How to Convert Book Smarts to Job Smarts

Being a student on a university campus is totally different than being a professional in an office building, but your work as a scholar really does prepare you for the world outside the ivory tower.

You’ve probably heard that it is not exactly what you learn that counts–the content itself is kind of like the weights you lift. It doesn’t matter what color the weights are, what matters is the muscles they build, and your experience has refined muscles that you may not have even realized you’ve been building.

Content changes immediately–scholarship becomes antiquated almost as soon as it’s captured in language. You’ve acquired the necessary skills–you’ve got the muscle to get the job done.  What you need to do now is to know it and to sell it.

What you bring to the table

Regardless of your major, here are some of the skills that you learned in college:   

  • You know how to prepare professional-grade answers to questions (through calculation, research, writing, etc.).
  • You know how to write and communicate with high-level professionals like professors, university administrators and teaching assistants.
  • You have experience giving presentations.
  • You are well-versed in time management and you know how to organize and juggle multiple deadlines.
  • You submit your deliverables intact and on time.
  • You are accustomed to working under pressure.
  • You know how to collaborate with a team to prepare, finalize and present a project.  

These skills are in-demand in the professional world. Think of examples and illustrations for each point that’s relevant to your experience. Write them down. Rehearse them. Use them in your interviews. This exercise will build your confidence in yourself and help you shape your answers to interview questions. You have relevant skills and experience. First, convince yourself of that and then you can successfully win over others.  

What you may not know

When a prospective employer interviews a recent graduate, the interviewer can see from your resume that you have the relevant training–that is why he or she invited you to interview. Take the invitation for a compliment. It’s a big deal to get that call. Job postings garner an average of 75 to over 100 resumes per posting. So even if the meeting doesn’t yield a job offer, be proud of yourself. You are securing interviews, and that’s impressive.  

Keep in mind that the 9-to-5 world exists in very straightforward economic terms. Interviewers wants to find a candidate they can trust to fill their open position so that they can go back to what they were busy with when the position was vacated. Interviewers are looking for someone who is enthusiastic, a quick learner, a hard worker, a good fit and who will stick around. They are as eager to find that right candidate as you are to find that right job.  

Your credentials suggest that you can do this work. Your interview is your chance to expand on your qualifications with verbal explanation. It’s your opportunity to explain how your resume, a simple list of qualifications, speaks to the various demands of this position. You have the chance to demonstrate how your experience, enthusiasm and can-do attitude round out your credentials. You have accomplished a lot in your four years of higher education. Think of this conversation as your capstone–the final of all finals.   

What’s on your prospective boss’s mind?

As with your other finals, it’s helpful to know how you will be evaluated. While you won’t be graded in the manner to which you’ve grown accustomed, there is a sort of rubric that your interviewers will be using. Your prospective boss is probably the one on the interview team who makes the final call. As your prospective manager interviews you, here are some things he or she is probably thinking:

  • Can I turn over the reigns over to this candidate?
  • Can I trust this candidate to talk on the phone or to meet with my customers/clients/donors?
  • Can I count on him or her to work side by side with my team?
  • Can this candidate shoulder his or her share of the workload?
  • How will a meeting between this candidate and my supervisor play out?

Review these points, and if you have relevant experience to cite from jobs, internships or extracurricular activities, add those to the bank of answers that you are rehearsing for your interview. Managers want to hire candidates who can confidently handle the basics of the position with poise and maturity.  

When you are in school, you are performing exercises that mirror what you will someday do in the professional world, but the parameters are defined for you. You are solving problems that someone assigned you. You are answering questions that someone asked. In the professional world, you not only have to solve those problems and answer those questions, you often have to proactively anticipate those problems and questions on your own. Your future boss will be looking for someone who understands this, who intuits what the needs of the position are and who has a dimension of self-management. This quality enables you to work and grow independently.

Yes, you will have a manager, but that person is going to be taxed in all kinds of ways, and your time with your manager will be limited, so you will have to use it strategically. Knowing how to do that will make you valuable to your manager, and it will serve you well as an individual employee. Anticipate this, and cite an example of a time that you were able to take the lead on something and manage it from beginning to end to show prospective managers that they can count on you to take the same charge of the positions for which you are interviewing.  

The good news is that you are ready for this, and you can handle this interview and this position. But before you convince the people sitting across the table from you, you have to convince yourself.