It seems like every other day I read a new article about how college isn’t preparing students for the careers of the future. We’re learning too much Greek political thought, not enough electronic medical billing. Those articles usually make me defensive. But as I’ve spent more time in the professional world, I realize that those articles aren’t entirely off-base. There are a lot of important job skills I never learned in college. So here are my top five, presented to you in list form.
1. Photo-copying. Have you seen a modern copier? They have touchscreens, passcodes, a million different settings for hole-punching, stapling, oragami-folding, an ever expanding number of paper trays, and a maddening number of crevices prone to paper jams. This machine will terrify you, but because you’re under 30, your bosses will assume you were born knowing how to bend it to your will. They will need hundreds of double-sided, stapled, hole-punched papers on your first day. Approach the machine calmly. It can sense fear.
2. Reading illegible handwriting. Your more (ahem) mature colleague likes to write things, even when it would save time for everyone if they would just type things. They will write in squiggly cursive that only a PhD in the history of penmanship can decipher. It is now your job to decipher it. You must imagine yourself as an archeologist unearthing the meaning of ancient hieroglyphs. This won’t make you successful. It will only make you feel less incompetent when the first sentence of your typed memo reads “Monkeys ??? data show encouraging ??? outcomes ??? megalomania.”
3. Speaking in acronyms and abbreviations. I took a linguistic anthropology class in college where I learned that one of the appeals of slang is that it separates the insiders from the outsiders. Well, same thing goes for professional jargon. Your office will have its own language of acronyms and abbreviations. If you work in Washington, DC, you will be overwhelmed with references to “EHB regs” or “FY13 approps” or “OFCCP comments.” You won’t know what any of this means. You will smile and nod and then go back to your desk to surreptitiously Google the alphabet soup your boss thinks you understood.
4. Trouble-shooting non-existent tech problems. Unless you work for a start-up filled with tech-savvy young people in hoodies, you will have at least one boss or co-worker who cannot operate technology. This person might be a brilliant publicist or foreign policy researcher but can’t Save As or right click. This co-worker will have frequent crises. You will receive a panicked phone call — she can’t find the Excel document she’s working on — because she’s looking in Word. You will be shouted for breathlessly when his computer won’t turn on – because he’s pressing the monitor button but the CPU is shut off. Sometimes it will be your job to calmly take charge and put out these non-existent fires. Sometimes it will be your job to explain how to highlight text in slow, painful detail. Pretend you’re helping your 5-year-old niece — except for the part where she already knows how to download apps on her mom’s iPhone.
5. Faking it. Remember all the effort it took to be cool from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in high school? Remember what a relief it was to get to college and find you only had to act totally cool and brilliant and in control for two hour segments with plenty of sweatpant time in between? Yeah, say goodbye to that. Once you start working, you have to project professionalism, competence, and positivity eight hours a day, everyday — even when you’re tired or in a bad mood or your hosiery is compressing your intestines. There’s no sulking in the back of the lecture hall once people start paying you. If your (totally not good enough for you in retrospect) boyfriend dumps you Tuesday night, you still have to roll into work Wednesday with your big girl trousers on, ready to play the part of young professional. So when your feelings fall under the “I hate everything” category, you better shove them deep down and pretend like Gene Kelly just danced into your cubicle with a bowl of your favorite ice cream.