Transitioning from Graduate to Employee – Top Tips

Making the transition from studies to work can be difficult. Having a full-time job is not like university with a salary; you’ll be facing new responsibilities and new challenges. You certainly won’t be able to get away with acting the same way you have at university. Although it is the most exciting part of your life, it can also come with anxiety and uncertainty, but this is about approaching the unknown with a plan in mind……

Be Physically Ready

Be on Time / No More All-nighters Get into the 9-5 rhythm by getting into a routine before you start the job, ideally a week or two in advance. Not only does it prevent you from swallowing a hundred yawns at work, but it will increase your productivity.

  • Get into a routine before you start. Try regulating your sleeping habits 2 weeks before starting work. Remember irregular sleeping habits = lower levels of productivity
  • Rethink your diet. Eat to give you the stamina to concentrate for a full 7 / 8 hours every day. Eating healthy will give you the energy to get through your working week.
  • Partying. Work is not an extension of your socialising started at university. Your body will prove less resistant to impending hangovers; it’s really not fun to deal with a full day of work with a nasty headache on four hours of sleep. Moderation will help you have fun without going overboard and affecting your career or your health.
  • Work-related social events you are expected to act professionally; if you choose to drink at these functions, do so in moderation. Use good judgment whenever your work and social life overlap.

Culture of overworking: try to find a balance between work and leisure which ensures you can work productively and yet allows you to continue leisure pursuits which interest you.

  • Take your Breaks – these can make you more productive and can mean that you produce higher quality work than if you were to work solidly for many hours. If you can during your breaks, try and get outside taking in fresh air to clear your mind for the next task.
  • Stamina and Focus. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day to stay focused at work. A comment from one recent graduate: “For me one of the most difficult aspects in the transition was working in an open plan office. I enjoy it now however initially found it difficult to concentrate having worked in quiet surroundings such as university libraries for year.”
  • Create a routine that works for you; creating a loose structure for your week, in and out of work, will make you feel organised and in control.
  • Keeping Fit. Build in exercise to your week; cycle or walk to work, join work related sports teams, or maintain your commitment to existing teams. You are going to be physically as well as mentally tired, exercise is good outlet for stress and building your resilience.
  • Keep up your interests / friends outside work, so that you can establish a healthy work / life balance and enjoy your social life. You will see work as less of a burden as well as preventing early burn out or evolution into the boring ‘can only talk about work’ person.
  • Make sure you understand the ethos of your company/team and boss. It is best to start off by getting in early and almost over-doing it in terms of working hours, how smart you dress, formality and then toning it back or ramping it up when you get a good understanding of what’s acceptable. Be realistic entry-level roles often require long hours and hard work. Always dress for the role you aspire too, not what you are currently doing.

The Right Attitude

Demonstrate the right attitudes and behaviours from day one. This does not mean you have to have all the answers straight away but what employers do want to see is that you are open to learning and ready to perform, approach all work delegated with a ‘yes’ mentality. So….

  • Be self-driven with a positive attitude. Be willing to take on new work challenges, involving yourself where you can, to broaden your knowledge and learning experience. Listen carefully, make notes and ask questions.
  • Recognise that starting a new job or changing teams can be unsettling and lead to high levels of anxiety. It is normal to feel out of your depth and unable to do the work you are set. This WILL get better; you need to give it time and go easy on yourself. You were selected for this role because of your potential. They will not expect you to know everything right from the start.
  • Show enthusiasm for work, even menial tasks. Everyone in the business will have started by learning these fundamental processes so show a willingness to learn and be good at the less glamourous elements – the sooner you’ve got these, the sooner you will be trusted with more complex work.
  • Even if you don’t see yourself working forever in the team you are rotated into, you must show commitment to that team. If you seem disinterested or careless about a rotation, that could have an impact reputationally throughout your career, not just for the duration of that seat. Managers do talk and compare notes, so it doesn’t pay to slack off at any point just because this team doesn’t interest you.
  • Some of you will have a very clear idea of where you want to end up and the path by which you want to get there, which is fine, however, how you approach moving on each rotation should be handled carefully. In most companies you cannot choose where you go, but can express preferences, but the business needs come first not you. Halfway through the current rotation you should start to reflect on what you need next, networking round the office as much as possible to understand each service line offered. This will give you the ability to understand different roles and what may suit you. Each department is very different, making a case for a particular team can be enhanced by demonstrating understanding on what & how you can fit into that team. It also means you can impress by referring work to other departments. Always a winner!

Being Organised

Sounds obvious but write a list at the beginning of each workday to make sure that you are clear in your own mind as to which tasks need to be achieved. In this way you should be able to prioritise your workload, manage your time effectively and stay in control.

  • Remember the importance of attention to detail. This is crucial, not just in written work but when in meetings, understanding what is said and taking accurate notes. The best way to stand out is to not stand out for the wrong reason by making mistakes.
  • Take responsibility and pride in all work you complete. A lot of the time, the work you are contributing to will be put in front of clients, so your work is representing your companies’ brand and graduate programme. It is imperative that you are very diligent when checking through your work, paying close attention to detail.
  • Asking obvious questions. Employers don’t mind you asking questions, but a better approach is to demonstrate initiative. Try thinking of answers/options and suggestions before approaching your supervisor. Offering possible solutions will help your learning and highlight your potential, impressing your seniors when you talk through the solution you have come up with.
  • Arrive ready for meetings and able to participate, read any necessary documents before the meeting, complete research / due diligence on the client or professional you are meeting, highlight key points to raise and be prepared to speak about. You are in a team and should contribute to that.
  • Deadlines are different at work. This is the absolute last minute it is needed, NOT when it is due in. So be early with deadlines. Do all your work efficiently and effectively, get work back to your colleagues as soon as possible. You will usually have multiple projects you are working on. Communicate realistic timelines to colleagues for getting work done.
  • Contacts and a good network take time; you will need to invest time into building and maintain it. If your company doesn’t have a CRM build yourself an Access Data base that stores contacts details including when and what communications, you have had. Keep in touch with everyone from university, keep track of where & who they work via LinkedIn or in person where you can. There’s a huge difference between a good contact and a bad one! Don’t be the person sending one-liner emails to every client in your address book just to get the introduction in early. You’re not selling a ticket, you’re selling a story, give them information and get them interested, learn their requirements and refine what you send them in the future based on their feedback.
  • Develop your own directory of filing work; set up electronic files for all email communication, any written instructions, produced reports / notes from visits (even if they are just scanned in from your notebook) and meetings or feedback on your work to use as reference points in the future. This is useful if you need to demonstrate or justify what you have done or the decisions you have reached.
  • Build yourself a ‘cheat sheet’ for each rotation you go into with the basic information you will need. This save repeatedly asking for standard information you’re expected to know.

