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Four Key Differences Between School and Work

At the end of the conveyor belt of education lies employment. However, our schooling has at best only been an approximation of the working world. In this article, I’ll break down four key differences that I’ve learnt over my short career that you will hopefully find useful as you embark on yours!

Lesson 1: The Problem Has a Context!

School teaches you to solve the problem in front of you, but your employer is looking to resolve issues beyond the immediate problem. Therefore, before embarking on any problem-solving endeavour at work, it is always useful to take a step back and ask who you are solving this problem for and why they want it solved. This helps you to contextualise the problem and provide more meaningful solutions. It’s not something that comes naturally to us and especially not so after more than a decade of indoctrination in schools, but it is something vitally important to working life!

Lesson 2: There Are No Method Marks!

Ahh… method marks, the saving grace of many a student in science and maths exams. Schools are focused on training students to imbibe thinking frameworks and processes and thus reward following the method. Employers however, are after results. Of course, there are still processes and frameworks to follow with regards to compliance and quality assurance but apart from these, it’s really open season on how to solve the problem. Remember the time you forgot how to solve that maths problem in an exam and lost all the method marks because you used trial and error instead? Well, in work, you’ll still get the credit for the result – though you might have been working a lot less efficiently than you could have. So, in work, don’t be too focused on the process and lose sight of the result. The rewards just aren’t dished out the same way as in school.

Lesson 3: The Boss Doesn’t Have the Answer

The teacher calls your name. All eyes are on you as you walk to the whiteboard to write your answer to the question on the board. You don’t have the right answer, but your teacher certainly does! We’re all used to the trope of the teacher knowing all the answers in class, and it is mostly true since teachers do a lot of hard work preparing for lessons and setting questions. At work however, we are paid to answer questions that haven’t been answered yet.

Your boss certainly hasn’t already worked through the problem before you and most definitely isn’t trying to test if you’ll get the right answer. Employers pay you to make things easier around the work place by taking some of the load. If someone could already solve the problem that you’re trying to solve without you, you might want to start looking for another job as you’re probably redundant. Of course, some work environments which require a high degree of precision may have employees checking each other’s work, but by and large, your boss isn’t your teacher and most of the time he or she won’t have the answers to the problems set to you – it’s your job to work that out and convince him that your answers are correct!

Lesson 4: Your Career is in Your Own Hands

Teaching is truly a noble profession, teachers and education professionals invest a lot in helping their charges to grow as individuals and to reach success in their later lives. Employers and bosses on the other hand, are a different bunch with different objectives and priorities. In school, we may be used to teachers nagging you to study, arranging remedial classes for you or guiding you through your projects. We might also remember heart-warming stories of teachers going the extra mile for wayward students to bring them back to the right path.

At work however, the boss is typically much less invested in your success. You are hired to perform a role, and your own professional and career development is typically secondary. The sooner you accept this fact, the faster you’ll get to doing something about it. As Singaporeans, we often find it difficult to ask for things or to make our aspirations known since we’re worried about coming off as arrogant pricks. However, we have to realise that this is a very important action that we’re going to have to take if we want to exert some control over our careers and get to where we want to be! Performing your role well is one thing, but it is equally important to let your boss or HR know where you hope to be and to ask for feedback and assistance in charting your path towards that.

Press on folks! The road ahead is long and full of challenges and we’re only at the start!

And that’s it! The four lessons that I’ve learnt about the key differences between school life and working life. I hope that you’ll find them useful. All the best as you embark on your careers and keep on learning! Till next time folks!

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