I’ve got a job! The learning process of going from student to employee

In the next few months, many university students will be making that important move to the workplace. It can be a daunting first step to take…even for students who may have been working during their time in education, or who may have completed a placement as part of their course. As a student, it can be comforting to know that once the university vacation or placement year has ended, it is possible to leave that temporary job, internship or work placement and head back to the “safety” of a familiar campus environment. For many students however, the upcoming end of university means stepping out of a recognisable environment they have grown accustomed to over a number of years….and with no university to go back to in a few weeks’ time.

Many students have already gone through the lengthy and time consuming steps involved in writing applications and working through challenging recruitment selection processes to secure that first job. It would be easy to think that all the hard work is done, mission accomplished…course completed and job offer in the bag. However making that move from education into the workplace on a full-time basis involves significant change, and can mean much upheaval. The end of university marks the start of a new chapter of learning about how to move from student status to that of an employee/worker/member of staff.

Whether you are going to start on a graduate scheme, an entry level job, or even if you will be working in a role that is not your intended career path and/or still pondering what your next career step will be, you may find the following insights helpful to keep in mind as you move into the world of work:

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1. The learning process starts all over again

You’ve spent 3-4 years at university to get your degree, which marks that valuable first step in your career journey. Your learning won’t end at your graduation ceremony. Now comes the time to really start applying what you’ve learnt to the world of work, whether directly from your degree subject itself, or the wide range of skills that studying a degree has enabled you to build; independence, critical thinking, communication and teamwork, to name a few. This is why employers want graduates to recognise and actively develop themselves whilst at university. You can then start transferring your skills into your daily work when you start a job.

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2. Your mind set in the workplace is important

Whether you find yourself on a graduate scheme that you’ve always wanted, or working in a role as a stepping stone whilst you discover more about what you would like in your career, acting in positive ways and carrying yourself professionally in the workplace is important. Keep in mind that your outlook will be on show, from the way you talk to your colleagues through to your quality of work, and how you tackle even the most simple of tasks. Respecting colleagues, working with enthusiasm, and having a general positive attitude can really make a difference to your experiences and opportunities in the workplace. 

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3. Don’t expect all the exciting work/projects to come to you straight away

This one is very much linked to no. 2 in the list. With any job there is a period of adjustment, settling in and getting to grips with the basics. You may have achieved high academic grades at university, however when you start in any job, you need to prove yourself. Being able to integrate and work with others, carry out tasks to a high quality, and deliver work on time is vital, before progressing onto new and more complex and challenging work. Even if you find yourself working in a job that doesn’t align to your future career desires, still put in the work and effort, you never know how/when this could open up new opportunities or career routes within the organisation, and which you didn’t even know existed.

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4. Employers won’t really “spoon feed” their employees

Sure there is usually a period of training and an induction when you start a new job. Typically there are support mechanisms in place to help you as you navigate your way through your job tasks and duties. Do keep in mind that much of what you learn is done so “on-the-job.” You will learn a lot by trial and error, through trying, reflecting, asking questions, and adapting to improve for next time.

The same can be said for your professional development. You may start on a structured grad scheme but not all training and development opportunities may be handed to you on a plate.  As you find out more about your strengths and interests, learn to reflect and consider the areas where you could, and want to gain more experience, and further develop your skills. Speak with your management about this, it shows initiative, a commitment to your own development, and can only add to your future value in the workplace. Even if you find yourself working in a role that isn’t your ideal graduate career, consider if there are any internal training opportunities that you could take advantage of. This could really add value to your CV, and equip you with new skills for a future workplace.

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5. Work hard but don’t peak too soon

As a new graduate you should be working hard. There may be the temptation to throw yourself into a job so much that you say “yes” to everything that comes your way, but remember that “slow and steady wins the race.” Get to know the organisation you are working for, how it is structured, and speak to and get to know your work colleagues too. Embed and immerse yourself and learn the basics of your job and get that right before raising your hand to take on more complex projects. 

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6. The world of work is massively different to being a student

This may seem like a no-brainer and pretty obvious, but moving from the lifestyle of a student to that of a worker can still be a bit of a culture shock. It took me a good year to get my head round! Where late nights, late starts and missing the odd few lectures may be the norm at university, you will likely find that you have to adjust your daily body clock to accommodate structured working hours, for which you can’t just skip one day, and turn up the next. The culture of the workplace is different to university. From how you are expected to dress, through to telephone and email etiquette. Watch and learn, and give yourself a bit of time to adapt.

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7. There are learning opportunities by working in any type of job

More than ever, due to the changing nature of the workplace, it is highly unlikely that your first job after university will be your last. 

So whatever your first career step after university, even if you are working in a job and you have no idea of where your future lies, know that you are growing, maturing and acquiring valuable abilities, strengths and personal qualities that you will no doubt use at some point as you navigate your way along your career path.

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