Workplace Skills You Didn’t Learn in School

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What you learned in school is invaluable, but it’s only the beginning of your professional journey. Your education may have given you the foundation for a great career, but when it comes to your first real job, you’re a freshman all over again.

By Ryan Galloway

So you’ve landed your first job out of school. You aced the interview process, and now your professional future stretches out before you, as bright and shiny as your new shoes. But as exciting as your first job will be, it can also be a minefield. No matter how sharp your marketing analytics or Java development skills may be, what you learned in school will only take you so far in the working world. Successfully navigating a professional environment requires a host of skills you won’t learn in any classroom.

Handling Negative Feedback

In school, Liz Elfman was always taught that “‘participating’ and offering your thoughts was how you demonstrated you were a smart and engaged team member.” Naturally, that’s exactly what she did during her first big client meeting. All was well until her boss pulled her aside afterward and said, “We didn’t hire you for your expertise—don’t speak in client meetings.”

While the exchange above is an extreme example — the boss should’ve briefed poor Liz on his expectations beforehand — you’re almost guaranteed to encounter some version of it during your first job. What matters is how you handle it.

Negative feedback on your job performance is not a personal attack. No matter how tempted you may be to view it as such, don’t. Instead, see it as a learning opportunity. Try to take an actionable lesson away from it each time. Accepting negative feedback is never easy, but with practice, it can become a beneficial tool for growing as a professional.

Marketing Your Ideas

No matter what your chosen profession may be, in the working world, you should always be in marketing mode. Unlike college, when acing an exam or writing a great paper was enough to move on to the next level, your career hinges on your ability to market yourself, your ideas, and your skills.

Don’t expect that your great work will speak for itself. Instead, be proactive about selling your ideas and skills. If you’re the new kid on the block, the boss probably won’t put you on that big project unless you can convince them that you’ve got the chops to make it shine. Sometimes it takes a dazzling presentation. Other times, a cleverly titled email will do. Whatever form it takes, marketing your abilities is crucial to getting ahead in the working world.

Dealing with Competition

It won’t be long before you’re gunning for your first promotion. You’ve worked hard, stayed late, and gotten stellar performance reviews. You’re primed and ready for the boss to call you in and make the offer. What you may not realize is that others are, too. The professional world is highly competitive, and will be unlike anything you encountered in school. On top of sheer performance, you’ll have to navigate complex channels of favor and influence.

The key here is remembering that you’re all on the same team. No matter who lands the promotion, you’ll all still be colleagues and you’ll have the same goals. Compete honestly and wisely. Pick your battles, and always be doubly sure not to alienate your coworkers in the process.

Elevating Those Around You

You have a unique skill set. It’s why you were hired, and it’s going to be of considerable benefit to your new colleagues. Unless, of course, you choose to be a “gatekeeper.” This term refers to someone who views their distinctive knowledge as a way to maintain authority or even job security. Gatekeepers are not team players, and gatekeepers don’t tend to excel in the working world.

Instead, remind yourself that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Everyone around you has unique skills, and you can achieve greater goals by sharing them freely.


Professional presentations have little in common with the ones you did in college. Back then, you had weeks to prepare and a clear assignment to work from. Not so in the working world. Professional presentations are often last-minute, high-stress affairs that require poise and adaptability.

Of course, the value of improvisation goes beyond mere presentations. It comes into play in meetings, at professional conferences, and scores of other workplace scenarios. Being flexible, knowing how to read your audience, and being comfortable in your own skin may make all the difference when it comes time for that first big promotion.

What you learned in school is invaluable, but it’s only the beginning of your professional journey. Your education may have given you the foundation for a great career, but when it comes to your first real job, you’re a freshman all over again.


As of January, the unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds was 13.1%. When you include the 1.7 million young adults who stopped looking for work, it was 16.2% – double the national average.

We want to change these numbers, and change the lives of young professionals throughout America. That’s why, on April 30, every Adecco office will be hosting Adecco Way to Work™ careerathons where we’ll be offering valuable resources about resume writing, interviewing, networking, your digital footprint and other critical topics.

To sign up and learn more, go here.

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