The Big Leap: From Campus to Career
One phase of your life is about to end, and you are on the threshold of a completely new horizon, a new life. Even if you pursue further studies after you start working, it’s never the same experience.
Your first professional job is one you never really forget. It is the place where you learn and begin to build on the fundamentals of professional life, which will set the tone for your entire career. Although we continue to learn new skills and evolve personally and professionally throughout our lives, what we learn at the start of our career stays with us.
I have fond memories of that time in my life: the anticipation of becoming—and being called—a professional working woman, the sense of independence, the thrill of dressing up for work, the first paycheck...
But with more freedom comes more responsibility.
The realization that college days are over may be the first big shock.. Many of the concessions and indulgences that we enjoy as full-time students may not be extended to us in a work environment. Universities and professors assume that much of our behavior is impacted by lack of experience or knowledge at that stage in our lives, whereas our colleagues at work will expect more disciplined behavior.
To flourish in your first job, a professional attitude is key.
Listen More Than You Speak
Undergraduate environments, inside and outside the classroom, generally encourage you to be actively involved, perhaps including jumping into discussions, as a measure of your willingness to participate and leadership skills. However, in your new workplace, it is a good idea to first observe the culture of the organization and get to know team dynamics and your role in the larger organization before sharing your views. By all means, ask questions, but take time to gain an understanding of your workplace before forming judgments.
Adapt and Learn
You were selected for a specific role, and your job profile is clearly defined. But there may still be times when you are required to contribute, with no prior warning, to an urgent project or fill in for an absent colleague. Use this opportunity to exhibit your willingness and ability to learn new skills and adapt to change. Being a new or entry-level employee, you may find yourself doing tedious and less desirable tasks, but doing them well and willingly will get you noticed for your enthusiasm and skills, which can lead to bigger opportunities.
After graduating from your university, where you interact with classmates mostly your age, you now find yourself in the midst of people from various age groups, with different skill sets and experience. Tailor your interactions with them to suit the organizational culture. Be friendly and open to learning more about your new colleagues.
Besides your knowledge and skills to do the job, your conduct and value systems are what distinguish you and help you build your personal brand. Integrity, initiative, punctuality, passion, respect, attention to detail, and sincerity are some of the attributes that can set you apart and earn you brownie points.
Ability to Perform Under Pressure
Perhaps it’s the sheer volume of work, or the eagle eye of your boss that causes pressure to build. A positive and cheerful disposition is half the battle won. It’s not about successfully completing everything that is required to be done, but how you approach and handle situations. Sometimes organizations, out of choice or otherwise, test the tenacity of their best recruits to see how they handle trying times.
Review Your Social Media Presence
As a student you may not have been overly critical of the content you posted on your social profiles. But you should be aware that a lot of companies review your online presence at the time of recruitment or selecting you for new assignments. Your new colleagues at work may also form opinions of you based on this, so review what you want to be known and noticed for. Maintain and update your professional profile and network, and not necessarily only when you are seeking a job. Most importantly, prepare to forego the habit of updating your status and checking notifications with every breath you take. Companies appreciate you having a large network and an active online presence, but not on their time.
Dress for Work
What you wore to college may not be appropriate for the workplace, although a lot of modern companies encourage casual dressing. Take care to align your dress code with the profile and policy of your company. Especially when you are meeting with external associates or customers, remember that you represent the company, no matter in what capacity. Even companies that don’t mandate formal wear expect you to come neat and well-groomed.
Regulate Your Lifestyle
This doesn’t mean that you stop having fun. But a string of late nights and early mornings is bad news. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Similarly, good dietary habits help you perform better. Self-care is important, including healthy eating, which will keep you focused, without making you sluggish.
Believe in Yourself
Have faith in your own abilities. In a brand new position, everyone starts from ground zero, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarifications. Your self-belief will translate into confidence in your company’s product or service offering, and belief in the organization you work for—all of which are critical components to a successful career. Making mistakes and learning from them is far better than being so mortified of failure that you can’t take any action at all.
Lastly, remember that “there is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” (Zig Ziglar)