Hays’ Sandra Henke shares her advice for those at the start of their career journey on how to successfully move from student life to the working world.
Have you recently graduated? Are you grieving the loss of your old student life? Are you wondering what it will be like to be a fully fledged member of the working world?
I hate to break it to you, and as patronising as it might sound, you really are about to enter the real world, one that will bring a whole load of new lessons. So remember, just because the relentless exam process has finally stopped for you, your learning hasn’t. Far from it.
Quite frankly, the prospect of making this life-changing transition can feel terrifying. But it doesn’t need to be. I want to share with you how you can successfully transition from university, college or school to working life – and get your career off to the best start possible
Accept that everything is going to change
From now on, your life is going to be different in pretty much every way. You’ll have to get used to early mornings, possibly commuting and not going out partying on a Wednesday night, which might mean your social life isn’t perhaps as fun or wild as it once was – during the weekdays, anyway.
You may well have moved back in with your parents again or have even moved to a new city, meaning your home life will change too. You must do your best to accept and even embrace these changes. Try to see this change as an opportunity for personal growth and learning, instead of a negative thing.
You’ve dealt with change before
Remember, you’ve managed to deal with the unsettling feelings that come with change in the past, so you’ll adapt quickly again this time. Think back to when you first started university. Everything about your life changed overnight, but you quickly managed to settle in, in what felt like the blink of an eye.
Adjusting to the changes that come with starting your new job is no different. You are more adaptable than you think, so draw some confidence from that as you prepare to enter the next chapter of your life. Understand these changes are only temporarily unsettling, and you will quickly form new habits, schedules and rituals, and importantly, start to enjoy your new life.
Keep an open mind
I’m sure you’ve long wondered what the ‘corporate world’ is really like, being an eager spectator from the outside, waiting for your time to enter it. You’ve probably formed some strong assumptions over the years – both good and bad – from family, friends, lecturers, careers advisers, even TV programmes and films.
Of course, some of these assumptions will be more accurate than others. So, try to keep an open mind as you embark on your first job, free from preconceived ideas about what it will be like.
Be patient and persevere
If you’re about to start your first proper job, some of your responsibilities will likely be relatively admin-based, at least to begin with. This won’t be the case forever, so try to understand and appreciate that from the outset, instead of feeling unmotivated or dejected.
As you climb your career ladder and become more senior, your responsibilities and tasks will become more interesting and advanced. So, be patient, stay motivated and persevere.
Your first job won’t be your last
It’s important to understand that your first job won’t be your last one, for the simple reason that we’re all living and working for longer than we have ever done in the past.
So, if your first job isn’t everything you thought it would be, don’t worry too much. This is just the first stage of your career journey – you have a wealth of experiences ahead of you. Take as much as you can from your current role, and then move on.
Don’t compare yourself to your friends
In the era of social media, when it feels as if everyone is on a quest for more ‘likes’, it can be easy to start comparing yourself to your friends from university. This isn’t healthy and it’s certainly not helpful.
Instead of scrolling through their social feeds, talk directly to your friends – ideally in person – about how they are transitioning from student to working life. You will find that most of them will be in the same boat as you, which can be reassuring and can also give you a sense of perspective.
Remember that social media can be deeply deceptive, as people only tend to share the things on their social media profiles that they wish others to see.
Try not to feel intimidated
During your time as a student, the only people you probably would have come across regularly who were in a more ‘senior’ position to you were your lecturers. The world of work can be a whole different ball game. You’ll almost certainly come across people who are much older than you, and in much more senior positions – possibly positions that you might aspire to be in one day.
Try not to feel intimidated by this, instead see it as an opportunity to learn. Remember that even the most senior person in the company was once in a similar position to the one you’re in right now. Everyone has to start somewhere. In any case, it’s very likely that one day you’ll be in their shoes!
Realise that you’ll be expected to pick things up quickly
One thing you’ll have probably learned during your time in education is that you can’t expect to be spoon-fed if you want to be successful. Much the same can be said if you’re to succeed in the world of work. You will almost certainly be expected to get to grips with the responsibilities of your new role relatively quickly.
Of course, your new employer will help you do this, but it’s also important that you personally commit to proactively learning and working hard, particularly as you’re settling in and finding your feet.
Also, you have learned heaps of transferrable skills at college or university (things like self-motivation and tenacity, time management, the ability to work under pressure, personal development and communication) so put these to good use as you make the transition into full-time paid work.
Remember, it will typically take you three to six months to feel truly settled and adept in your role, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself either.
Have the confidence to ask questions and share your ideas
You may have reached what you consider to be a high level of knowledge in your degree subject over the last few years of studying, but when you start out in the world of work, you’ll soon realise you don’t know everything. In fact, you’ll sometimes feel like you don’t know anything.
Again, though, this is no reason to allow your confidence to be battered down. Quite the opposite, in fact – employers appreciate young graduates for their curiosity, energy and eagerness to learn, not to mention the fresh and new perspectives they often bring. So, if you do find yourself bubbling with exciting ideas when you join a business, don’t be afraid to suggest them.
Perfect your email and telephone etiquette
This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s one that is often under-appreciated by graduates. You will be expected to adjust the way you communicate when in a corporate working environment.
It’s therefore a good idea to familiarise yourself in advance with the key points of professional email and telephone etiquette, such as the importance of introducing yourself if you haven’t spoken to or emailed that person before and responding to stakeholders in a professional and timely manner.
Prepare to have less free time
While your income is likely to go up as a result of your first job, the amount of free time you have will almost certainly go down – you’ll no longer have those long summer holidays, for starters.
However, the commencement of this new chapter of your life is also a great opportunity to start using your time more wisely, including carefully planning what you do in the evenings, as opposed to the random jaunts to the pub or club that might have been typical of your student days.
To start with, you might feel like all you’re doing is working. However, once you get used to your elevated hours spent earning your own money, you’ll realise there’s a lot that can be done after 5pm and during the weekends.
You will have different people in your life
Entering the world of work means meeting a lot of people who will probably be very different to those you’ve come across before. Whereas university lectures were likely often full of people of a very similar age generation and outlook on the world, your new work colleagues will probably be very different.
This isn’t something that should scare you – it is actually a good thing. You might not expect to become good friends with someone who is 10 years older than you, but you’ll soon realise that you have a lot more in common with your co-workers than you first think.
Bear in mind that the contacts you make now will probably stay with you throughout your career and will therefore be fundamental to your success both now and in the future. In short, these people you might not initially think you can easily relate to, may be vital in helping to build the foundations of your career.
Establish healthy habits
It can be so easy to fall into less-than-healthy habits during your first weeks and months in your first job. After all, you’ll be ‘on the go’ all the time and everything else seems to take a backseat. You may have also inherited some unhealthy habits from your time at university – I’m referring to things like staying up too late when you need to get up early to go to work or allowing a sedentary lifestyle to take over if you work in an office role.
So, be sure to embed good habits from the beginning, including eating well, exercising, resting and relaxing – doing this will help you establish, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Committing to healthy habits early on will also help you to not only adjust better to this drastic change in your life, but also perform at your best in your first job, keep you motivated and feeling less stressed.
The transition from student life to the world of work can understandably feel intimidating and overwhelming – but it really doesn’t have to be this way. By following these steps, you can ensure that you start your career in the best way possible, whilst laying the foundations for your future success.
By Sandra Henke
Sandra Henke is the group head of people and culture at Hays. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays blog.
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