5 Things You Can Fail that Won’t Ever Be on Any Test

One common theme on this blog is This Will Definitely NOT Be on the Test.

…all the things colleges and universities don’t prepare you for. Because in the workplace there’s no test, but you can still fail.

Service-learning courses are on the rise in colleges and universities around the country and they are full of examples that highlight the divide between what’s on the test and what is important to know.

In a service-learning class students work with community partners in real-world professional contexts.  The in-class activities emphasize things that are important in the real world, but not highlighted in the same way they might be in an academic context. In other words, nobody says “this is going to be on the test,” but you can still fail!

Here are 5 things you can fail at in a professional context even though they won’t be on a written test ever:

#1 Being prompt

In the workplace, it’s important to be prompt, but your supervisor probably won’t scold you when you arrive late. S/he will just give you a low evaluation at the end of your service (or on an annual review if you’re an employee instead of a student volunteer).

#2 Knowing who people are

It is important to pay attention to small details like the names of people you will work with regularly in the community.  People notice when you are able address them by name. And then they are more likely to remember you.

Back on campus we do not typically require students to know each other’s names.  Students remember the names of people they already know and don’t usually get to know new people from classroom interactions. That is a networking opportunity lost.

#3 Taking initiative

Service-learning students who stand off to the side and wait for their supervisors to explicitly tell them what to do, then do the minimum are always less successful than their peers who take initiative, get involved, ask how they can help, and offer specific suggestions for how they can help. And that success is twofold: the community partner evaluations are higher for the students who take initiative and their own satisfaction with the experience is also higher.

#4 Staying focused by ignoring the siren call of the smartphone

You won’t be scolded for paying more attention to your smartphone than to the work at hand, but supervisors (and professors!) always notice you using it—even when you think you’re being subtle. In case this isn’t obvious: appearing to interact with your crotch is not subtle.

#5 Looking professional

You don’t have to go out and buy a business-class wardrobe to participate in community service-learning, but wearing Bermuda shorts and a golf shirt instead of running shorts and a t-shirt will make you stand out as someone who takes community service-learning seriously while helping you blend in as a professional (rather than student).

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