Students: Prepare for Your First Job With These 4 Tips

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If you’re an accounting student heading back to school next month, you might find yourself looking forward to the day you graduate and get out into the working world, leaving the classroom behind for a real job and a good paycheck. But are you really ready?

Maybe not. In a recent Accountemps survey, seven in 10 (70 percent) accounting and finance professionals said they felt only somewhat prepared or not at all prepared for their first job out of college.

Why? Almost half (49 percent) said the knowledge they gained in the classroom didn’t translate to their job, and one-third (33 percent) stated that they didn’t know how to handle office politics. In addition, nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) said they lacked technology skills or software knowledge. Another 15 percent cited inadequate soft skills.

That’s the bad news. The good news? There are plenty of ways to prepare yourself for life outside the classroom. And frankly, practical experience is sometimes the only way to gain certain types of skills and expertise.

Follow these four steps to get a taste of the working world now, and you’ll likely feel more prepared when you start your first job:

1. Get involved in student organizations on campus. When you join a university group, you’ll work with like-minded students to put together forums, meetings, networking events and volunteer opportunities, to name just a few things. The experience will help you develop soft skills like communication, collaboration and negotiation, all of which will help you on the job. If you take on a leadership role in the organization, you’ll get even more: practice at managing people and making tough decisions, for example.

2. Apply for internships. Ask your professors and the advisors in your school’s career center if they can recommend good accounting internships. There’s no better way to get a sense of what it’s like to work in an office. You’ll get experience not only in working with the tools and technology used in the accounting and finance industry, but also in navigating office politics.

3. Take temporary work. If you’re working to put yourself through school and don’t have the time to take on an unpaid internship, consider signing up with a staffing firm. These agencies often have temporary accounting assignments that are appropriate for students, which means that you can obtain that important on-the-job work experience while earning an income.

4. Use your skills in a volunteer capacity. There are plenty of local non-profit and charity organizations in every college town that need accounting help. Call one that aligns with your beliefs and passions and offer to help with the bookkeeping. Because many of these organizations are small, you’ll likely get to see how the whole operation works, which can be useful down the line when you work with departments outside of accounting and finance.

One final piece of advice: Get to know your professors, and keep in touch with them even after you graduate. If you run up against an issue at work and you don’t know how to solve it, you can call them and ask them what they’d do. Many times, they’ll have valuable insights, and they’ll jump at the chance to impart one more lesson to a former student.

What have you done to prepare yourself for the working world? Share your comments below. 

Beyond Book Smart