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How to start ‘Adulting’: Best advice on entering the workforce after graduating from university

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How to start ‘Adulting’: Best advice on entering the workforce after graduating from university

  • Career
  • · September 19 2022
  • · 8 min read
University graduates throwing graduation hats ready to enter the workforce

Table of contents

Moving directly into the 'real world' from university can be daunting. Swapping the last few years' worths of lectures, assignments, projects and exams with late-night parties for a 9-5 career is definitely a dramatic shift in lifestyle. As you're adjusting from student to work life, we've created 15 valuable tips to help you integrate into your next stage of life.

Taking the first step in your career can be scary, but there is no one right way of handling this step. Growth in your career will not come to you by just waiting around. Everyone finds their match differently. Especially since COVID, students find it even more challenging to penetrate the workforce. Thankfully, you're not the first or only person to go through this challenge. Most university graduates believe they must have a job lined up immediately after receiving their diploma - this is definitely not necessary!

Starting your career is exciting, but knowing what to expect is essential. For years, you have worked hard to build the expertise and skills that will support launching your career. All you have to do now is get out there and begin exploring what you've imagined. We're here to help you in your first steps and advise what you should do post-graduating university.

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1. Start searching ASAP

We recommend that students start job hunting before even graduating from university. You should already be searching for a job a couple of months before graduation. Searching while enrolled at university means you have less collateral damage, assuming you get rejected. During this period, you're likely receiving student loans, help from a guardian, or working to provide for yourself. You won't have to worry about affording a roof over your head or depend on finding a job to afford your next meal.

2. Figure out your financial situation

Before you search for a job, focus on your current needs. Are you in a place where you can comfortably search for employment without needing extra support? Or do you need to move back in with your parents for a while until you find a job? It is a common practice for recent graduates to move back home for the duration of job hunting. Moving back home may feel surreal or uncomfortable, but it's completely normal. Survival is not embarrassing! Anyone who makes you feel less than for this decision has no clue what the real world is really like.

3. Interim work or other short-term work

Consider working somewhere outside your field of expertise or interest for a short while. This option can be beneficial for multiple reasons. Assuming you require immediate income after graduating, applying to vacancies outside your career goals can be a great way to provide security. This interim position can be anything from working as a waitress/waiter, barista, bartender, or receptionist, at a call centre or doing freelance work. Consider your financial stability a priority over 'landing your dream job' first. There is plenty of time in the world to enter the big corporate workforce or any industry. Take care of yourself and your safety first, before all else.

Another reason to pick up a different job is to take a breather from the constant responsibilities. A part-time job also has responsibilities, but not to the same extent as studying or working full-time. Starting a part-time job allows time for self-development and settling in - whether in a new home, surroundings or making new friends.

4. Take a gap year

Many students feel the need to start working the moment they graduate immediately. The famous saying goes, 'Life is short!' but you have plenty of time to find a job and start working. Many people remain in the workforce from the start, not leaving time to explore themselves or the world around them. Go backpacking in a different continent, get a travel-work visa to Australia, take a skydiving course in Indonesia or work part-time in Berlin for the dance scene. There is so much to discover and take advantage of in your youth. Yes, life is short, go out and explore the world! No, you won't run out of time to enter the workforce. Taking up to a few years for self-development will not end your career.

5. Start an internship and traineeship

Candidates post-university are becoming more competitive these days. Students take on more placements, internships and side jobs during university to build a unique professional profile. Gaining additional professional experience may be a great way to help find a job.

The difference between internships and traineeships is fundamentally the pay and purpose. Internships are usually more targeted towards learning and are closely related to your study, whereas traineeships are more about learning for that specific position and working closely with a mentor. Some internships are paid, and some are not. Most traineeships pay more than internships but less than the actual amount your position would have been paid if it were a full-time position.

Doing either internship or traineeship allows you to hone your skills in a professional environment, which companies appreciate fresh graduates having. On the other hand, if you perform well during your internship or traineeship and the company has an open position, you may be offered a contract to stay at the company full-time.

6. Create the perfect CV

Many graduates have a great profile but don't know how to show off their skills appropriately. CVs are the first document recruiters and employers review during the job application process. This document is a crucial deciding factor in whether or not you will receive an interview invite. We have extensive blogs and examples on how you should approach your CV.

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7. Realise the power of networking

Opportunities are sometimes right around the corner without us realising them. Communicate to your professional and personal connections that you are looking for a job in real life and on social media. It may be that they have an open position in their company or know of someone who is looking for someone like you. Even if they don't have that level of power or connection, they might come across a job post that fits you perfectly. Extra eyes and ears are always a great resource.

