Graduation, oh, graduation! The culmination of years of studying results in one thing and one thing only. Almost two years ago I took my stand on that podium and it’s been a whirlwind of experiences ever since. Here’s ten things I wish I had known before graduating – hopefully, they can help or resonate a little with you, too.
It’ll be one of the hardest years of your life
As much as you think university is real life, it’s not. It’s a nice, soft buffer between moving out of your parents’ home and becoming, as I like to phrase it, a “proper adult”. And boy is that first year after graduating tough – in reality, it was the toughest year of my life to date.
Finding a job is just one of the challenges you will face as a recent graduate. Moving into a permanent residence (perhaps in a new city), becoming financially independent and finding your feet in terms of your career are all valid and conflicting concerns.
Working full-time is knackering – it’s a far cry from the three, two-hour lectures once a week at university. It’s a completely different, more structured lifestyle and it’s important to prepare as much as you can for it and be under no misconceptions about the new challenges it’ll bring.
It’s important to know your worth
Call me self-righteous, but I think it’s incredibly important for graduates to know their worth. This is not about being disillusioned – there are thousands of us out there. If you’ve just done a degree and graduated, you are one of many. But if you’ve demonstrated extracurricular excellence, speak three languages and have tonnes of relevant work experience (for example), then damn straight you should know your worth and not accept anything less from a potential employer.
One thing that interviewers often seem to forget is that they are there to impress you just as much as you are there to impress them. Recruitment is a two-way street and, much like dating, it’ll only work if you’re both attracted to one another.
Even simple things, like being ignored in the waiting room or seen 20 minutes late were a real turn off for me. These signs, though perhaps trivial to some, signified that the company did not respect my time or valued it as less important as theirs.
Understand that you are constantly being judged
From the moment that you walk into a graduate role, you are being judged 24/7 – from the things you say to the way you dress be mindful that, not unlike in the Lord of the Rings, there is an all-seeing eye casting judgement upon you.
Though this may seem like an obvious point, it’s something that I didn’t quite realise the extent of at first. That friendly Facebook add from your boss or colleague may seem innocent enough, but it isn’t. Be wary of forging online relationships with those who you see daily offline.This may seem cynical on my part, but professional relationships should stay just that.
There is no such thing as the “perfect job”
For as long as I can remember growing up, I heard the phrase “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” So, graduation comes – we have our grades, know what we enjoy doing and we pursue that as a career. Yet all too often we find that working life falls short of our expectations – and that phrase is to blame.
There is no such thing as the perfect job. Even the job that you THINK is your perfect job a. Probably isn’t b. Will have aspects of it that you loathe doing. This is completely normal and as long as you’re not waking up every morning with knots in your stomach, stick it out and gain as much valuable experience as you can.
ASK for what you want
I may not have been in the world of work for long, but one thing I do know is that you need to ASK for what you want. No company is going to willingly offer you the higher bracket of salary, or promote you when the time seems right without you having to fight your every corner.
One of my biggest regrets is taking a low salary I was unhappy with, without even thinking to negotiate because I wanted the experience. Yes, it’s an awkward conversation to have but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Again, see point no.1.
Know when to say no/ask for help
One of the first mistakes I made as a recent graduate was saying yes to everything that was asked of me. I felt that if I said no, it looked as though I were incapable of managing my workload when in reality, it is okay (and often sometimes better) to say no.
Saying no, or that you need additional support should never reflect badly on you – it is by no means a sign of weakness or an inability to do your role. If anything, it proves that you are being realistic about your time and managing expectations accordingly. You are only human, and you can only do so much within the working day.
Enjoy your free time
There is a perception when you’re early on in your career that if you’re not seen to be working 12 hours a day and marrying your life to a job, that somehow you are not ambitious or committed enough. This is a tired, old-fashioned ideal and not one that any forward-thinking manager or boss would inflict on their staff. As long as the job is getting done, then there shouldn’t be an issue.
Everyone knows that a good work/life balance is crucial in creating happy, healthy and motivated employees and a flexible approach to working is now becoming the norm. There is nothing more valuable a commodity in this life than time. Enjoy both the time you’re at work, and the time you’re not at work – after all, you’ll never get it back again.
Trust your instincts
Probably the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone going into the world of work is to is to trust your instincts. They are nearly almost right.
There were times as a recent graduate when I knew that processes could be improved, but I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to tread on the toes of “the experts” by telling them how to do things.
If you work for somewhere that values and respects you, you shouldn’t ever feel scared to speak up and offer a fresh, new perspective. After all, that should be one of the reasons you’ve been employed in the first place.
Don’t let people take the p*ss
I’m all for starting at the bottom of the career ladder and working your way up. It’s the only way, of course, to esteem and success in your chosen field. But equally, don’t let people take the p*ss.
I’ve heard too many stories from friends about employers who ask things of them that are simply unacceptable – abusing both their youth and naivety. I myself have been asked to do some unacceptable things during my time interning and beyond . This is a real quote from one of my placements “Girls, make sure you bring a cereal bar as you won’t get a break to eat and we don’t want any of you to pass out”.
At the time I just accepted it because I didn’t know any better and I wanted the positive references. Thankfully, I am now in a better position and know how to not get walked all over – but it’s still a tricky environment to navigate.
It’s up to you to speak up if you are asked to do something that you’re uncomfortable with, or that is out of your remit. I’m not talking about you not wanting to do the tea round here – you’ll know when something you’ve been asked, or a position you’ve been put in is out of line.
No job should ever make you compromise your happiness, integrity or mental health. If they do, and you’ve tried to fix things to no avail, it’s time to walk away.
I’ve worked for some horrible people and had some horrendous jobs in the past. Both of which, at the time, had a hugely negative effect on my confidence, mental health and well-being. I would never wish for anyone to have to go through that and what I see in retrospect is that it simply wasn’t worth it.
Now, almost two years down the line I’m on the career development programme at my current workplace, a published writer, a well-known blogger and freelancer in my remaining free time.
None of this would have been possible without a little self-belief and if any of the above points can help others to fast-track that process… well, that’s a job well done from me.
Be bold, be assertive and you will set the world on fire.