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From backpack to briefcase: making the first job work

April 14, 2004

Director of Undergraduate Career Services Caitlin Blasco has a wealth of knowledge to offer Bentley seniors to help them successfully and productively transition from college life to the real world of business.

She doesn't promise that the transition is going to be easy. In fact, she came to Bentley with over 10 years of experience as a recruitment manager, an employment director and a vice president of college relations for many top Boston firms. And during those years, she saw many recent college graduates achieve success - and more than a few crash and burn because they didn't easily trade their backpacks for a briefcase.

"I've seen really smart college graduates come into an organization who just don't get the transition from college to the real world," said Blasco. "In college you get constant feedback - in the real word you might not get your first review until a year later and by that time word has spread as to whether or not you're good or bad."

To help Bentley students prepare for their rite of passage into a first job, two years ago Blasco designed a workshop entitled "From Backpack to Briefcase," in which she offers tips for success and the do's and don'ts of the first few weeks of work. This year, the April 21 workshop (12:45 - 2:00 p.m., LaCava Danielson) will feature Casey Carlson, Human Resources Leader of Deloitte.

Caitlin Blasco, Director of Undergraduate Career Services (Photo by Jessica Low)

Over the years Blasco has seen it all - from a new hire who got obscenely drunk during orientation festivities to the intern who, in his free time at night has re-written office manuals or other such projects. One new hire was so drunk and disorderly at a company-wide after-work gathering, the police had to be called and the employee, who was fired on the spot, had to be wrestled to the ground by co-workers.

However, where most new hires go wrong, according to Blasco, is not with these egregious mistakes, but in just doing nothing. "Those are the people who don't make any impact whatsoever and it's a critical time to make an impact."

So just what are the keys to early success in a first job?

  • Don't immediately try to prove yourself. "In the first staff meeting speaking up may do more harm than good," said Blasco. "Pay attention to who's talking and who's being heard."
    • Demonstrate a willingness to learn and enthusiasm for completing all tasks. "I don't care what your education is or what your GPA was, you're going to be asked to do some pretty menial tasks - smile when you do them."
      • Ask questions: "But not before you have thought about it," she advised.
        • Do not get involved in office gossip. "That's where a lot of people go down early," said Blasco. "There's always one person who's willing to talk - and now it's guilt by association and you're no longer perceived as mature or professional."


          • Do not immediately fill your workspace with personal items. She said some new hires arrive with boxes full of keepsakes and photos. It's better to furnish the workspace slowly.
            • Be proactive: On your first day, carry a pad and pencil so you can jot some of the new information down - where the supplies are, who's responsible for what and so on.
              • Take care of your personal business before you start work. Blasco said many students ask for time off the first week of work to "hook up Cable-TV" or tend to other tasks associated with moving to a new location; it's not time to start asking for time off for personal reasons.

                "The first day of the job is going to be nerve-wracking," said Blasco. "It's the equivalent of going to a new school and it's lunchtime and you don't know who you're going to sit with."

                She recalls her own first job out of college: "It was horrendous and I was miserable and cried just about every day until I got smart and quit." Rather than use this information to scare students, she uses her own experience as a case study in the career management class she teaches at Bentley, using her mistakes to help others avoid their own.

                If there's anything that students walk away with, it is this wisdom: "No one is ever going to care more about your career than you. That's why you have to take such a proactive stance when it comes to your career. I assumed that companies were going to take care of me, that it was their responsibility, and that was stupid of me. I didn't realize it was my responsibility to take care of myself, early-on."

                For questions concerning the "From Backpack to Briefcase" workshops, call Gayle McCue at 781.891.2375.

                BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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