Many universities and colleges have an alumni network that keeps older graduates in contact. Consider contacting alumni or your alumni network to see if there are any open positions at companies they work at or own. Alumni are more likely to hire someone with a familiar or similar background over a complete stranger.

8. Get on LinkedIn and use it to your advantage

LinkedIn is a platform that connects people worldwide, like social media but for professionals. This is a great platform to explore for jobs, build your profile and gain connections. Add all your co-workers from side jobs, internships and students from your university.

Once you've created your profile and built a network, explore LinkedIn's pool of professionals. There are a few approaches to connecting with people on LinkedIn strategically. Look into companies you want to work with and who work there. Send them a connection and tell them more about yourself. Feel free to cold-email people with your CV and interest in the company.

Another approach is to search for people who are working in positions you aspire to work in. Connect with those individuals and express your admiration for their career path or position. Ask them to become your mentor or if they know of a place open that can help you jump-start your career in a similar direction.

9. Find a mentor

Finding a mentor can be a life-changing experience. Some professionals with years of experience would be happy to train you and share their knowledge. Seeking and maintaining a relationship with a more established person than you is a significant strategic advantage and vital for career progression. Each employee is responsible for managing their career.

Make yourself more aware of employees who have been at the company for a long time or have exciting career paths. Your social circle might be more enjoyable at office parties, but try talking to colleagues outside your circle with more experience - they might be able to assist with your career.

10. Send in an open application (Apply to open vacancies)

A little-known secret to the workforce is that some jobs don't even exist on job boards yet. Consider applying with an open application to a company. Some companies may not realise what they are missing until they see it in front of them. Other times, companies have open positions within a company without having publicised them yet. You never know what the reason might be, so why not be early? Send in your CV and cover letter!

11. Apply to the newest vacancies

It may seem obvious, but it's a step often forgotten. As we've mentioned, it's good to be early to an application. This means they might see your CV and decide you're the right candidate for the job. Filter job vacancies with last posted within 24 hours and apply to a few of the exciting vacancies. This technique is applicable not only for your first job but for any job application later in life.

12. Be patient

Patience will be your best friend. Applying for jobs can be a tiresome task. You're not only focussing on the actual application, but the stress of hearing back a positive response also takes from your mental energy. You may not receive good news in the first round, but do not let that discourage you. Everyone has had to face multiple rejections before landing their current career position. Keep trying your best and continue applying to new vacancies.

13. Develop a routine and a professional approach

The versatility of your university timetable undoubtedly meant you had plenty of free time per week between lectures and tutorials. This meant that you had the flexibility of time to do things when you decided to. Diving into a scheduled weekly 40-hour job will take considerable adjusting.

The value of timing should not be under-estimated in the corporate realm. If you overlook punctuality at university, leave slightly earlier to get to work promptly and guarantee that you have a planner to document the information (date/location) of every briefing and deadline. Use the planner to maintain a count of every work obligation and take note of any new projects when they come your way. Finally, comply with the dress code that your employer wants you to wear. Look into the company culture to act and dress accordingly.

14. Don't stop learning beyond the classroom

After taking your last university exam, you may think that learning has indefinitely stopped, but it only continues when you join the workforce. There are expertise, skills, concepts, patterns, case studies and structures offline that will be relevant to your degree, but there will also be an entire range of additional knowledge you need to pick up. Continue to learn both during and outside of office hours. You should not undermine the importance of keeping up with any changes that are significant to your industry.

In the current competitive market, you may consider taking courses or getting a recognised certificate to further show off your skills. Adding this component to your CV will make you shine brighter as a candidate. You may opt to write a skills-based CV or add a certification section to your CV instead.

15. Take a different approach to difficult circumstances

Demanding or tough roles and circumstances are inevitable. You may find yourself working on a group project where not everyone pulls their weight. During university, an appropriate response would be to inform the professor, who will grade the other student accordingly. However, this can look a little different in the workplace. You might need to think of the bigger picture and the rest of the team. Reporting your colleague to a manager could have a detrimental effect on morale and complicate any future tasks - especially if you have to work with them again.

In addition, you may be dissatisfied with your heavy workload or frustrated at a senior's lack of guidance, but ultimately you must learn to regulate your own emotions. Alternatively, you'll learn to handle the negatives and implement your innovative ideas to shift your perception positively.

It's all new! Ensure risks are taken, make mistakes and learn from them. Every experience, regardless of how bad it may feel right now, will be a beneficial learning opportunity for you.

Be proud of what you have done so far; it will be okay no matter what. It can feel disappointing and disheartening to be rejected during the application process but know there's a fit for you. There are companies that will be excited to have you on the team.

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Updated September 19 2022

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