Get To Work: With Suzy Welch

Suzy Welch: 5 lessons you have to unlearn immediately after college

Many college seniors think they have a good idea of what life after graduation looks like. You have to find a job and wake up early, and you can't hang out with your friends every night.

But according to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, it's easy to underestimate just how different the "real world" really is, and many of the things you learn in college won't set you up for success at the office.

"College is fantastic place, don't get me wrong," Welch tells CNBC Make It. "You make friends, meet new kinds of people, spend a fun semester abroad, explore your interests, obtain some skills."

"Those are all fine and good," she says, "but there's some things you have to unlearn right away to succeed in the real world."

Here are five lessons you have to leave behind right after commencement:

CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch.
CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch.

1. Assignments are always clearly presented

"In college, you get an assignment with very clear parameters," Welch says.

But in the world of work, very rarely does that happen. Instead, directions on what you need to do are often ambiguous.

"You're given a task, and it could be bigger or smaller than people expect," Welch says.

In order to be successful, you have to get comfortable dealing with unclear objectives, and take the initiative to figure out what you should deliver.

Graduating students from Barnard College during the Columbia University 2016 Commencement ceremony in New York May 18, 2016.
Timothey A Clary | AFP | Getty Images
Graduating students from Barnard College during the Columbia University 2016 Commencement ceremony in New York May 18, 2016.

Give yourself more time than you need to complete a task, so you have extra time if the project demands more of your time than you expect. Look for past examples, ask a colleague or follow up with your boss for more directions if you're unclear on what's expected of you.

2. Life is filled with second chances

"In college, there's always next semester, or next summer, to reset your life, wipe the slate clean," Welch says. "But in real life, there is no reset button."

Being an adult means that you will have people, assignments and situations you wish you could easily change or avoid. Part of growing up, Welch says, is learning to find healthy ways to deal with them.

For example, if you don't like your job, remind yourself daily of the skills you're learning. If you have a coworker or boss who treats you poorly, figure out how best to deal with them.

"You have to learn to pace yourself for, and operate within, what is basically a long-term game," Welch says.

Stopping by your boss's desk before leaving, and helping out with any last-minute work, helps you stand out.
Peopleimages/Getty Images
Stopping by your boss's desk before leaving, and helping out with any last-minute work, helps you stand out.

If you do make a mistake at work, don't panic. Own your error, figure out where you went wrong and prove to your team that you can recover from it.

3. You'll be rewarded for effort

"In most college classes, hard work is its own reward," the bestselling author says. "Even if you're really bad at the subject, if the teacher sees you studying hard enough, doing the extra credit projects, showing up for office hours, getting a tutor, you will be OK."

In fact, Welch admits that's how she earned a B+ in calculus. But when it comes to the professional world, effort alone won't take you as far.

"In real life, hard work is certainly respected, yes," Welch says, "but at the end of the day, it's your results that matter."

If you stayed at work until 10 p.m. and still didn't file a report on time, or tried to get into work early but still missed an important phone call, your effort doesn't really matter.

"If you don't win the client or you don't meet the deadline," Welch says, "you've failed."

Keep a notebook with you so you never miss important directions.
Gary Burchell/Getty Images
Keep a notebook with you so you never miss important directions.

4. The more words you use, the better

College essays that are required to be 10 pages or exceed a certain number of words often encourage students to be long-winded.

"You're rewarded for long essays, and penalized for coming in short," Welch says. "You're conditioned to fill out your arguments with examples and references."

But that couldn't be further from the truth in the professional world.

"In business, writing long-winded things will impress no one, and irritate a lot of people," she says. "Get to the point as quickly as possible."

If you have to present your ideas in front of a group of people, jot down notes on important things you want to highlight. Before you send an email, reread it and edit it so that it isn't more than one or two paragraphs long.

These efforts to be succinct will help you stand out.

Man at computer, startup
Robert Daly | CalaImage | Getty Images

5. Success is all about impressing one person

In college, you often answer to one person — your professor.

"At work, your boss has a boss, and that boss has a boss," she says, "and then in many situations, your boss and you are part of an organization with owners and multiple shareholders."

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Gary Burchell | Getty Images

All of these people have a say in how quickly you're able to succeed. That's why it's important in every work situation to treat others with respect and meet or exceed expectations.

"All of them have a say in how you are doing," Welch says, "and what you should be doing."

Transitioning to the "real world" may be difficult, but by developing your communication skills, honing your time management abilities and finding mentors, it can be a whole lot easier.

"You are part of a complex ecosystem," Welch says. "Look around and get to know it."

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