From Backpacks to Briefcases

by Lorri Sonnendecker

College students, past and present, have an enormous amount of responsibility to succeed both academically and professionally. As they approach graduation, it is important for career centers to prepare them for the transition into the “real world.” Although we fill their “backpacks” with occupational and job market information, job search strategies, and resume and interviewing techniques, they are still entering unknown territory once they land that first job. Therefore, the University of California, Irvine Career Center created a workshop entitled “From Backpacks to Briefcases,” to enlighten students about how to succeed in their transition from school to work

Workshop Content:

Prior to becoming an employee, most college students have been “students” their entire lives (and for some college students, they have never held a part-time job). They have worked solely on homework assignments, listened and absorbed lectures, taken exams, attended classes in jeans and t-shirts, and had spring and summer breaks. Because the professional world is quite different, students must be aware of the factors involved in making a successful transition. Topics like “Employer Expectations” address the importance of teamwork and communication in the office and “College vs. Workplace” explains the responsibility shift that occurs when becoming an employee and the difference between the role of a supervisor and that of a professor. Other topics covered include:

    1)“Finances and Budgeting:” explains how net income is compared to gross income and benefits
    2) “Professional Conduct:” discusses office politics and “the golden rule” of “do unto others…”
    3) “First Year on the Job:” informs students about the importance of a first impression, finding a mentor, and having realistic expectations
    4) “Miscellaneous Category:” covers the meaning of corporate culture, business ethics, and the importance of networking

Workshop Format & Delivery:

“From Backpacks to Briefcases” is delivered in a team format with 2-3 facilitators. In the past, we have also invited a corporate recruiter to present the workshop from an employer’s perspective. The workshop is organized in a “Jeopardy Game” format, where the categories appear at the top of each column and 4 sub-categories are displayed underneath. Categories are color-coded and displayed on a white board. This format encourages student participation and interaction in that they pick the topic on which they would like information. There are also “hidden prizes” under some topics, to keep students engaged. The process continues until time permits or all categories have been selected. We offer the workshop quarterly in conjunction with career fairs. It will also be presented at the Western Association of Colleges and Employers (WACE) Conference in January 2005.


While it is important to encourage students to participate in internships and become involved in the campus community, it is also essential to prepare our students about the unexpectedness of the world of work. By doing so, recent graduates will be better equipped with the knowledge necessary to succeed in their first job.

Lorri Sonnendecker, has been a Career Counselor at the University of California, Irvine for 2 ½ years. She has a Masters of Arts degree in Education Counseling from the University of Redlands and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Toledo, Ohio. Lorri may be reached at (949) 824-3643 or
Email: lsonnend@uci.edu.

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