.1M open jobs in my realm right now open on LinkedIn in healthcare. I think it’s relatively safe to say that the employees are well-positioned to look onward to their next roles, especially if they’ve been hunkered down during the pandemonium.
Furthermore, most of us who went to college look back on that time fondly (although personally, it was a LOT of work for me.)
When you think about it, college and your career really aren’t that different.
That being said, I think it’s important to not just look at your job as a paycheck. Yes, getting paid and having good benefits are both important. However, I think we need to approach our gigs with a next-level mindset, which in my opinion is this:
Treat your job like college.
One of my friends recently told me I actually approach jobs this way and I found that fascinating, as I never really thought about myself that way before. The more I think about it, I think the more that my friend is correct. While I personally look at pay and benefits as an important part of the job, I heavily weigh my potential for learning into my decision tree on jobs as well. Said another way — I ask myself, will I be learning something in this new job? And, then, if I do take the job, am I continuing to learn?
Hark! That sounds like….college.
Here are some parallels for your consideration — if you want to flex the learning component of your job a little more earnestly and treat it like your college years…
Treat Your Job Like College
- Enroll in a weird class. Is there someone at work who does something you find fascinating, or works in an area you want to grow into? Do they teach? If so, enroll in their weirdness. If they don’t formally teach, ask to shadow them for a day.
- Don’t be so quick to choose a major. This is the generalist vs. the specialist argument. Don’t be quick to declare your specialization in one area, per se — but try to learn the “general” course of the company you’ve selected to work at; this could mean everything from shadowing per above, to asking to speak with and work with teams in other departments or ask for cross-team assignments.
- Volunteer. If your company offers VTO or volunteering opportunities, take them if they can help bolster your passions or your skills. These opportunities are a great way to build leadership capacity as well. Just like a job, volunteering experiences should also be learning experiences as well. Before you dive in, ask yourself what you want to learn through the volunteer experience. (And no, it’s not selfish — it’s what we call creating a win-win!)
- Take a class because of the professor, not the course. We all chose at least one course because of the professor, not because of the content. We need to employ that strategy at our workplaces too. Is there someone who you admire at the company that’s heading up a project or process? Can you jump into the team, perhaps, even if the project doesn’t dazzle you, so you can get better connected with the leader in charge that you admire?
- Find your tribe. Every workplace has different personalities. When you’re starting a new workplace, remain neutral if you can. You will find your people naturally over time — your pack. Be sure to choose carefully. While it’s fun to be around the class clown, that might not reflect well with you and the boss, if that’s your tribe. My tribe is usually those who are focused on the future, the next 2–5 years, as just one example. What I learn from them is strategic thinking, rather than mere implementation. That’s really important for you to identify who you best learn from and what energy you want to be around.
- Apply for a scholarship. Hit your boss up for a certification or a program or conference you want to attend; just be ready to share why it will help your company. One of the best things about conferences and symposia is that you get paid to learn if your company is paying you while you’re there learning. Think of this as college in reverse — instead of you or your parents paying the college for you to learn, you’re getting PAID to learn. Win-win!
- Join a study table. See if there are others at your company who share your learning mindset and work on a topic together — maybe even outside of work. In my world of healthcare benefits, there are a ton of certificates and certifications — see if you can find a study table to earn the credit together.
- Read. Real books. You don’t stop reading after English Lit in college. Start a book club at your company if you’re really passionate about books. Cheesy as it may sound — leaders are readers.
- Skip class. Just like a decent old-fashioned ‘mental health day,’ consider taking a day off as PTO just for you to create your own next career and learning plan. Go somewhere you never visit — like an art museum or a park — and get out of your routine. Hang in a quad you don’t normally haunt. You can’t do this every week, but maybe once a quarter? Spot check your development vs. your annual goals and think about your career in the third person rather than first. Changing up your campus scene for a day can be a huge way to create the next version of your work self.
- Create your final exam. I think this is probably the most important step of all when thinking about your job and/or your career like college. Begin with the end in mind and create your final exam. When taking a job, ask yourself what you want to get out of it — beyond the paycheck. Then, check-in with yourself on a regular basis to see if you’re still in fact learning, or if there’s some other hill you want to tackle. If you feel like you’ve climbed all the mountains in your job, take the exam by looking for your next role and moving on. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more out of your career journey. This is your life we’re talking about here, and you’ll be spending most of your waking hours in a job — so if you’re not learning anymore, move on. It’s healthy! No one wants to be a 7-year LAS major anyway.
There you go. Ten ways to think about your job and your career in a different way. Learning should be a key component of your day job, not just the benjamins to pay the bills. And, this goes twice for you if you’re like me — a lifelong learner.
See you around campus!
Erin L. Albert is a lifelong learner, inter alia. Opinions here are her own.