Continual Learning

Ask for feedback on your work, this will enable you to identify what you have done well and how to continually improve. You are responsible for your own development. Set your own objectives for your continuing professional development; find suitable courses to address identified areas of improvement. In appraisals, feedback is given to help you understand where your key strengths lie and areas you need to improve on. When receiving constructive criticism, accept it with grace, don’t argue, it is there to benefit, not hinder you.

Technical Knowledge and Expected Skills

Each company will have its own way of doing thigs but as a standard before you start:

  • Go back over some key topics covered at uni before starting your job. Most graduates are expected to be able to hit the ground running immediately rather than have to spend weeks catching up. This could be quite a shock if you’ve spent 3 or 4 months not doing anything over summer!
  • You will need to have basic Microsoft office skills (i.e. managing an e-mail inbox, basic formulas/tasks on excel, formatting word documents). Build up your confidence with Excel before you start. As a minimum you should know SumIf, Sum, How to work out percentages, V Lookup, H Lookup and Counta. These can be learnt easily and will be beneficial to know. Knowing how to format documents on excel e.g. setting a print area, headings etc. so you don’t look silly asking how to do this basic document structuring.
  • Use a new style of writing – Business Writing –you do need to write professionally, putting your point across clearly and concisely. This is different from the style used in academic report /assignments which can be quite long winded and waffley.
  • Build your ability to deal with people appropriately (colleagues, clients). This is essential. It will help you to managing your workload and ensure relationships are maintained. So…..
    • Be Nice, there will be a highly diversity in age, social backgrounds, nationalities and perspectives. Understand and appreciate not everyone has the same view point as you. Companies’ emphasis teamwork. So try changing your language, say less “I” and more “We”, watch and listen and see how you can help the team in any way.
    • Help other people out- helping others boosts comradery, increases feelings of competence, improving mood of the overall team, and helps reduces stress
    • Don’t be a gossip… sure-fire way of antagonising other people and, potentially, embarrassing yourself. Always remember what you are saying to who, especially to friends outside of work
    • If you aren’t given one, find yourself a professional mentor that can help you perform better at your job, explain the intricacies and tricks to succeeding in your field, provide a role model, and open professional doors for you. Build this relationship through a common understanding of each other’s needs and expectations; developing mutual trust; honesty; and respect for each other’s time
    • It takes time but understanding the little details of everyday working life, (what it’s not appropriate to talk, are work hours strictly enforced or do you have some leeway? Is everyone expected to chip in for wedding/birthday gifts) will help you fit in, feel more comfortable, and get along better with co-workers

A good professional is first and foremost a good listener. Listen and fully understand the clients objectives in order that you may seriously consider the best approaches to not just achieving the objective but exceeding it. Be thorough. Do not be afraid to ask the opinion of others who may have certain expertise or generally more experience than you. Endeavour to create a reputation for giving good advice and delivering at least what you say. Trust is only built up by successful relationships created over a period of time so persevere in achieving this and you will find that clients come back to you over and over again.

Social Media and Behaviour

When you start in the work place you are back at the bottom of the ladder and unlike education where passing an exam sees you progress to the next level the world of work isn’t like that, progression is based on merit, professionalism and how you conduct yourself.

  • Always remember, you wanted to be remembered for the right reasons. There are always consequences of your actions. Stop and THINK. No-one is going to accepted immaturity and poor performance if you continue your student behaviour- going out and either coming into work late and hungover, or not at all.
  • Think about what you post on social media and have posted in the past and who has access to this (more people than you think!). NEVER be derogatory about colleagues, clients or your company. Once it is posted, it stays there to be seen by everyone.
  • Graduates should remember who you are socialising with and who the company clients are. One client-side company feedback said they have had Directors ask for graduates from agencies to be removed from their project as they have not conducted themselves particularly well at social occasions.
  • Leave your phone alone! When in the office, it will be noticed if you are constantly checking, updating Facebook, Snapchatting with friends or Instagramming your lunch.
  • Continue to be pro-active. Take on extracurricular opportunities; get involving in the Graduate Committees and charity fundraising. These are not only a good way to meet other graduates but to network within the business and increase your profile.
  • Seize the opportunities that come your way and always volunteer to help. Show your willingness to learn and help where you can. Employers don’t expect you to know it all on day one but they do expect you to apply yourself.

Finally – Feedback from an employer:
We expect this as a matter of course, it may seem like the very basics, but time and again this is what makes or breaks a first impression – Remain professional at all times, both in and out of work.

Remember why you are there. Don’t expect your hand to be held, your future is your responsibility, team members are here to support and provide guidance but ultimately, your future is in your hands.

Jane Batchelor
Career Consultant – Real Estate and Planning
Henley Business School